The problem of sin and the representative positions of Adam and the Lord Christ.
The purpose of this chapter is to detail what the Bible teaches concerning sin and the legal, representative positions of Adam and the Lord Christ from Romans 5.12-21. It also will highlight how these truths are antithetical with the silly notion of “backsliding”.
[I have already presented a great deal of Bible theology on this site about the LORD’s work of the salvation of the lost. The most complete (in a single article) is found in The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics.
Within that lengthy article are three initial chapters which deal directly with this topic:
The Spiritual Nature of the Lost
The Election of Grace
The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Salvation of the Lost
[EDIT Nov 2020: Another article has since been completed to augment the above chapters: Dead or Alive? The Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis).]
These are good resources to understand the LORD’s work and I strongly urge my readers to read—and study!—the Bible texts presented in those chapters.
The emphasis of this chapter is, rather, to present the process of salvation from the perspective of the lost and those who think they are saved but demonstrate no true “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives.]
The History of Sin
About 6000 years ago the LORD created all things, including Adam and his wife Eve, then placed Adam in an ideal environment (Eden). Adam literally had everything he needed in a perfect environment; he and his wife had regular and direct fellowship with the LORD (Gen 3.8).
The LORD gave Adam a single responsibility and a single direct command:
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
The direct command—and it was very clear—was to refrain from eating from a particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While the exact time frame of his fall following his creation is not indicated, the Bible teaches that Adam chose to sin against the LORD despite everything that the LORD had given him and his wife. It was the greatest show of contempt against the LORD ever committed by a person; it was both the genesis and pinnacle of ingratitude and rebellion.
That single rebellion plunged all humanity into a permanent, adversarial relationship with its Creator. Moreover, it was impossible for Adam to somehow undo the damage.
You must understand, however, that there is a vital distinction between the nature of the sin by Adam in contrast to that committed by his wife Eve (though both were disobedient): Adam sinned defiantly while Eve was deceived by Apollyon, as the Bible clearly teaches:
1 Tim 2.13-14
For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
The importance of this distinction can’t be overstated because it becomes the foundation of how the LORD chose to solve the problem of sin: the solution to Adam’s rebellion and its devastating results would be illustrated and established in the principle of “legal representation”.
In dealing with the matter of the resurrection of life in the great chapter of 1 Cor 15, the Apostle Paul makes this stunning statement regarding the legal positions assigned by the LORD to Adam and the Lord Christ:
1 Cor 15.42-47
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
Relative to the LORD’s view of sin, there are exactly two representatives of the human race for all time: Adam represents sin and the Lord Christ represents righteousness. Adam is the first man; the Lord Christ is the Last Adam, the second man.
It is now time to consider the profound truths of Romans 5.12-21. We begin with the first three verses:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
The LORD told Adam and Eve that to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result in their death—which it did. But the total effect of their sin was much, much broader: the sentence of death was imposed on all people from that time forward simply because they descend from Adam, the single person who legally represented them in the transgression!
The point which the Apostle made, however, is that death existed before the giving of the Law. So, the logical problem which the Apostle highlighted in vv. 12-14 can be summarized as:
“How could this be, since the Law had not yet been given? There shouldn’t have been a death penalty before that point in time, at least to anyone other than Adam and Eve.”
The answer is very simple: death came through Adam’s transgression:
“through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”, (v12).
This is a very important point: all mankind from Adam forward was cursed to experience death, because they are held culpable for Adam’s sin.
The Apostle made it very clear: what had happened was that the LORD appointed Adam as a representative of the human race: as Adam went, so went his posterity.
Adam’s posterity unconditionally inherited his fallen nature; therefore, all persons born since Adam (the Lord Christ being the sole exception) are “active sinners” against the LORD. But that isn’t the only result: all are held culpable for Adam’s sin simply because all are Adam’s children. This is the meaning of the phrase “because all sinned” in v12. At the moment of conception every person is viewed by the LORD as a sinner because Adam is the father of all.
