I Corinthians 15:22 “In Adam all die.”
I have chosen to preach on this theme of imputation for the next three sessions, the imputation of Adam’s sin to us, the imputation of our sin and guilt to the Lord Jesus, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us because this is the DNA of Christianity. Understand this and you will understand the Christian religion. Reject it and you are rejecting Christianity. Today imputation is under attack. For example, Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham, doesn’t like the historic Christian teaching on imputation. In his commentary on Romans I think he displays some unfortunate mockery and certainly caricature when he compares the historic view of imputation to a “substance or gas” passing through a court room (Letter to the Romans, New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Abingdon, 2002, p.522). A movement called the New Perspective on the apostle Paul is certainly very cool about imputation, but we supporters of confessional Christianity will never cease writing and preaching about this great theme, in fact I have had help from some messages on imputation by Dr. Iain D. Campbell of Back Free Church of Scotland on the Isle of Lewis. The whole idea to preach on it these three times came unconsciously from him.
So what does this word imputation mean? You will find the actual word ‘impute’ in the Authorised Version of the Bible in fourteen different verses, but the idea is found throughout the Bible. There is a little cluster of these words in Romans chapter four from the twenty-first verse to the end of the chapter. Paul is talking about Abraham trusting in God: “being fully persuaded that, what [God] had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Those of you who have other versions like the New International Version (which I use) will see that because this word ‘impute’ is not in common use today it has translated the underlying Greek word with our English phrase ‘to credit to someone’ because that is exactly what the word ‘impute’ means.
Abraham believed what God hade told him. He said as it were, “Wow!” He trusted in God’s promises, and that faith of his was credited to him for righteousness. God attributed to Abraham righteousness. God regarded Abraham as righteous. God put Abraham in the category of the righteous. God accounted him as righteous. All those phrases tell us what imputation means, and such transactions take place throughout Christian history wherever people trust in the Lord Jesus for salvation, an identical change of status occurs as we are told occurred in Abraham. In other words his being credited with divine righteousness was not a one off in Christian history as though it were something that happened only to a super-Christian. Accrediting to Abraham righteousness was not something special that happens to very gifted men. For example, Jacob alone had a vision of a staircase to heaven; Samson alone had colossal strength, and David displayed remarkable prowess with a sling. That was not something given to all men. No, this action of God imputing righteousness to Abraham is recorded in Scripture as the pattern for all who receive the Holy Spirit by faith and so become children of Abraham. In other words, for everyone who believes in the Saviour, for the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ, when anyone at all places trust in the Lord, believing in him as Lord and Saviour, however wretched a life he has lived, and however fine the thread of his faith in Jesus Christ may be, then that looking away from self to the Lord is accounted to every Christian as righteousness. Righteousness is imputed to all who believe in Jesus.
What I am insisting upon is that no one can begin to understand the coming of Jesus Christ into the world until he grasps the meaning of imputation, because it’s the heart of the gospel. You think of how psalm thirty-two begins in the Authorised Version; “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity.” What a blessed and happy man is he! His sin has not been credited to him but to the Lamb of God. That man immediately possesses a change of status before God.
Let me again illustrate what imputation means from the letter of Paul to Philemon. Onesimus a slave had run away from his master and then he had become a Christian. In fact he made such progress that he was allowed to help the apostle Paul. He urged him to make his way back to his master Philemon taking with him a letter which Paul would specially write. In this little note Paul says this, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back” (Philemon vv. 18&19). “Charge anything he owes you to my account,” writes Paul. “I assume the responsibility for all and any wrongs he has done. I will make full satisfaction for them.” In other words Philemon the slave owner was to regard the apostle Paul as the one who owed him anything, not Onesimus. That is imputation. Reckon this slave’s debt to Paul’s account; “I will repay you for what he owes you,” says Paul. That is the language of imputation – we impute something to someone else and then it is his, and he is dealt with accordingly. It is his responsibility alone. Money can be taken from his bank account and not ours. You loan your credit card to your daughter and also your pin number and she can take from your account. Paul is asking Philemon to take back Onesimus the thief and then treat him as he would treat Paul knocking on his door and coming in; “It’s Paul!!!! Wonderful to see you. Welcome, welcome, welcome. Sit down. Servant, kill the fatted calf!” So in the gospel Christ has come and taken responsibility for our guilt and sin. He has been punished for the wrongs we have done because our sin has been imputed to him. Through Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us we are received and blessed by God as if we were Christ himself. We are wearing the robes of Christ’s perfection. He has paid all the wrongs we have committed; he has fulfilled all the righteousness that God demands.
