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Why I Still Defend the Doctrine of Imputation

I have explained and confessed my belief in the doctrine of imputed sin, which is not a popular doctrine these days. It is one of the many doctrines that are being “rethought” by even the most conservative Christians. Why? Because it seems to fly in the face of everything we feel is just and suggests a characteristic in God that we would rather not be present.

Here is the situation that was concluded from the last post: We are born with a propensity, bent, or inclination to sin. Because of this bent, we sin: It is our nature. 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 of our own. This is imputed sin as it is “imputed” or credited to our spiritual bank account before we have a chance to sin. We are held guilty for something someone else did. I can understand why so many are saying “check please” to this doctrine. I did not vote for this. I did not ask to either have this sin nature, or whether or not I approved of what Adam did. I never had a chance. I am sorry, again, this just seems unjust.

It is not hard to see why unbelievers scoff at such a foreign and seemingly cruel proposal. Similarly, 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. We must understand how absolutely shocking this doctrine brings to the table. As Pascal put it, the flow of guilt seems unjust.

So, how do I dodge the obvious stumbling block? How do I explain the seemingly unjust conclusion that we are held guilty for the sin of another? Or do I just bite my tongue, hold my 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 state 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 did 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. It would seem that our postmodern culture, while bringing some good critique and questions, has begun to settle itself into a position in which God is created with first regards to the level of emotional acceptability. This, while nice, is not a luxury that is justifiable nor possessing integrity.

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. And I say this all the while being a believer in the doctrine of imputed sin.

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. Hang with me. This is just an illustration, not necessarily meant to be a parallel truth.

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.” Those beings we refer to collectively as angels are all actually individual distinct creations of God. Because they do not reproduce of themselves, they have 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. If they were to be redeemed, 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; again, it is simply being used as a illustration. What is important is that Christ could become the species “man.” Since mankind is linked with Adam in both physicality and spirituality, Christ could represent the entire human race all at once. Only because we are vitally linked to the first Adam, we can be vitally linked to the “second Adam,” Jesus Christ. If Adam’s sin were not imputed to us, this would break any chance of solidarity in the human race and we would be like the angels, without hope of redemptions. Therefore, the imputation of Adam’s sin (the spiritual foundation for our unity as a species) was a gracious act of God who was looking forward to the redemption that the second Adam, Jesus Christ, could bring.

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 as he did with Adam. He could have caused each person to be born without any connection to Adam whatsoever. Each individual would be its own species. 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, not corporate. 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. But if this were the case (my argument is) Christ could not represent “mankind” because there would be no man kind. 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 that if given the chance, each individual would follow Adam and make the exact same choice he did. Therefore, God imputed Adam’s sin to his posterity, and declared all people guilty of Adam’s sin, thereby creating a solidarity. This solidarity made humanity redeemable by a single representative. Christ could only redeem mankind all at once because mankind fell in Adam all at once. Therefore, God allowed all men to sin “in and with” Adam (the federal headship view). By an act of grace, knowing that all would choose the same as Adam, God imputed Adam’s sin to humanity. The link was graciously made first 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 humanityHumanity 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 along with Adam (humanity) and God had every right to turn His back on Adam (humanity), because in Adam, humanity turned its back on God. Because of this sin, humanity stands condemned in a state of spiritual and physical 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.

I believe in the imputation of Adam’s sin because I believe that Romans 5 demands such a believe. Yet I rejoice in the imputation of Adam’s sin because in it I see a representation of the grace of God that is completely consistent with his loving and just character.

16 Responses to “Why I Still Defend the Doctrine of Imputation”

  1. Chancellor Roberts 2014-04-25 at 4:20 am

    I’m very much a believer in the doctrine of imputed sin (that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed, charged to, the entire human race – that we all sinned in Adam), as that doctrine appears in Romans 5. We were in the loins of Adam when Adam sinned. Therefore, his sin is our sin and it is the guilt of his sin and the effect of his sin that renders all of us – from the moment of conception – sinners. Sin is, in effect, part of our DNA.

