Saturday, November 24, 2018

Imputation of Adam's Sin to All Mankind

Imputation is one of those intimidating, weighty theological terms. We have a vague idea of what it means, but most of us struggle to define it more precisely. Despite this, we praise God for His abounding grace in imputing our sin to Christ on the cross, and imputing His righteousness to us (see 2 Corinthians 5, Romans 5). This is the Good News and we correctly focus our attention upon it. In so doing, however, we skip lightly over how we first came to need the Good News. This is the study of how Adam’s sin came to be ours.

God’s Word clearly proclaims the sinfulness of man (Romans 3:10). This message is not only in Scripture but it is equally clear in general revelation. “To err is human” is a fundamental maxim. Modern behavioral psychology seeks to explain this phenomenon in terms of environment. We are sinners, they reason, because we were surrounded by sinners. If we purify our environment we eradicate sin.

Scripture tells us not that we are sinners because we sin, but rather that we sin because we are sinners. David affirms this in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” We call this condition “Original Sin,” and its root is the “original” Original Sin.

How did the first sin of Adam come to have such a devastating effect on humanity? Two theories prevail: realism and federalism.

Realism (the minority report) professes that there is not imputation. Man is said to have been a unified race. The realist affirms that Adam’s sin need not be imputed to future generations as each of us was present with Adam. Adam, therefore, is seen not as a representative but as consisting of all future humanity. Adam’s fall was literally my fall. God has not decreed me to be fallen by His power; rather, I am culpable because I have truly and personally fallen.

The appeal of this position is obvious. There is no discomforting attempt to align our sense of justice with what God has done. Perhaps more significantly it appeals to our American mindset. The realist’s view is heavily individualistic. We boldly accept a curse which we have rightly earned.

While this position enjoys these advantages, it is difficult to harmonize with the Genesis account. A necessary inference from the realist position is that we were present in the garden. The biblical account, however, mentions only Adam and Eve, and Psalm 51 mitigates against preexistent souls.

Federalism (the dominant view) asserts that Adam represented each human being, much in the same way a senator represents his constituents. His decision is binding on all whom he represents. Thus, when we say that we have “sinned in Adam,” we mean not that we have actually sinned but that Adam’s choice represents the choice we would have made, had we been there.

This view appears to cast a shadow on the character of God. We reason that representation is much more than applying the actions of one to many.  In the drama of Eden, I did not choose Adam, and neither did you. But it is crucual to understand that God was the "chooser." God, in choosing Adam, chose the perfect representative, equal in every way. God, in accordance with His perfect character is incapable of making a mistake, a wrong or unjust choice. Had we been the representative we would have acted as Adam. He was chosen by an infallible God, placed in the perfect garden, and created without sin. How would we have differed?

Federalism and realism are not so much contradictory views as they are opposite ends of a spectrum. History’s great theologians have positioned themselves throughout the spectrum. All, however, have approached this difficult question with appropriate humility and awe, treading lightly into areas where God has chosen not to fully reveal His plan. We must be, as our forefathers were, zealous to protect God’s justice, His sovereignty, and His inscrutability. We must not get bogged down in examining how we came to be sinners. If we do, we may miss out on understanding and proclaiming the Good News, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).