I am saying to you that without this concept of ‘imputation’ there can be no gospel because the story line of the Bible is structured by three great acts of imputation. If you read right through the Scriptures you meet these divine works which change our status, which the whole good news of the Christian religion declares. One, Adam’s first sin is imputed to all his descendants – Oh woe and anguish! Two, the sins of saved people have been imputed to Christ – Oh joy unspeakable! And three, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who are saved – Oh unbelievable glory! This idea of imputation helps us know the answers to three fundamental questions: Why am I a sinner? Why was it necessary for the Son of God to die? How can I get to heaven? So I am saying that if you don’t understand imputation you don’t understand the good news. You still haven’t seen why you are a sinner, why you need to appropriate the blood of Jesus Christ, and why you can’t get to heaven in your own righteousness but only clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So let me begin the first of these three messages by considering the imputation of Adam’s sin to us.
1. ADAM WAS CREATED UPRIGHT BY GOD.
I am going to pack things tight for a few minutes. Come with me! All the human race is descended from its first parents Adam and Eve. Adam was made of the dust of the earth and Eve was made from Adam’s side. They were placed in the Garden of Eden to replenish and subdue the earth and have dominion over all living things. They were put under probation, the terms of which were focused in an attitude of constant obedience to one particular simple commandment. They could take from all the fruit of the Garden’s trees but they were not to take the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day they took from that tree they would die. The command was simple and the peril was made spectacularly clear. They were being challenged as to whether their futures were going to consist of obeying what God said or in obeying their own hunches. That is the challenge you face today about your future, whether you think the next years are going to be ones in which you say, “Well, I think that if I just do this and that it will be OK for me. I’ll feel good about it and God can ask from me nothing more,” or whether you say, “My future is going to be believing and doing the gospel of Jesus Christ.” If your futures are going to be lurching from one hunch to another that is the way of death.
Adam was the first man; he was the representative man; he was the federal head of humanity; he was my father and yours; I was in him and so were all of you, and when he defied God and ate the forbidden fruit then all mankind – you and me – we also fell. Death came on Adam and death has come upon us. The Shorter Catechism summarizing many Scriptures tells us, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression,” and the consequence of that was “The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.” Then the Catechism asks what exactly is that state, and it answers us like this, again summarizing tons of the Scriptures, the state of our fallenness consists of this, “[ONE] the guilt of Adam’s first sin, [TWO] the want [lack] of original righteousness, and [THREE] the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with [FOUR] all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”
That is what we call the ‘Fall.’ It is not a good title. I have fallen twice in Aberystwyth over the past seven years, once in Great Darkgate Street one winter afternoon in front of the Post Office when my feet got entangled in webbing. I was immediately surrounded by concerned students looking down at this old man and asking if I were all right and needed help. That fall was a complete accident and highly embarrassing. The second time it happened was outside the Station when I hit my shoe against a raised flagstone and down I fell to meet an identical reaction and again embarrassment at the accident. The fall of Adam was not like that at all; it was not accidental. It was deliberately done. It was a jump not a fall. As R.C.Sproul illustrates it, supposing God said to a man, “I want you to trim these bushes by three o’clock this afternoon. But be careful. There is a large open pit at the edge of the garden. If you fall into that pit, you won’t be able to get yourself out. So whatever you do, stay away from that pit.”
