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Romans 5:12–21

“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (v. 12).

Adam’s fall had a greater impact on humanity than simply forcing all of his descendants to be born outside Eden’s gates. Scripture teaches that we are counted guilty before God because Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and ate the forbidden fruit. Today’s passage is a key text that discusses Adam’s fall in relation to all his progeny.

In Romans 5:12–21, Paul discusses the entrance of sin and death into the world and the redemption God provides in His Son, Jesus Christ. Verse 12 says that death “spread to all men because all sinned,” with the necessary implication that we all sinned in the “one man” mentioned earlier in the verse. After all, the rest of the passage speaks of “one trespass” leading to “condemnation for all men” (v. 18) and the reign of death over all people through the sin of the one man, namely, Adam (v. 17). This interpretation is confirmed by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that “in Adam all die.” Adam’s sin in the garden condemned all his natural-born descendants.

How could Adam’s sin condemn us to death? How did Adam represent us in the garden so that we are counted liable for his sin even though we did not actually eat of the forbidden tree? The answer is that Adam served as our federal head in Eden. God has established Adam as the representative of everyone who is in him, that is, every natural-born son and daughter of our first parents. Since he was our representative, we share in the consequences of his actions. The guilt and condemnation he incurred is imputed to us — God counts it to our record — and although we also inherit corruption from him, we are counted guilty of his sin because he was our federal head in the garden. This must be so, because Christians benefit from Christ’s representation even though we are not related to him as His physical descendants. We are justified as righteous before God because what He did is imputed to us by faith alone; when we believe, the righteousness and blessing Jesus incurred is put on our account (Rom. 5:15–17).

Many people complain that it is not fair that Adam represented us in such a way that we incur guilt for his sin. Dr. R.C. Sproul answers, “We cannot say that Adam misrepresented us. As God’s perfectly selected representative, Adam represented us flawlessly” (Truths We Confess, vol. 1, p. 186). The Lord chose a representative who did what we all would have done if we had been put in the garden instead.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

In explaining today’s passage, the answer to the seventh question of the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that the fall “poisoned our nature,” corrupting us from the very moment of our conception. Besides guilt for Adam’s sin, we also inherit a fallen nature and are wholly inclined to sin apart from divine grace. The fallenness of all people means that we should not be surprised when others hurt us, and it should make us aware that we are all capable of even the most heinous sins.


For Further Study
  • Leviticus 4:1–3
  • Ezra 9
  • 1 Corinthians 15:45
  • 2 Peter 1:3–4

The Origin of Our Corruption

The New Birth

Keep Reading The Apocalypse of John

From the January 2012 Issue
Jan 2012 Issue