In my last post, on the way to making another point, I briefly mentioned the biblical truth of original sin.
In its simplest terms, original sin is the sinful guilt that you came into the world with. Babies are born guilty. Specifically, they’re born guilty of Adam’s sin.
Babies? Really? But they’re so … cute, with their little round bottoms and their little pearly toes and their gas-induced smiles. We paint cherubs as babies just because they’re so, um, cute, and innocent, and stuff.
What do you have against babies, anyway? What are you, some kind of monster?
I can assure you that I like babies as much as the next guy. I worked with my wife in the church nursery for more than 20 years. And for what it’s worth, I learned there that I like my own babies better than other people’s, but I still like them a lot.
But like it or not, the Bible teaches that all of us, at birth, bear the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom 5.12). We’re not just born with an inclination to sin; we’re born already guilty of having sinned.
I know what your response to that will be; everyone has the same response.
It’s not fair!
And, perhaps surprisingly, I’m going to agree with you on that. Back to that in a moment.
In the Mosaic Law, God said that a child could not be held guilty of his father’s sins (Dt 24.16). So why should I be guilty of Adam’s sin? How can that be just?
The answer—a partial one—is that Adam was representing us in his sin, just as a legislator can bind us with laws because his vote in Congress represents us.
But I didn’t vote for Adam! I never had a say in this!
True. Though I will note that you’ve spent your life demonstrating with your sinfulness that Adam’s apple didn’t fall far from the tree now, did it? So there’s that. Whether you’re held guilty of Adam’s sin or not, you’re still in deep, deep trouble, and Adam’s guilt isn’t going to make your outcome any worse. But that still doesn’t seem to justify holding you guilty for an act that you didn’t actually commit.
So why? Why has God set me up like this?
Ah, my friend, because what you’ve heard so far is not the whole story. When you were still a (sinful) child, you learned that waiting for the end of the story is always worth it.
So what’s the end of the story?
The official name for what we’ve been talking about so far is imputation. Adam’s sin has been imputed to you—placed on your account, like a credit-card charge—so that you are in debt for it.
But there’s more to imputation than just this.
In God’s gracious plan, your sin has been imputed, too. Your sin—every last bit of it—has been placed on the account of Jesus of Nazareth. He’s guilty of everything bad you’ve ever done.
That wasn’t fair, either.
And while you didn’t agree to receive the guilt of Adam’s sin, Jesus absolutely agreed to receive your sin.
How do you feel about the deal now?
And there’s more.
When Jesus came to earth, born as a man, he came as the Second Adam (Lk 3.38; Rom 5.18-21). Because the first Adam was your representative, you can now be represented by the Second Adam. And what benefit does that bring?
Well, when Christ willingly took your sins upon himself and bore their penalty, that wiped out your sin debt, but you were still broke. You went from owing a bazillion dollars to debt-free, but you still didn’t have any money in the bank.
The Second Adam changed all that.
In the third great act of imputation, all of Christ’s righteousness was placed in your bank account (2Co 5.21). All his perfect obedience to the Father throughout his earthly life is now your record. The Father has not only forgiven your sin, but the very record of that sin has been expunged. It’s not there. That’s why he “will remember it no more” (Jer 31.34). You are rich in righteousness, as rich as it’s possible to be. God sees you through Christ-colored glasses.
Now, you can complain about the unfairness of being guilty of Adam’s sin if you want, but that’s a stupidly short-sighted perspective.
Adam’s sin has traveled from him, to you, to Christ, who has burned it in the fires of eternal judgment. And what he has given us in its place is beyond reckoning.