Here is the situation: We are born with a propensity, bent, inclination to sin. Therefore, we cannot help but sin – it is our nature. Yet when we do act according to our nature and sin, we are held guilty by God and ultimately condemned to eternal punishment. Not only this, but we are already condemned for the sin of another – namely Adam – before we commit any personal sins. We are held guilty for something someone else did. Umm . . . Check please. I did not vote for this. I did not ask to be this way. I did not even have a chance. This seems unjust.

(We are just assuming that the argument I made in the last three blogs on this subject compel us to believe that we are held guilty for the sin of Adam: see part 1, part 2, part 3.)

It is not hard to see why unbelievers scoff at such a foreign and seemingly cruel proposal. As well, it is not difficult to see why believers would decide to either remain agnostic concerning these issues or change their theology to look more Pelagian. Seriously. This is not an easy subject. It is absolutely shocking!

As Pascal put it, the flow of guilt seems unjust. Seeing as how the most difficult interpretation presented during this series has been adopted and defended, how do we dodge the obvious stumbling blocks? How do we avoid the unjust conclusion that we are held guilty for the sin of another? Or do we just bite our tongue, hold our nose, and swallow it? Certainly, no one would complain about the fairness of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but the idea that condemnation is first imputed to all people with no distinction is difficult to grasp.

Before I propose a resolution, I would like to say something important. You and I do not have a vote in truth. Whether or not something is palatable does not determine whether or not it is true. We do not create God in our image. God could have been an evil God and He would still be God. He has never asked for a raise of hands on anything. He did not create a democracy which determines His attributes or actions. If He were to create each person and send them directly to Hell just for fun, then the truth of such circumstances, while grotesque, would still be true. In short, there is nothing you or I can do to change anything.

Having said this, I am thankful that God is not such a God. I am thankful that without my vote, He is a loving, gracious, and merciful Father.  

Now, I would like to propose a possible resolution to our current subject of imputed sin by using St. Thomas Aquinas’ hierarchy of angels as an illustration. Just hang with me. Aquinas developed a system of angels in which every angel is created with a distinct nature. According to Aquinas, there is no distinct species named “angels.” What we refer to collectively as angels are all actually individual distinct creations of God. Because they do not reproduce of themselves there is no spiritual or physical relation to one another. This is why Aquinas believed that there is no redemption for angels (Heb 2:16). According to Aquinas, if Christ were to redeem the angels, He would have to identify with the angels in every way. Seeing as how each angel is a distinct species, He could not become one single species called “angels” in order to redeem the entire group. In order to redeem them, in theory, He would have to become each individual angel and die for them one at a time. Why? Because there is no solidarity found in angels for there to be a representation.

Whether or not Aquinas’ proposal about angels has any truth to it makes no difference for our present discussion; it is simply being used as a illustration. What is important is that Christ could become the species “man.” Since man’s being is linked with that of Adam in both physicality and spirituality, Christ could represent mankind all at once. Because we are vitally linked to the first Adam, we can be vitally linked to the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

At this point some may say that it is unfair because the proportions are different in those related to Adam and those related to Christ. While all men are related to the condemnation of Adam, not all men are related to the justification in Christ.

While this may be true, it might still be understood as a gracious act of God that we were all linked together with the first Adam. I propose that it was not a necessary act of God to link us with the first Adam. Nor do I believe that it was the natural outcome for Adam’s posterity to be linked with him in death, sin, or condemnation. God, in theory, could have let each individual person have the same chance in the Garden as he did with Adam. He could have caused each person to be born without any connection to Adam. Each would have been an individual creation who, if and when they sinned, would not be connected to anyone before or after. In this manner, the fall would come on an individual basis. Each person would be linked to only one person—himself or herself. Each person’s condemnation would be his or her own. There would be no linkage to the rest of humanity. Each person would be spiritually and physically autonomous. This being the case, Christ could not represent “mankind” because there would be no “mankind.” There would be no solidarity to make any representation functional. We would be like the angels of Aquinas’ hierarchy—without a redeemer.

I believe that God, in his grace, knowing that when given the chance, each individual would follow Adam in his sin, declared all people guilty of Adam’s sin, thereby creating a solidarity. This solidarity made humanity redeemable by a representative. Christ could only redeem mankind all at once, because mankind fell in Adam all at once. Therefore, God caused all men to sin “in and with” Adam (federal headship view) by an act of grace, knowing that all would choose the same as Adam. The “all sinned” in Romans 5:12 is as if Adam was in the Garden and held up the piece of fruit to a crowd which consisted of all mankind and shouted, “Should I eat it?” and the entire crowed shouted back, “Go for it!” In this, “all sinned.” God, then, in his grace, declared all guilty. The link was graciously made initially in Adam so that it might be made the second time in Christ.

