For each of the past 95 years, Time Magazine has selected a person of the year, someone who has had a profound influence on events. Last year it was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the year before, Elyon Musk. Ask yourself, who are the two persons, not of the year, but of human history. In Romans 5 Paul tells you that two men stand in a unique position as our representatives: Adam, and Jesus Christ. He discusses Adam’s fall in the context of the justifying work of Jesus Christ and compares those representatives.
Adam acted as your representative. Mankind was created perfect. The “one man” of Romans 5:12 is Adam, see verse 14. In his representative capacity, he prefigured Christ. (This chapter is a strong theological argument for the historicity of Adam—something that has come under increasing attack.) Paul’s focus on “entered” in out text takes you back to Adam, created sinless in the Garden of Eden. Mankind was created perfect. He was characterized by true righteousness and holiness. And he (his whole person, including the righteousness and holiness) is image of God. Both Genesis 3 and Romans 5 refute any notion that God is responsible for sin. Guard against the blame game. Keep in mind the context of Genesis 3. In Genesis 1 mankind, male and female, is made in the image of God. That gives you value and worth. Adam acted for you. God ordained him as your representative. He was more than simply the ancestor of the human race. Adam’s actions involve you. Regardless of your political persuasion, your President and the members of Congress have taken certain actions which involve you. Adam’s testing took place under the ideal conditions of the Garden of Eden. You know the result of that test.
“Adam and Christ are clearly in view as individual persons. But as individuals they no less clearly have a significance that is more than individual. They are contrasted as each represents others, as each is a head in a way that is decisive for those ‘in him.’ This union-based contrast exhibits the representative or federal principle that is at the root of the covenant theology taught in the Bible. This principle may be sufficiently summarized for our purposes as follows: as Adam by his disobedience has bought sin with all its consequences into the originally good creation for himself and those ‘in him,’ so Christ by his obedience has brought salvation from sin and all its consequences for those ‘in him.’… The uniquely pivotal place of each in the unfolding of redemptive history is, respectively, at its beginning and its end. Further, their roles are such that no one else ‘counts’; no others come into consideration. Only Adam, in his representative role in union or solidarity with ‘all,’ is the ‘type of the one to come’ (Rom. 5:14). As Christ is the omega point of redemptive history, Adam is its alpha point.”Richard B. Gaffin, No Adam, No Gospel: Adam and the History of Redemption, p. 10
Adam sinned. He disobeyed. That act can also be called transgression or offense, but here it is sin or disobedience. Adam violated God’s clear command not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam’s one act of disobedience is in view. Notice the “one offense” in verse 18. God counts you guilty because of Adam’s first sin, but not for the subsequent sins he certainly committed, nor for the specific sins of intervening generations. This act of disobedience marked the entrance of sin and death into human history. Death came upon mankind as the wages of sin. The catastrophe of all the misery, brokenness, suffering, and separation that has come into our world is in view. The comparison continues.
You sinned with Adam. Death reigned. It came upon all men. Through one man’s offense, death reigned, Romans 5:17. All have sinned, verse 12. Thus there is universal guilt and judgment. There are further consequences to sin. Death reigned. Sin has an addicting, enslaving power. Where sin is, death follows. And death rules. Apart from the redeeming work of Christ, death triumphs. And even for us who belong to Christ, death impacts our lives. And though Paul’s focus here is primarily on guilt, not on the corruption that flows from Adam’s sin, Scripture teaches that all mankind lacks righteousness, is corrupt and prone to sin. That sin is part of you from the earliest point that you were a person, Psalm 51:5. Understand how pervasive sin is in your life, in your very nature. That points you away from any effort at self-salvation.
That means that all sinned. When Paul says “all sinned,” he is not thinking primarily of the actual personal transgressions of which we are all guilty. Some infants die (and death is here because of sin) before conscious, voluntary sin. Verses 13 and 14 speak of death reigning over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam. Note the repeated emphasis (5 times in verses 15–19) on one man’s sin or trespass. Adam’s sin is counted as yours and that of all men. In verse 12, all sinned, and all died. Verses 15–19 make the point that death is due to the sin of the one man. All men are counted sinners. Imputation means that guilt is placed on us. There is a connection between Adam and the rest of the human race.
“Just as sin and death entered the world through the sin of the one man, so death permeated to all men because all sinned.”John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 182
But people object, asking, is it fair? Look at Christ! The ultimate answer is that this is what God has ordained. Who are we to reply against God? Lord’s Day 4 will return to the question whether God is fair. Paul’s comparison in Roman 5:12 is incomplete. Verse 12 begins a comparison, which is taken up again with the “so” in v. 18. The intervening verses are parenthetical. Paul’s underlying point is not to focus on our own sin (although that is a crucial subsidiary emphasis), but to contrast our sin with the righteousness of Christ. Adam and Christ are parallel, but in contrasting ways. One man brought guilt and death to many, but the sin and guilt of many are borne by the one Man, Jesus Christ. If you are going to object to imputation of Adam’s sin, be consistent, and reject the imputed righteousness of Christ as well. They go together. By faith grasp the righteousness of Christ as your own. The God who created you perfect will not allow his creation to remain marred an corrupted by sin. At the heart of his solution is the sending of his Son to be the second Adam, the Savior. And as part of that work they send the Spirit to give you new birth, to enable you to trust the Savior and to walk in new obedience. Christ’s work here on earth 2,000 years ago, his humiliation, his life of obedience, his death, resurrection, and ascension, and the exaltation in which he now lives all assure you that God has in store for you something far greater, far better than this present age. Humanity, who fell in Adam, will be restored in Christ. And we will be restored to something far better than the place of testing in which Adam and Eve lived. We will be brought into the position of confirmed righteousness, perfection from which there will never be any falling away.
Prince Caspian, in the C. S. Lewis novel of that name, learns the somewhat unsavory history of his Telmarine human ancestors and remarks, “I was wishing that I came of a more honorable lineage.” The Lion responds: “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth. Be content.” Adam was your representative—and that’s both glory and shame enough for any person. But Christ is your representative as you trust in him—and that is good news indeed!