Suppose that as soon as God left the garden the man ran over and jumped into the pit. At three o’clock God returned to find the bushes untrimmed. He called for the gardener and heard a faint cry from the edge of the garden. He walked to the edge of the pit and saw the gardener helplessly flailing around on the bottom. He turned to the gardener, “Why haven’t you trimmed the bushes I told you to trim?” The gardener responds in anger, “How do you expect me to trim these bushes when I am trapped in this pit? If you hadn’t left this empty pit here, I would not be in this predicament.”
Adam jumped into the pit. In Adam we all jumped into the pit. God did not throw us into the pit. Adam was clearly warned about the pit. God told him to stay away. The consequences Adam experienced from being in the pit were a direct punishment for jumping into it. So it is with original sin. Original sin is both the consequence of Adam’s sin and the punishment for Adam’s sin. We are born sinners because in Adam all fell. I am saying that the word fall is a bit of a euphemism. It is a rose-colored view of the matter. The word fall suggests an accident of sorts. Adam’s sin was not an accident. He was not Humpty Dumpty. Adam didn’t simply slip into sin; he jumped into it with both feet. We jumped headlong with him. God didn’t push us. He didn’t trick us. He gave us adequate and fair warning. The fault is ours and only ours. It is not that Adam ate sour grapes and our teeth are set on edge. The biblical teaching is that in Adam we all ate the sour grapes. That is why our teeth are set on edge.
Adam lost paradise and the life of God; he gained the harsh world of thorns and pain east of Eden, but the end of this unfortunate episode didn’t come when Adam finally breathed his last. That groaning world would have been a bad enough end for them, but Adam and Eve were the root of mankind and so a new sinful bias immediately began to be conveyed to their children – their first born child murdered his brother. There was a trickle down effect, generation after generation sin and death came along, not missing a single generation. Here is the evolution of sin. The evolutionist looks back and he believes – by faith – man has always been like this; man is simply evil; that is just how all men and women are. The evolutionist goes back to those he considers to be first people, a handful of individuals in Europe and Africa tens of thousands of years ago, our earliest ancestors. “You go back as far as you can,” says the evolutionist, “and I believe that they were just as sinful as we are today. Thus it was in the beginning and now is and ever shall be world without end.” That is the despair of evolutionism. No, says the Bible. Sin came in after the world was made. Our first parents were made sinless in Eden. It was their rebellion against God that opened the door for crime and lawlessness and self to come in and pollute the human race, and now we are all held guilty before God. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All of us are dying men and women; there will be no escape from death for a single person on the whole planet. One or two might live until they are 120 years of age, and there might be better diets and drugs and operations so that some can live longer but there can be no avoidance of death whatsoever. In Adam’s fall we sinned all, and that is why we need the gospel of Jesus Christ; that is why we must have the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. We need his shed blood of atonement – because of Adam’s first sin. We lack our own righteousness; we have many actual sins. When we enter the world we have been shaped by Adam’s iniquity; we have been slit open to sinning, before one actual transgression has taken place. In sin did my mother conceive me.
2. ADAM WAS CONSTITUTED OUR FEDERAL HEAD.
Why are we guilty in Adam? Why does God categorize us as ‘sinners’? The answer lies in the way God constituted the human race at the beginning. God was in an utterly unique relationship with Adam. Unlike all the other creatures Adam was made in the image and likeness of God. As you look in the mirror and see your own image reflceted back at you so God could look at Adam and there was his own perfect moral likeness looking back at him – without one blemish. There was no distortion of God at all. More than that, with Adam there was a special relationship; this man and his Creator were in a covenant union. They were joined together; they were one. It was like a marriage. When a man is married to his wife he does not say to her one day, “Where are you going for your holidays this year? I am off to the Bavarian Beer Festival.” And she does not say to him, “I have decided not to go on holidays this year I am buying a mink coat for myself.” They are not two individuals any longer; the two have become one flesh. Their life and plans are in tandem. So God and Adam were in covenant; they were one and they walked together and planned their days with one another in mind. The blessings enjoyed in those first days and weeks should have been enjoyed for ever. The two were one in moral and covenantal unity. But that unity was put under a test during this probationary period.
