Romans 5:12–21 is a key passage for understanding God’s plan of salvation, for it says that Adam “was a type of the one to come,” even Jesus Christ (v. 14). Knowing something of the consequences of Adam’s failure will therefore help us know why Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected (Mark 8:31).
We see in Romans 5:12 that in Adam “all sinned”; consequently, God’s condemnation fell on all people after him (v. 18). What Adam did had ramifications for our standing before the Father, and that is because of federalism. In broad terms, we find federalism represented by the United States government. Voters select representatives to stand in for them and represent their needs and desires during the lawmaking process. When legislation comes up for a vote, the representative is supposed to do what the voters he represents would do if they were present in the legislature. The federal representative whom voters send to Congress is elected because the voters believe he will do what they would do if they were lawmakers themselves.
Biblical federalism works in a similar fashion, at least with respect to Adam. The first man, Adam, stood in our place and did what we would have done had we been there in the garden of Eden. We did not choose Adam or tell him what we wanted to do; rather, God appointed him. But God makes perfect choices, so if He wanted someone to make the choice we would have made in the same circumstances, there was no better option than Adam. We would have sinned as well if we had faced Satan in Eden. Our elected officials do not always vote as we would; this was not the case with Adam.
Adam’s choices are our choices, so we share in the consequences of Adam’s sin. His transgression is imputed to us, or placed on our record, so that God regards us as guilty even though we never ate the forbidden fruit ourselves. If Christ is the new Adam and the federal representative of His people before God, then the principle of imputation is also in operation. Christ’s obedience—His righteousness—is imputed to us when we believe (2 Cor. 5:21). The only difference is that because we are sinners, we never would have done what Christ did were we in His place. His righteousness is entirely a gift of grace.
Genesis 3:14–15 foresees Jesus’ work as our federal representative. God promises that the woman’s seed will crush the serpent’s head. Jesus is that seed, for by His obedience in our place He crushed Satan, securing our right standing before the Lord (Col. 2:13–15).