  2. i honestly think you may be just a bit off from biblical teaching. You said:
    “When we do act according to our nature and sin, we are held guilty by God and ultimately condemned to eternal punishment.”
    Imho, this is an inaccurate statement. While we all sin, we do so knowingly and unknowingly, and willingly and unwillingly. These factors make a great difference.

    “Jesus said unto them,
    If ye were blind, ye should have no sin:
    but now ye say, We see;
    therefore your sin remaineth.”
    John 9:41

    “If I had not come and spoken unto them,
    they had not had sin:
    but now they have no cloke for their sin.”
    John 15:22

    Notice how God *first* ignores the time of ignorance and *then* calls to repentance:
    “And the times of this ignorance God winked at;
    but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”
    Acts 17:30

    “Then said Jesus,
    Father, forgive them;
    for they know not what they do.
    And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
    Luke 23:34

    It seems to be God’s will that the that sinned against His Son are forgiven, because they are not fully aware of what they are doing (cf. Stephen, Acts 7:60; Paul, 1 Timothy 1:13). It seems that the act of sin alone does not condemn us, but the knowledge of what sin is. Jesus also taught this concept in His parables:

    “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself,
    neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
    But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.
    For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:
    and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
    Luke 12:47-48

    Now, looking at Adam, this is exactly the same thing. Adam did not have knowledge of his nakedness before he sinned. Only after the sin did he understand. What was the sin? eating from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. It was *knowledge* of Sin that condemned Adam. This concept…

  3. And yet all humanity is not redeemed by the atonement…

    It seems what you propose implies universalism, which I see implied by some scriptures though explicitly refuted on others. If not universalism it seems your proposal at least might undermine particular atonement.

  4. This

    “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.”

    doesn’t jive with this

    “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.”

    If inherited sin is for the gracious purpose of solidarity and therefore salvation by one savior, why the break in solidarity by imputing righteousness to some but not all? It seems to falsify your idea of original sin being graciously imputed.

    Now, the answer I get a lot is , “well, it doesn’t matter what you think or feel about it, God is above it and has the right to do whatever he wants.” You addressed this above, and that is certainly true! What I want to emphasize, though, is that you can’t throw all objections to imputed guilt into this category. I may disagree, but not because it’s emotionally more comfortable. I disagree because I think my paradigm makes more sense and is more consistent with Scripture.
    So, just as a person shouldn’t shout Racism! at every criticism of President Obama, a person shouldn’t assume all opposition to this imputation business is made on the basis of palatability.

  5. Never has a doctrinal debate made so little practical difference. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s the end of the matter.

  6. One of those grind-your-teeth-and-carry-on-type lessons is in the Book of Job. God asks his accusers, were you there when I made all this? Did you see the blueprints for creation?
    So if in a spiritual sense we are looking up from the bottom of a deep hole we ought not to complain too much if the light at the top hurts our eyes. Some things appear unjust most likely because we simply don’t see very well in the first place. And if we remember His plan and sacrifice, and personal testimony of God’s love for us, we must then frame it in that perspective – and we all can grasp this, as revealed in Scriptures. Good place to start.

  7. Aaron M. Renn 2014-04-25 at 6:44 pm

    I’ve got to be honest, this seems a little hokey. The idea that Christ (i.e., God) “can’t” stand in for all of humanity without imputed guilt from Adam makes him sound like little more than a Dr. Who type cosmic repairman who’s forced into doing things a certain way because of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect or something. We would seem to serve a curiously impotent deity if this is the case.

  8. Aaron, I’m not sure that such claims of association constitutes an argument. If we are to evaluate any aspect of the Gospel based on how.”otherworldly” or “Dr Whoish” it sound, anything would stand up to such scrutiny. All we really have to do is start with the necessity of the cross. I don’t think that it would pass the Dr Who eval.

  9. Please make a distinction between questioning a doctrine because we don’t *like* it and questioning a doctrine because we don’t *see* it.

    I’m full on with original sin – Adam made us sinners…but we are guilty of our own sinfulness, not Adam’s eating of the fruit.

    If you would use the same arguments to advocate for us inheriting Adam’s *nature* – well, I would.