If this is the case, we see that there was a unique solidarity that is found in Adam that cannot be parallel to any other. It is true, as the Bible says, that the son will not suffer for the sins of his father:

Ezekiel 18:20 20 “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

Yet this passage has no application to our present issues since it is dealing with individual sins, not corporate sins from a representative of the entire human race. Adam was humanity. Humanity fell. Humanity was condemned for this sin. Humanity was punished with spiritual and physical death. Humanity inherited the sinful inclination and humanity is held guilty for the fall. This is why the sins of another cannot be imputed to us the same way. But this is why Christ, being fully God and fully man, could represent the new race of humanity. This is why Christ is called the “second Adam.”

1 Corinthians 15:45 So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

I believe very strongly that we are born with a sinful nature within a condemned race. We are guilty with Adam and God had every right to turn His back on humanity and leave us in our state of death. Yet God, in mercy and grace, intervened and sent a second representative who imputes righteousness instead of condemnation, hope instead of dread, life instead of death.

Two side notes that I will not expand upon at this time: 🙂

1. This has major implications on the New Perspective on Paul which denies imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

2. This necessitates a traducian view of the creation of the soul.

3. This strongly supports a Calvinistic view of predestination.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    13 replies to "Are We Condemned for the Sin of Another (Part 4: The Resolution)"

    • Lisa R

      Thanks Michael. Another great post. And I believe it is that same sin nature that causes us to rebel and declare “I am NOT guilty”. And maybe why even in the church, we look for loopholes and work-arounds. But humility recognizes it and causes the knee to bend, and says it may not seem fair but it is just.

    • Josh

      Great posts Michael,

      Kinda off topic, but I would be curious your thoughts (on a future blog)
      on two things:

      1. How human was Christ?
      -Could he have “really” sinned?
      -To what extend did he have foreknowledge?
      -etc

      2. How should those in Christ look at passages in reguard to judgement?
      -Passages like 1st Cor. 3:11-15 etc.

      Thanks for your wonderful ministry.

      Your brother in Christ,

      -Josh

    • Vance

      Michael, I very much like your analysis here, and I am going to take it in a very different direction, just tossing something out to ponder upon.

      The basis of all sin is selfishness. Ultimately, what makes Mankind a sinful being is that we seek our own way, our own desires, what we believe meets our needs. I think just about every sin can be linked to this human trait, this drive, rising to the level of human instinct, to think of ourselves first and foremost.

      Conversely, what God calls us to, and enables us to work toward, is just the opposite, to put GOD and OTHERS first. Jesus gave us two commandments: love God with all your heart, and love others AS YOURSELF. These are exactly the two things that we can not do on our own, since we are instinctively selfish, ie sinful, creatures.

      Now, here comes the twist, and it is something I am just pondering. As you may know, I am one who accepts (right along with the Intelligent Design scientists) that God created through evolutionary processes, including the development of Mankind. I do not want to get into that debate, but the points you make has created some possible links with a “theistic evolution” approach.

      As you may know, one of the primary tenets of evolutionary theory is the “selfish gene” concept. This is the idea that for evolution to work, each organism must ultimately working for its own survival, meaning at the genetic level, the survival of the genetic line. Thus, each individual seeks to its own good, but at times will sacrifice itself for the good of its genetic line. This is not some moral act, but still a selfish one overall. There is a CORPORATE nature to this selfishness, a species-wide selfishness.

      Thus, humans are hard-wired, in our natural state, to be selfish, ie, sinful. Right down to the genetic level. This does not mean we would never sacrifice ourselves for, say, our children. But, ultimately, we do not put each other first, we do not put God first. We put ourselves, and our agenda, first.

      Thus, the theory of evolutionary development supports the concept of an inherent selfishness, an inherent sinfulness.

      Gives me a lot of food for thought . . .

    • Josh

      Vance,

      I think you have some difficulty with that line of reasoning.

      If you say that we have a “selfish gene”, and I think you equate this (in some way at least) to the understanding of mans inability (depravity) to do good (in its “true” sense, you listed other reasons why we do “good” but it’s not really good [in the God sense] at all).

      Does it not follow that God (who used the evolutionary process, as you say); is then the author of sin? Because after all, if He guided the evolutionary process, then He fully created and developed (I’m not sure how you would classify God’s Hand in using evolution as His method for creation) the “selfish gene” and there really wasn’t “free will” at all; the Fall was merely a biological response, which is no different from a mother lion leaving her “gimped” cub because she knew it would not survive.

      It seems along this line of reasoning we could say it was only “natural” for Adam to sin, because it was within his genetic make up to do so. Thus there should be no moral outrage on Gods part, because it was no in no way a moral act of the will, it was merely what Adam was “programmed” (genetically) to do.

      Hopefully I haven’t miss-understood you, if I have please correct me.

      Your brother in Christ,

      -Josh

    • Vance

      Josh,

      I don’t think there can be sin without consciousness and choice. Thus, I don’t think animals can sin, even though they have the same selfish genetic make-up that we do. Sin results from rejecting God’s plan for allowing us to rise above our selfish nature.

      The Bible says that God created Adam, THEN God placed Adam in the Garden. Where was Adam created, if it was outside the Garden? What happened when God “breathed” into Adam? I think that this symbolizes an historical event, something happened where God engaged with the human species and provided Mankind with a something new, some divine intervention which allowed them to be “created in the image of God”.

