Adam, Christ, and Original Sin

Jayson Byrd   -  

Adam, Christ, & Original Sin

Romans 5:12-21

Shopping for an engagement ring was an educational experience. I did not know anything about the cut, color, clarity, and karat of diamonds and needed guidance. Yet, a foundational starting point for looking at diamonds is when the jeweler pulls out a dark felt cloth to serve as the backdrop for the diamond. Against the backdrop of the dark felt, the diamond looks most brilliant. So, it is against the backdrop of our sinful nature that the Gospel looks most brilliant.  As John Bunyan said, “If a man does not know the nature of his wound, how can he know the nature and excellence of the cure.” Romans 5 teaches us both the nature of the wound and the nature of the cure. In doing so, Paul gives us an explanation of the basis or grounds by which God reconciles sinners and grants justification.

Paul explains the basis of justification by introducing the two contrasting realms based on the obedience or disobedience of the inaugurator of that realm. The realm of sin and death was inaugurated by Adam, and the realm of grace and life was inaugurated by Jesus.  Vs. 12 starts with “Therefore” or “for this reason, connecting this section to the previous 11 verses as well as the ideas discussed earlier in the letter. In verses 13-17, Paul gives stages of human history in the life of Adam in contrast with the life of the second Adam, Jesus. Showing these realms based upon their respective representative, Paul, in this text, implies that the entire storyline of the Bible is about the redemption of Adam by the last Adam, Jesus.

The first realm is described in 12-14. Adam’s sin is linked to the sin of every individual, with the result of sin and death.  These results of Adam’s disobedience, sin, and death are the “two towers” that have been part of the human race ever since. This makes the text relevant to every human who has ever lived. The realm of sin is inaugurated by Adam and, as the legal representative, or federal head, the entire human race.

What does Adam’s sin have to do with us? If Adam sinned, how does that make us guilty? Our modern and Western idea of individualism doesn’t like the idea of federal headship; it doesn’t seem fair. We know Paul is talking about all people because of the comparison & contrast with vs. .12 & vs. 18-19 Dr. Michael Barret explains this well, “In union with representative Adam, all die; in union with representative Christ, all live. This is why I say we have to understand condemnation if we are going to understand grace.” It is important to understand the relationship between Adam’s sin and our guilt in order to understand the relationship between Christ’s righteousness and our justification.

Throughout the church age, various answers to the connection between Adam’s sin and our guilt have been offered. Pelagianism saw no connection between Adam’s sin and ours. Adam was just a bad example, and every man is left to his own attempts to be perfect. This breaks down when the need for Christ, in contrast, is supplied. Semi-pelagianism saw the connection as merely voluntary acts, not as an inherited condition, but merely the behavior. Arminianism sees the connection but denies that it reaches the entirety of being, and allows for prevenient grace that makes sin-sick people capable of responding to the gospel. The best explanation of the Biblical text is that Adam is a representative or federal head of all of humanity. All humanity is “in Adam” and therefore condemned in Adam’s disobedience. The natural man is in union with Adam’s realm of sin and death by sin. In the fall, humanity lost its moral innocence and became spiritually dead. Paul says in 1 Cor 15:22, “In Adam all die.”  The fall of Adam and the loss of God’s moral image resulted not only in guilt but also in moral depravity or corruption. Theologians refer to this persistent bent as “original sin.”

Adams’s sins’ consequences go beyond the garden of Eden as federal head or legal representative of the entire human race.  In Vs. 14, Paul undergirds this by pointing to the death of humanity before the fall, and since the law was not given, it was not their individual sins but rather their represented sin nature that is condemned under the law. Their sin would still violate the later revealed law.

Adam’s sin was not merely breaking a rule by eating the fruit. It was, in essence, “cosmic treason” against the King of the universe. It was idolatry, thus, resulting in condemnation and enmity with God. This is why the benefits of Justification in verses 1-11 include (vs. 1) peace with God. The hostility is over. We were the ones who broke God’s law and committed cosmic treason. Because of this, God’s just wrath is upon us. We cannot simply turn back to God. We need to be reconciled. Peace with God is something He achieves by justification. Other benefits of justification are access (vs2), the hope of glory (vs2), and joy in suffering (vs3). Dr. Michael V. Barret said, “The more conscious we are of the depths of our sin and its horrific consequences, the more conscious we will be of the greatness of our salvation” and “We will never understand the greatness of the gospel until we understand the need for the gospel.”

Verses 15-19 contrast the second realm, which is inaugurated by Jesus and is contrasted with the realm of Adam. The phrases “much more” in 15 & 17 and “just as/so also” in 18-19 show that the realm of Jesus is better and supreme to that of Adam. In contrast with Adam’s disobedience is Christ’s obedience. This speaks of Jesus’ active and passive obedience. His perfect obedience to God’s moral will and law is his active obedience. His passive obedience is seen in his receiving the punishment of the law on our behalf. Thus, the demands of the law were completely obeyed, and the penalty of the law was completely paid. On this basis, justification is imputed to those who believe on Christ. The result of the second realm is grace and life offered as a “free gift” to all who would accept it.

Verses 20 –21 show the role of the law. God’s law serves in multiple ways, such as restraining sin and its effect, as well as revealing our sinfulness and God’s righteousness. Paul is saying that this increase in sin shows the greater “abounding” of God’s grace. The law does not solve humanity’s sin problem; it only points it out. To redeem Adam’s race, God didn’t change the law but fulfilled it by sending Jesus to obey the law’s precepts and receive the law’s penalty in perfect obedience.

Everyone is in one of these two realms, “In Adam” or “in Christ.” Those in Adam are under sin and death. How can God move sinners from one realm to the other? The chapter begins and closes with the phrase, “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:1,21). His work is the ground and basis by which God reconciles sinners and grants justification.