Adam failed the test. That is the fall or jumping into the forbidden pit. Adam defied his God. He was persuaded that if he disobeyed God and did it his own way he’d have more than what God was offering him, and there are many today like that. They think, “If we give up on God we’ll be much better off. We won’t have all the restrictions a life with God brings. We will be happier; we will have more freedom.” The devil encouraged them forcefully; “You won’t die as the Lord says. That is a myth. Take the forbidden fruit from the tree. Nothing will happen except new knowledge and self-confidence that you are able to take on God and be wiser as a result.” So Adam jumped, and he lost everything. He lost all he had with no possibility under heaven of getting it back. He was driven out of the Garden never to return. He began to die and there was no way he could prevent that happening.
Now when Adam was doing all that then you were in him, and I was in him. Adam was not acting on his own; he was a public person; he was the representative of the human race. The principal of representation runs right through the Bible. You can call it the principle of covenant headship; it is just the same relationship. We are all familiar with this. We elect representatives to all our parliaments in Edinburgh, or Stormont, or Cardiff. We elect them to London. We elect them to the European parliament. We give them a mandate to speak and make decisions on our behalf. That is their official function. If the Prime Minister declares war on Iraq that is not simply the decision of an individual, it is the decision of the head of state and immediately our tax money is being used to support the troops in their military operations. So too Adam stands before God as the public representative of ourselves and the whole human race. When God speaks to him God is addressing a public person.
There were three men hanging on crosses outside the city walls of Jerualem. Two of them were utterly anonymous individuals, but the last Adam in the centre was not an anonymous private person suffering punishment. We know his name. It is Jesus of Nazareth; those very words are written above his head on a placard. He was hanging there as a public person. So it was that the first Adam in the Garden of Eden thought and decided and acted on behalf of the human race. What he did was going to affect me and you. We are all in union with Adam as we read of everything that happened in that Garden. A pastor friend of mine appeared on local television every Sunday morning; he would make the video in a makeshift studio on his house on Saturday nights and take the cassette down to the engineer at the end of the evening. One evening he couldn’t get the message right; he would reach a certain part and mess it up completely. Then he would start again, and again, but now with increasing tension as the time was going by. He had one more shot before taking the video-tape down to the TV studio in his car. He was going along well until one final time he lost his way and struggled and struggled until he got out of it sweating and angry with himself. There was no time to change anything. Off he went to the studio and handed the tape over to the engineer. The next morning he turned on the television and watched himself. He got nearer and nearer the place where he started making one mistake after another. He found himself as approached that place in the message saying, “Don’t say it John. Don’t go there. Don’t do it John,” and then he watched himself so foolishly saying and doing those follies, jumping into the pit that no one else had dug but himself.
So it is with us as we read Genesis chapter three. We see the serpent coming nearer and speaking to Eve and we find ourselves saying, “Don’t listen to him! Don’t pay any attention! Do what God has told you. Stick to God Adam. Don’t break that covenant!” Then we watch and we see him do it. Adam, my father and my representative, broke the covenant and he pulled me down with him and all our race. He violated the honour of God because God is holy and righteous in everything he does and all he asks from us. And I fell too; God imputes to me that guilt. Like the whole German nation was held responsible when its Fuhrer determined to wipe out all the Jews in the gas chambers. This was not only the attitude and action of one evil man Hitler but it was the act of the federal head of the country whose machinery of destruction was all set into operation to wipe out millions of Jews and paid for by the people. They did not rise up and resist him, but they followed what their head did. All of Germany suffered because of the action of its head. So too we men and women are accountable for what our head Adam did as our representative before God.
You protest, “But I didn’t appoint him. I didn’t ask him to be my head.” No, God did. Haven’t there been men you appointed to be preachers and members of parliament and accountants and they have let you down though you chose them and asked them to do this? We wanted them to be sure to do just what we wanted. They didn’t. God appointed Adam the wise and loving God made this choice, and so it was a perfect choice, the very best choice. You could not have chosen anyone more suitable. Your choice would have done worst than Adam. The best man let us all down.