      With this came the ability to commune with God “in the Garden”, to rise above the selfish nature and be regenerated into a sinless, unselfish being, wholly a gift from God, not of our doing. He gave us the opportunity for spiritual life. All we had to do was obey and accept the gift God freely gave.

      But, as we see in Scripture (and the world around us), Mankind somehow rejected this, disobeyed, and made choices based on their selfish nature.

      The dilemma you raise IS an issue, but it is not one that is raised by my approach, it is inherent in the scenario itself. Adam and Eve (Mankind, if you like) was ABLE to be tempted and to make the selfish, sinful choice. So, God obviously CREATED them with this ability, whether you consider it an evolutionary development, or a product of special creation. The selfish instinct was there, and it was from God, either way. This “inevitableness” issue has been raised for hundreds of years, and is not unique to my approach.

      Just some thoughts to ponder.

    • Josh

      Vance,

      You said:

      “The Bible says that God created Adam, THEN God placed Adam in the Garden. Where was Adam created, if it was outside the Garden? What happened when God “breathed” into Adam? I think that this symbolizes an historical event, something happened where God engaged with the human species and provided Mankind with a something new, some divine intervention which allowed them to be “created in the image of God”.”

      I’ve never thought of it in that way and it makes sense in some ways. But for me it seems you have to read too much into the text with stuff that isn’t there (I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way at all, just my perspective).

      Curious, what do you do with the Fall itself? If in fact God “breathing” onto Adam symbolized an historical event, which allowed man to be “created in the image of God”, did God remove His image from man after the Fall; since we are naturally (as you stated) unable to be obedient to Him by ourselves because of our selfish nature?

      Your brother in Christ,

      -Josh

      P.S. I like these mental exercises, you certainly think outside the box!

    • Vance

      Josh

      You are right about the danger of reading too much into the text, and so I want to make clear one little bit. I am not saying that I have any reason to believe Scripture is trying to tell us that this exact process happened via evolution, etc. I think that Scripture only tells us what we need to know for our salvation and edification. I think that the “need to know” here is on the broader level. God DID create Mankind, it WAS in “His Image”, Mankind did have the opportunity to commune with God in spiritual life, Mankind DID Fall, etc.

      All I am doing is seeing, more as a matter of curiosity than anything else, whether what Michael is talking about fits in with my general “theistic evolution” approach. I am leaving the Scripture as it is: telling us the WHO and WHY, not the HOW and WHEN.

      As for the Fall and God’s Image, I think the “Image of God” has to do with our having a consciousness, a self-awareness and ability to make the types of choices mentioned above. It is what makes us ABLE to either be in communion with God, or be in sin. Again, I think it HAS to mean that, whether it is by way of special creation or evolution with a divine intervention. Adam WAS created in the Image of God, and Adam DID choose to disobey, and thus sin. So, by definition, being in the Image of God does not mean being equal to God, and does not seem to preclude sinning.

    • C Michael Patton

      Eating popcorn.

    • Vance

      Ah, we do try to entertain . . .

      You could at least yell back at the screen! 🙂

      See, here you present a logical, comprehensive and systematic overview of imputed sin and I come along and grab that ball and run off into the woods with it! Doesn’t that just rile you up?

      BTW, I have been listening to your bibliology series and I keep waiting to disagree, waiting for you to overstate your case, etc. But so far, I am disappointingly in agreement with you! Of course, I am not done yet . . . 🙂

    • C Michael Patton

      Nice Vance, your payment for the endorsement will be in the mail. 🙂 What session are you on?

      While I don’t agree with evolution I am interested in what you have to say. So I just listen so I don’t say something stupid.

      I would not say that I am not well read on the subject, but keeping up with it all is difficult. Science is so dynamic that I remain skeptical (in a postmodern sense) of many claims . . . Unless, of course, it agrees with my presups. Then I jump on the band wagon 😉

    • Josh

      I knew it. Michael is a Post-Modern, he admitted it himself!

      Theres still hope for you Michael, turn away from the drinking, playing cards,
      and laughing at jokes and you may recover. 😉

    • Vance

      I am currently on the second bit of “external evidence for inspiration”, where you go through all the historical support. I am glad you found that NT Wright article recently which conforms to your views on that point (how open-minded of you to read ANYTHING he says, btw!). As someone with a degree in history, it frustrates me how the Scriptural accounts are treated by historians.

      On the issue of evolution, I can respect your views entirely, and I have always promoted a very irenic approach to this: HOW and WHEN God created is not a salvation issue, and to create dogmatic lines in the sand where they don’t need to be can only do more harm than good. It is only the dogmatic “either/or” that makes the slope slippery in the first place.

      I would love to see it become a non-issue, and have ALL Christians focus on opposing atheism and philosophical naturalism itself that those various things which people think can LEAD to them.

    • Vance

      Oh, sorry, that last line should read “. . . RATHER THAN those various things which people think can lead to them.”

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