Condemnation, Justification, and Federal Headship

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Main Article

About a month or so ago, I received the following question:

How can a God who is Just substitute the death of one innocent for the myriad sins of legions and still maintain the trait of justice?

I have spent much time reflecting on this question since receiving it. I initially scratched my head in confusion, saying, “Wow, that is an excellent question. I have no idea.” So i went with my gut on it:

“We’re finite and limited. Jesus was infinite and eternal.”

But there is a better answer.

The thing that initially confused me with this question was that i failed to realize i’ve heard the same question before, just from the opposite point of view. So, to my friend who asked me this, “Thank you for the question.”

It says a lot about a person when they struggle more with, “How can Jesus save all of us sinners?” than with, “How can one man’s sin curse all of humanity?” You see, the typical question goes like this:

How can Adam’s sin in the garden be justly charged to my account and make me a sinner?

You see, most people ask that sarcastically (“it’s not fair”) and then turn around in the next breath and say, “Jesus died for me. Yay!”

The problem is as follows: If it “isn’t fair” that God charges Adam’s sin to you, then how is it fair for God to charge Jesus’ righteousness to you?

Consistency.

The passage in question here is Romans 5:12-21. It answers both aspects of the issue. How can either sin or righteousness from one man be charged to many other people?

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.  In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One.  But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.  And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification.  Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more  so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul’s Assumption (vs. 12)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.

The biggest hindrance to understanding Scripture that learning the ancient languages overcomes is that sentence structure is a lot different between English and Greek. In the Greek New Testament, Paul’s sentence runs from verse 12 until the end of 14. You see, when Paul says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man,” in verse 12, it is concluded by the phrase “He is a prototype of the Coming One,” in verse 14.

And that is Paul’s assumption. He assumes, as a good Jewish person, the idea of Federal Headship. This is seen even more clearly in Hebrews 7:4-10,

Now consider how great this man was—even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder to him!  The sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have a command according to the law to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their brothers—though they have ⌊also⌋ descended from Abraham.  But one without this lineage collected tenths from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.  Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior.  In the one case, men who will die receive tenths, but in the other case, ⌊Scripture⌋ testifies that he lives.  And in a sense Levi himself, who receives tenths, has paid tenths through Abraham,  for he was still within his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

The author of Hebrews writes that Abraham gave a tenth to [Melchizedek]. He goes on to describe how the Levites collect the tenths from the people of Israel. He then explains that Levi paid a tenth when Abraham paid the tenth to Melchizedek because his ancestor Abraham represented Levi. (It’s not biologically true, because men continuously produce new sperm cells; women are born with all the eggs they will ever release. But it is theologically accurate because the Bible tells us it is.) This is Federal Headship. Ancestors represent all of their descendants.

But Paul’s point continues. He explains that not only did sin come through Adam, but death as well. And because Adam stood for all humanity (as the first man), all of his descendants are sinners who will inevitably die.

But Paul goes farther. He says, “It isn’t just that they are Adam’s descendants. Rather, they are also all guilty of their own sin.” This removes the objection to the usual question. Yes, Adam sinned, but you are ultimately held accountable for your sin.

But Paul expands on the usual question.

Answer to the Usual Question (vs. 13-14)

In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One.

Paul states that sin existed before the Law. (This is further expounded in Romans 7, which i plan on writing a book on at a later time. [Scroll down if you click the link and go to that webpage].) You don’t need the Law to be a sinner, though–as he writes in the next phrase–the Law is necessary to convict someone of sin.

Paul proves that sin spread apart from the Law. If, as he said in verse 12, “death entered the world through sin and spread to all men,” then, by pointing out that people died between Adam’s sin and Moses receiving the Law, Paul is proving that sin exists apart from Law. He even goes so far as to say, “even over those who did not knowingly and willfully break a commandment of God.”

And then Paul writes, “He is a prototype of the Coming One.” If we want to read the original sentence–broken down into simplicity–Paul writes in 5:12-14, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man . . . He is a prototype of the Coming One.”

And thus, we come to the answer to today’s question.

Answer to Today’s Question (vs. 15-17)

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.  And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification.  Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

If sin can infect all humanity because of Adam’s sin, then it isn’t too much to say that eternal life, justification, and righteousness can heal all humanity because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Now, of course, all humanity is not justified, given eternal life, and healed spiritually by Jesus Christ. It comes back again to Federal Headship. Every human being is born “in Adam.” This leads to certain death and condemnation, as Paul explained above. Paul’s argument in verses 15-17 can be summed up by saying, “life in Adam versus life in Christ.” When a person believes in Christ, he/she is taken out of Adam and placed “in Christ.” Those two words occur 91 times in the New Testament. It is the Gospel!

God is just in this “scheme” because He remains consistent. If you’re in Adam, you are guilty of sin because you are Adam’s descendant. If God has placed you in Christ, then you are justified because you are now a son or daughter of God.

The question is, “Who represents you? Adam? Or Jesus?”

I pray it’s the latter.

Contrasts (vs. 18-21)

So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more  so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we read this section carefully, we need to remember that Paul is talking about the difference between “in Adam” and “in Christ.”

Everyone [in Adam] receives condemnation.
Everyone [in Christ] receives “life-giving justification.”

The many [people in Adam] became sinners.
The many [people in Christ] will become righteous.

The Law–10 Commandments specifically, or Shema/”love your neighbor” (cf. Mark 12:29-31)–exists to show how far short we fall. The more we reflect on these things, the more we should be convinced of our great need for Jesus.

Eternal life comes “through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Eternal life is not for everyone “in Adam.” But it is for those “in Adam” who are sick of their life in Adam. Those who cast themselves on the grace of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection defeated death and sin for those who place their faith in Him.

Trust Him today, if you never have before!

You don’t want to be “in Adam” any longer. It won’t end well for you.

Come to God through Christ and ask Him to place you “in Christ.”

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Fide

Thanks for reading.

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