[When the full weight of this vital truth is finally realized, the typical reaction is:
“That’s unfair! Why should I be punished for Adam’s sin!?”
If this is your response, then you correctly understand that all mankind endures the punishment for Adam’s sin (namely, death).
But, if you stay with the Apostle’s reasoning in this pivotal text, you’ll see that not only is it not unfair, it is an elegant and just solution to the problem of Adam’s rebellion, one that shows the unfathomable love of the triune God for His fallen creation in the sacrifice of His Son!
Remember: the LORD cannot merely overlook sin. (Act 17.30-31) All sin must—and will—be judged and punished.
The summary question, therefore, is “How could mankind be rescued from the consequences of Adam’s rebellion?”]
In the remaining verses of this section the Apostle elaborates the truth of representation: Adam represented his people (the human race) and the Lord Christ represented His people (the elect of all peoples and throughout the ages: “those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness”).
Note the contrasts drawn between Adam and the Lord Christ along with their respective positions as the representatives for their peoples:
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Both are presented as the sole representative for their respective peoples:
• Adam represents all lost people, while
• the Lord Christ represents all saved people.
Adam’s sin cursed all his people for all time; the sacrifice of the Lord Christ saved all His people for all time.
[This would include Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, in contrast to the incredibly stupid and theological error of the Roman Catholic church which maintains that Mary was—somehow—born without the curse of Adam’s sin or sin nature (the so-called “immaculate conception”).
They created this monumental error to mitigate their self-imposed illogic that Mary needed to be free of sin to bear the Lord Christ; it escapes their notice that once they start down that path, there is no logical and consistent way of stopping:
What about Mary’s mother (and father, for that matter) since being free of sin is, according to their error, necessary for the birth of the (sinless) Lord Christ? And, what about her grandparents and great-grandparents—and so it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.
Of course, it is evident that the Romanists don’t think about this problem. If they had, they must dismiss their own glaring contradiction because Adam and Eve clearly fell and therefore could not be “immaculate”. They willingly ignore this inescapable starting point:
… and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…]
I’ve been careful to phrase this representation exactly as the Scripture teaches. A result of this distinction is that while Adam represented all people for all time (excluding the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man born of the virgin Mary), the Lord Christ represents a subset of all people, namely “those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness”.
Stated another way, “those who receive …” are the elected of grace.
[I refer my readers again to a chapter in a previous article, The Election of Grace.
The beautiful, elegant, powerful and humbling doctrine of the election of grace also is something that typically is called “unfair”. Its detractors usually reason from logic similar to this:
“So that means that even if I wanted to be ‘saved’, I couldn’t if I’m not elect, right? How could God even consider such a thing? How is there any semblance of justice if the LORD sends me to Hades when I actually wanted to be ‘saved’? The Lord would be a monster to do this. I can’t believe that election is true.”
Those who hold to such a position have never read and believed the Scripture: the scenario presented above—a person “wanting to be saved”, is pure fantasy that cannot happen:
as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
All persons descended from Adam, the Lord Christ the sole exception, fall under the truth of Rom 3 above. The fallen man or woman will never “seek God”. They are His enemies and fight against Him at all times and in all ways.
Rather, something had to happen to turn that lost person into a saved person; that “something” was the election of grace implemented through the sovereign grace of the LORD.
In one of the strongest statements of the election of grace found in the NT, please review the words of the Lord Christ in Matthew chapter 11:
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.
One element stands out in bold relief: Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum observed many miracles of the Lord Christ; if those same miracles had been presented to Tyre, Sidon and Sodom those cities would have repented and been spared destruction!
This is election demonstrated—the latter would experience, justly, the LORD’s wrath because He did not grant to them the instrumentality needed for them to repent and believe.
The LORD’s words to Moses (and quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 9 (9.14-18):
Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
It is the LORD’s glory to show compassion if He chooses to do so; it is equally the LORD’s glory to withhold compassion if He chooses to do so.
No person deserves or can force the LORD’s mercy because all persons are already condemned in Adam. This is the unconditional result of the fact that Adam represented the human race in his rebellion against the LORD.