3. THROUGH ADAM THE HUMAN RACE HAS THE PROBLEM OF SIN.
Do you understand the problem of the human race? People assume that God is angry with men and women and condemns them because they sin. They get drunk. They steal. They kill. They cheat. They profane the name of God. They fornicate. They desecrate the Lord’s Day, and then they assume that if only those sins could be removed from their lives all would be well with their souls. So they get older and their powers wane and their desires are weaker, and the opportunities for sinning are less extensive. They make some resolutions to turn over a new leaf and there is some moral improvement, and so they think all is well with their souls.
They fail to understand one crucial point, that is, that they are not first of all under the condemnation of God because they sin. Does that surprise you? They are under the condemnation of God because they are sinners. In other words, they have a status of fallen rebellious sons of Adam and they have the corresponding nature that goes with it. It is not that they are good men who have been given a bad name. They are bad men with a bad name. Their nature is alienated from God. Their nature is more than indifference to God; they are at enmity with God. They will not have the Lord rule over them. Their natures are at odds with God. The apostle puts it like this, “We are by nature the children of wrath.” You do not become the children of wrath because you sin. You sin because you are a child of wrath. When a man lies or is unfaithful to his wife that is only a symptom of the depraved nature within him. Paul describes that nature and concludes that we are dead in trespasses and sins. There is a coffin in your heart and your dead spirit lies within it. Your physical ears can hear what I’ve been saying, and your brain can follow my logic, but your spirit does not respond at all because it is as lifeless as a stone.
Why does a child have measles? Is it because he has measles spots? No. He has spots because he has the illness. The spots are the symptoms of measles. We sin because we are sinners. When a child has a high temperature we know it is unwell. We know that the child isn’t ill because of a temperature over 100 degrees. The high temperature is the symptom not the cause. When you take the child to the doctor you want the illness to be dealt with. You do not want a tube of make-up to be given to you to cover the measles spots. You expect the virus, the bacteria, the infection that is causing the temperature to be dealt with.
I never had to sit my girls down and say, “Today we are going to have a lesson in complaining, and answering back, and whining, and stamping your feet, and saying ‘Me! Me! Me!’ I am going to teach you how to be selfish and demand your own way, how to be mean to your sisters.” I never had to teach them those things any more than I myself had to have lessons in them, or that they in turn had to teach their children to behave in such an abysmal way. We all do that in an expert way. We don’t need to be taught how to sin. Sinning comes naturally to us. It comes from our natures. Resistance to God’s wise and good ways is second nature to us. Rather we need to be taught to say, “Please . . . thank you . . . no, you go first.” We need to be taught self-control and to appreciate the achievements of others without envy. Every child needs this in every civilization in every culture in the world since the beginning. It is not that in cultures dominated by Marxism or Islam or Roman Catholicism or Hinduism or Capitalism or Buddhism or animism or in any other land of ism things are any better. They are not. Wales is not facing a problem of structures and institutions, rather the problem of the human heart which is deceitful and self-centred in everyone. There is none righteous, no not one.
When a hundred years ago educationalists and professors of theology were losing their way they thought the main problems facing mankind were poverty and ignorance. Schools and more wealth would redeem and regenerate. Would that it were so! What do we have today? More of everything – more criminals and single mothers and crimes of violence and heroin addicts and violence in schools against teachers and fellow pupils and marriage breakdowns and sexually transmitted diseases and pornographic materials than ever before in the history of this wealthy country. Who are the latest terrorist bombers? They are not poor uneducated discontents from bad families. They are happily married scientists who have splendid salaries and have qualified from universities as doctors. They want to murder by explosion in London hundreds of people they don’t know. They are typical of terrorist bombers – they are graduates! The problem the world faces is one of the human heart, not at all economic and social and racial and educational problems. Our Welsh forebears of a century ago didn’t go deep enough. They didn’t face up to the problem of the fall of Adam and the human heart. There are social problems of course and we do try to help, but that is not the main problem of the human race, and no human solution has been found for inward depravity anywhere nor ever will except in the gospel.