  10. Aaron M. Renn 2014-04-26 at 5:26 pm

    You’re arguing that it’s a necessity for imputed sin to exist in order for Christ’s atoning sacrifice to apply to all of humanity and/or the elect. That would appear to limit God’s sovereignty in a way I don’t think is warranted.

    There are a lot of things I don’t think we have enough information – or maybe even the capability – of fully understanding. Other than being true to his own attributes as revealed in scripture, I don’t know that I’d personally ascribe any necessity to God’s actions. Why did he create a universe in which man fell? Was that necessary? It was certainly necessary in the since that he did it thus it must be necessary to his plan. I think we can ascribe a type of perfection to anything God in fact chooses to do. But to argue that God’s ability to design a specific plan of redemption or punishment was necessary because of some limitation on God’s freedom to act extrinsic to his own nature (in this case, the inherent nature of created beings) I think would require extraordinary proof we simply can’t muster in this case. It’s fine to speculate. And I’m not claiming we don’t have imputed sin. Merely that I’m dubious about using human logic to put God’s freedom to act in a box.

    Since you used an analogy to hierarchies and the create nature of angels, I didn’t feel an analogy to Dr. Who was completely unwarranted.

    I’m sure there’s a standard answer to this one, but could you please explain Hebrews 2:17 with regards to this. It says Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things”. To be like us in all things – would that not imply imputed guilt as well?

  11. Also consider Galatians 3:22, that all are concluded under sin by the Law. Each is accountable for his own violation.
    Imputation through Adam is perhaps relational, while imputation through the Law is behavioral.
    Either way, we must then choose and put our faith in the risen Savior, for salvation is by faith, not by works, or behavior.

  12. Donald Kaspersen 2014-04-28 at 12:17 pm

    Paul seems to be speaking of a lapse in imputation between the fall and the giving of the law: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” If imputation proceeds back to Adam, how then the lapse?
    It seem that something else is being said here. The sins of the garden hold a clue. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating a piece of fruit. The wrong is the motivation for doing so- wanting to be your own deity. This is exactly the reason for the fall of angels. The sin was not, “Oh, that looks yummy.” Had Adam been on God’s side regarding the tree, he would have dissuaded his wife, but he is in on it as much as she. Note: nowhere does it say that by one woman sin came into the world.
    We usually overlook the defiance of the newly created sinners- no one ever has to force someone off his property, if he is willing to go and no one ever has to put up a fence and a gate,then hire a security guard to keep him out. Our two are angry and unhappy, but they are not repentant.
    The family culture reflects this. Abel, perceives that there is something wrong and tries to mend the wound, Cain continues in the familial anger. Meanwhile the family lives with the delusion that any moment now they may return, Eve imagining that her third son is the seed mentioned at the expulsion. An inescapable culture has been created where each will seek one’s own godhead, and lives in his own isolation from God. Some we find in the OT seek to return from it, others don’t care, and still others revel in their independence, so-called. The fruit of isolation from God is sin and trespass. Through Adam’s action, we all die, a consequence of…

  13. Donald Kaspersen 2014-04-28 at 12:22 pm

    the isolation the fall created and so we fall with him. The relationship is organic, so to speak, and irrevocable. But, if in Adam all men die, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
    Whether imputation is a proper term for the effects of this fall, I am not convinced.
    (Continuation of final comment, from previous response)

  14. From OrthodoxWiki: “The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that no one is guilty for the actual sin they committed but rather everyone inherits the consequences of this act; the foremost of this is physical death in this world. This is the reason why the original fathers of the Church over the centuries have preferred the term ancestral sin. The consequences and penalties of this ancestral act are transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human is a descendant of Adam then ‘no one is free from the implications of this sin’…”
    I still am not sure imputation is on better footing than this view.

  15. Michael,

    You wrote:

    “If Adam’s sin were not imputed to us, this would break any chance of solidarity in the human race.”

    and

    “Christ could only redeem mankind all at once because mankind fell in Adam all at once.”

    Those are two interesting assertions that I cannot find any direct (and in my opinion, no INdirect support- not even Romans 5; Ps 51; 1 Cor 15) scriptural support.

    Can you help us see your point in the Scriptures by pointing to us verses that will shed light on these two points?

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