But, this not the end of the matter in Matthew chapter 11!
Continue through the end of the chapter and you’ll find this extraordinary statement:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
After one of the most striking statements of the sovereign, electing grace of the LORD in salvation, the Lord Christ merely(!) says “Come!”. People are not required to understand the powerful doctrine of election in order to be saved; the lost are commanded merely to come and repent (which will be presented in detail in a later chapter). And if they truly come in “grace through faith” (Eph 2.8) they will be saved:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
But for the electing grace of the LORD, no one would be saved.]
Now let’s continue with the next two verses of the passage:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
The Apostle continued to reason from the truth that there are two divinely-appointed, legal representatives of mankind: Adam and the Lord Christ. But here he introduced another distinction between the two groups of people who are represented: the saved (those justified) and the lost (those condemned).
At first glance, verse 19 appears to be a simple repetition of verse 18; there is, however, a vital difference.
• Verse 18 deals with the legal declaration of those two groups, while
• Verse 19 deals with the results which were produced within each group.
Placing each half of each verse in parallel together clearly shows this:
v18a: So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men …
v19a: For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners …
v18b: even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
v19b: even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
In the first half of each verse, the Apostle reveals the legal declaration of the members of each group by using a noun (condemnation and justification, respectively). The emphasis here is upon the status of the members, that is, how does the LORD regard them?
In the second half of each verse, the Apostle reveals what actually happens in the lives of the members of each group. The emphasis is upon what each of the members became as a person.
[The use of the adjectives “all” (v18) and “many” (v19) are (typically Jewish?) parallel expressions and don’t change the scope of the respective groups. If we were to assume a change in scope, then the Apostle’s argument collapses.]
The effects of the actions of Adam and the Lord Christ upon their peoples are real changes both in their status before the LORD and in their lives.
I can now make the main point regarding this powerful text of Rom 5.12-21:
• Though none of Adam’s posterity had—or could ever have had—any direct involvement with Adam’s sin, viewed legally by the LORD every person sinned, and is guilty before the LORD and became active sinners.
• Likewise, none of “those who receive the abundance of grace …” had—or could ever have had—any direct involvement with the obedience of the Lord Christ, and viewed legally by the LORD every person was declared righteous before the LORD and will become righteous.
This is the foundation of the system of representation which the LORD implemented to save His people! None of the descendants of Adam could ever hope to save himself/herself because each was already condemned. By the time each was born, it was too late to change that grim fact.
But in Christ each one of “those who receive the abundance of grace …” is already justified. This is the basis by which true Christians refer to the “substitutionary death of Christ”.
Finally, vv. 20-21 close the Apostle’s argument and set the context for the content of chapter 6:
The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Remember what he said at the beginning of this section:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
If you review vv. 12-21 carefully, you’ll find it very useful to regard as a parenthesis the text which spans from v14 (“Nevertheless death reigned …”) through v19 (“the many will be made righteous.”). If this is the case, then the Apostle’s main thought was:
Rom 5.12-13, [parenthesis postulated above], 20-21
12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. [remove parenthesis of vv. 14-19 here] 20The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The presence of Law did not change the fact of the punishment of death for sin. Rather, the Law came to emphasize sin and show its true danger, thereby demonstrating the beauty, elegance and necessity of the gospel of grace.
Sin’s reign of death would come to an end through the grace of the Lord Christ.
At this point I urge my readers to consider this vital question in the context of this article, namely, “backsliding”:
In view of the truth of the two divinely-appointed representatives for mankind—Adam to sin and death and the Lord Christ to righteousness and life—where is even the remotest of possibility that a third category exists, that of the “backslidden Christian”, along with its own representative?
Who is there to represent the “backslider”?
The answer, of course, is that such a category has never, does not now, nor ever will exist. A person is either “in Adam” or “in Christ”; there is no middle ground.
As the remainder of this study will demonstrate, the “backslider” belongs—can only belong—in the group represented by Adam.