Why did king David take another man’s wife and plot a murder. It was not because he did not come from a happy home; he was not a loner; he was not an untalented man; he was not poor; he had health and intelligence and writing skills and fame and wives. Then why did you do it David? He answers, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David didn’t blame the hard-lined teaching of religious people; he didn’t blame his father Jesse; he didn’t blame Bathsheba; he didn’t blame the temptations of being an absolute monarch. He went back to our father Adam, and the depravity that has come upon the whole human race since Adam fell, which David and everyone like him have displayed since their conception. From the very beginning David was a sinner and then he was put into a circumstance when he was alone, walking on the roof of his palace and he saw a woman and lusted after her and one thing followed another. The sins followed the power of sin in David’s life. So it is with all of us.
I tell you, that is bad news. We are in the sight of God ‘sinners.’ That is the category in which he sets each one of us. Before we’ve done anything wrong in thoughts or words or actions we are sinners before God. None is righteous; no not one, and that would be the end of it. That would be our desperate condition for ever – as it is for the rebel angels, were it not for one man who came and took the nature of the sons of Adam and yet without sin. In Adam all die, but there is one son of Adam who did not die. You can read his genealogy in Luke chapter three. It begins with him who was the son of Joseph the carpenter, and then back and back you trace his line until finally you reach the son of Adam which was the son of God. All in between died, but Jesus layed down his life for three brief days and then he rose again. He took the same nature as all of us, but sinless unfallen nature. He came to be a man born of a woman, in our low condition where pain and crucifixion was all too familiar. He became one of us, sin excepted. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, undistinguishable from any other man, but uncorrupted and unfallen. That is, in our nature but without our guilt and sin. In that untainted human nature he glorified God. He broke into the stream of fallen mankind and yet remained apart from all its defilement. He came where Adam stood, and met the same tempter that Adam had met, but he did not fall.
This great glorious fact comes to us that there has been a unique exception in this one human being who was just like me and yet was totally unlike me. That is the only beam of light to shine in our land today. No healing joyful rays shine except from Jesus Christ. This world has seen a person as free from sin as God himself. What wonder! Not free from temptation and not free from suffering, but free from sin.
In Adam all die and we are all dead in sins, but this text in I Corinthians that I have wandered far from tells us that in Christ shall all be made alive. What do we need? What does a dead man need? Better shroud, sweeter aftershave, more luxurious coffin, softer music, more tears shed around him, larger headstone? No he needs one thing only. He needs life, and so do you. In Adam all die, but in Christ . . . if you are in Christ . . . if anyone is in Christ he is made alive. This chapter fifteen deals with the two federal heads, Adam who sinned and brought death into the world. All are dead in Adam, but that is not the end of the story. Christ has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He comes by his Spirit right into that coffin of our spirits and he gives us life. Then we can see for the first time – the heaven above softer blue and the earth around sweeter green. Most of all we can see who we are, the children of God, once fallen and rebellious, but now adopted into the family of God. We can see the narrow way; we can see the law of God; we can see the destination the city whose builder and maker is God. We can see the lovely one, Jesus Christ, who will never leave us one step of the way. He gives us victory in temptations; he lifts us up when we fall and he does that again and again. He never grows tired of picking us up; he never grows exasperated about forgiving us. Who is a pardoning God like him?
So the question now is, Are you still in Adam or are you in Christ? You must be in the one or the other, and I am saying that you must cry to God for life, that he may take you out of Adam and put you in Christ. You cry to him that he will deliver you from the wrath of God that will fall on all the children of disobedience through what your Saviour Jesus Christ did when in your place his wrath fell on him. What status are you in today? I am not asking you are you doing more good things than bad things? I am not asking you have you made a list of all your good points, or have you covered over and hidden every measles’ spot of sin? There is no help at all in cosmetic change. I am asking are you out of Adam’s influence? Have you come from the reign of death? Are you into the life-giving pardoning Lord of glory? Are you in him, all the filthy rags gone and a robe of righteousness in their place, a new life within creating new desires to serve and love the Saviour. Can you say, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand?” That is the beginning of grace. That is salvation.
12th August 2007 GEOFF THOMAS