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Theology in Romans

I.  Introduction:

 In our passage this morning (Romans 5:12-21) Paul makes a comparison between Adam and Christ.  He tells us that just as Adam was our representative before God, so now Christ is the representative for all who repent and believe.  Some have referred to this representation as ‘federal headship.’  To explain this further, let me offer an illustration that was first taught to me by Dr. Brad Green at Union:

Federal Headship Illustration

All that are ‘in Adam’, namely the whole human race (besides Christ) are born with a sin nature and are given to sin because of Adam’s sin, which he committed as their representative.  Yet, for all of those who turn from their sins and trust in Christ (repent and believe) they are transferred to being ‘in Christ.’  This is the comparison that Paul is making in Romans 5:12-21.  Yet, what about the rest of the Bible?  How are these ideas further taught in the text?  Well, we should go ahead and say that Romans 5:12-21 is the clearest teaching in the Bible on federal headship.  But we can also see these ideas through biblical theology and systematic theology.  Thus, as we have done before, I want us to spend some time on these tonight.

II.  Biblical and Systematic Theology

 A.  Biblical Theology: We have already noted in our study that the Bible makes it clear the men are sinners.  The whole story of the Bible teaches us of the sinfulness of man.  Likewise, it seems pretty obvious from the Bible that what takes place in the garden is important for the rest of the story.  It is not a ‘side’ story.  It is a significant shift in the plot.  Even though the language is not the same in Genesis as it is in Romans, it seems pretty clear from everything that happens after Genesis 3 that the Fall has had a profound impact on humanity.  One pretty obvious idea is that everyone dies.  With only a couple of exceptions, Enoch in Genesis 5:24 and Elijah in 2 Kings 2:1-12, everyone dies.  This is what God told Adam and Eve would happen if they disobeyed (Genesis 2:16-17).  Also, the continual spiral of human sin throughout the book of Genesis (and the rest of the Old Testament) points to the impact of Adam’s sin on the human race.  The Bible affirms that we are born sinners and Paul simply makes the connection with Adam’s sin.  He sinned as our representative and we have all inherited guilt and corruption from him (see below).

 B.  Systematic Theology: We will not go through all of the passages that teach on sin, but I do want us to look at a few that I think are relevant:

  1.  Psalm 51:5, 58:3 In both of these passages we see that sin is a problem from  birth.  We are born with a sinful nature.  We are born with a nature that leads us into  actual sins, which we commit because we desire to sin.  Our only hope is that Someone  will actually change our desires, our nature, which is exactly what God does for us  through Christ.  These texts do not identify where we got these natures, but they do point  us in the direction that we got them because we are human, we are born with them.

  2.  1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49 Verse 22 is the only other place in the Bible where  Adam is explicitly mentioned in connection with our sin.  Here we see the language of  being in Adam and in Christ.  Again, Paul is comparing what it means to be in Adam and  what it  means to be in Christ: in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.   There is only death in Adam and only life in Christ.  This is similar teaching to Romans  5:12-21.  In v. 45-49, Paul again uses language that lends itself to the Federal Headship  idea.  In these verses, Paul is contrasting what it means to be in Chris and what it means  to be in Adam.  In Adam we are from the earth (v. 47) or of the dust (v. 48).  Yet, in  Christ we are of heaven.  We have borne the image of Adam and we shall bear the image  of Christ in heaven.

  3.  Ephesians 2:1-4 Paul does not mention Adam in this passage, but does say that  we were all by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  If we ask the Bible  how humanity became ‘by nature children of wrath’, I think the only answer we could  give is through the sin of Adam.  God made everything good.  He did not create us as  ‘children of wrath.’  But when our representative sinned, things changed.  We became  sinners.  Our natures were corrupted and we became children of wrath.  Thus, we cannot  overstate the impact of Adam’s sin as our federal head.  It was devastating.  We became,  in the words of Charles Wesley, “Adam’s helpless race.”

 Grudem sums up the impact of Adam’s sin on humanity with two ideas: inherited guilt and inherited corruption.   Inherited guilt means that we are born guilty because of Adam’s sin.  His sin as our representative is counted against us.  This is what Paul is teaching in Romans 5:12-21.  Many object to this because it seems unfair.  Let me offer two responses to that objection.  First, if the Bible says that this is how God has chosen to act then we have no grounds to view that as unfair.  He is just in all He does.  Second, if it is unfair for us to receive the guilt of Adam, then it is unfair for us to be counted righteous through faith in Christ.  He pays for our actual sins and the guilt we have in Adam only to give us salvation in return.  Thus, the unfair objection does not really stand.  Inherited corruption means that we are born with a sinful nature that will lead us to commit actual sins.  We considered this a few weeks ago, so I will not comment further on it here.

III.  Conclusion:

 Paul is teaching us the doctrine of federal headship in Romans 5:12-21.  Some might object that this is the only place where this is clearly taught, so should we believe it?  First, as we have seen tonight, it is not the only place where it is taught.  Biblical theology points us in this direction and other passages do as well.  Second, even if this was the only place in the Bible where it was taught, we still believe that all of the text is inspired.  The good news is that even though Adam was our federal head (and brought sin and death into the world), through faith Christ is now our head and He has brought us forgiveness and life.  Amen.

1 From the hymn And Can It Be
2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1994), p.494-98.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 September 2010 )

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