The Imputation of Adam’s First Sin as Our Guilt
The imputation of Adam’s guilt to us is not based on anything that is in us, but is something legally applied to us by God from the outside and not based on any sinful thought or action on our part. Not all Reformed are agreed on this. Calvin himself followed Augustine in putting the emphasis on inherited corruption as foundational. But I myself would stand with the “federal theology” of John Murray, Hodge, Turretin, which talks about “original sin” in terms of legal representation. (as for contemporaries, both Mike Horton and John Piper speak of legal representation from Adam, but there are “realists” who are more in the tradition of Jonathan Edwards and Shedd–people like Schreiner and Blocher)
This imputation from Adam to humans, is about the legal transfer of the guilt of Adam’s one action, his first sin. The guilt of Adam is “external” to Adam–it’s the value, the demerit of his action, as judged by God, and that guilt is transferred to every human (Christ, the God human, the second Adam, excepted). This guilt is not simply the liability or punishment for sin, but is the sin itself.
That which is transferred from Adam to us is first of all EXTERNAL.
1. When Christ “bears sins” or is “made sin”, this does NOT mean that Christ himself ever became corrupt. Christ had no need of regeneration, which is why Romans 6 is not about regeneration, not about water, but about legal placing into the death of Christ. Why was the legal death of Christ necessary—because of the guilt of the Adam imputed to Christ, this guilt demanded his death, and his death demanded the remission of this guilt. Justice has been done, and those in Christ legally must have their guilt forgiven. This is good news indeed!
2. The guilt of the elect imputed by God to Christ is not the same as the guilt of Adam imputed by God to all humans, but the nature of the imputation of guilt is the same in both cases. We must teach an external (judicial) imputation. The more basic solution is not a regeneration of our insides (though that is necessary for other reasons, so that we believe), because the most basic problem we have is that apart from the cross (the death of Christ) God counts everyone’s sins against them.
3. Emphasis on the external is very important when we consider II Corinthians 5:21. I won’t extend the discussion here to talk about who died with Christ (5:14-15) or to whom the appeal to be reconciled is made (II Cor 6;1), but I will point out that “become the righteousness of God in Christ” is about having an external righteousness imputed to us. Because that is so, the “made sin” of the first part of the verse must be seen as about external guilt being imputed to Christ.
In other words, if the first part (made sin) is about some “inner corruption”, then 1. that says that Christ needed to be born again. God forbid! but 2. it would say that our righteousness is something found in us, or something in our faith, or something in Christ in us, or something indwelling. When the gospel is first of all about LOOKING OUT to Christ outside us, to Christ external to us. To become the righteousness of God in Christ is to be imputed with Christ’s righteousness, the external “merits” of the obedience of Christ for the elect.
This is not denying that the “in us” or the “new birth” is important, but it’s saying that those miracles are a result of the legal imputation of the EXTERNAL. Romans 8: 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
A Lutheran tells me— one must not attribute to the Lutherans the Calvinist idea that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, for we are all responsible for our actions that do not derive from full fear, love, and trust in God
mark: I am hoping that not all Lutherans would agree with this, because it seems to be an outright rejection of any notion of “original sin”. If we are only responsible for our own sins, then what is left of original sin? If we find the imputation of Adam’s sin not just, why should we find the imputation of Christ’s finished work to be acceptable? If we can’t be condemned for Adam’s sake alone , how could we be justified for Christ’s sake alone?
Most people in our day do reject both imputations. Certainly the “new perspective on Paul” does. But it seems that many others reject it as well. Are Lutherans saying that the only effect in our life from Adam’s sin is death and being a sinner? Are they rejecting any idea that we are sinners because of Adam’s guilt? If you deny that you can be legally judged because of Adam’s sin, must you not also deny that you can be legally justified because of Christ’s righteous death?