The Eternal, Inextricable Link

Scott Oliphint
One of the questions that came to me asked about the nature of the antithesis and its relationship to evangelicalism. This may initially sound like an abstract, maybe even, impractical, question. But it could be one of the most important questions that is asked with respect to apologetics.

Reformed theology has rightly placed significant emphasis on the theological notion of "Covenant." When God determined to relate himself to creation, and to bind himself accordingly, that determination and binding established a covenant relationship between God and creation, and specifically between God and man (male and female), as image of God.

When God created Adam, he created him as a representative and head of the entire human race. Because Adam failed in his responsibility to obey God, a second Adam was sent, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Any person who has ever existed, or ever will exist, is represented by one of these two covenant heads.

This truth tends to annoy many and can sound to some like fingernails scraping a blackboard (which, of course, is why whiteboards were invented). The fact of the matter is that God determined to deal with us in the context of our union with one of two covenant heads. If we are and remain united only to Adam, we will be condemned by virtue of his (and our) disobedience; if we are united to Christ, we will be declared not guilty by virtue of his obedience. Here, then, is the antithesis; it is covenantally defined -- we are either in Adam, or we are in Christ. There is no third "place" to be. There are no others who are designated by God as our covenant representatives.

It might be useful if we think about this antithesis in light of Paul's discussion in Romans 5:12-21. Paul begins this section with "Therefore." He is about to discuss the implications of Adam's sin, given the reconciliation that those in Christ have (v. 11). There are too many magnificent truths that flow from this section in Romans, so we will confine ourselves to a few points more directly related to the antithesis. 

1. When Paul says, in Romans 5:12,"so death spread to all men because all sinned...," he does not have in mind "original sin." Original sin is sin that is passed on naturally to every person. Rather (as with the justification that is ours in Christ), Paul has in mind here "imputed sin" that is ours, not by virtue of our natural generation, but is ours because of our covenant head, Adam. In other words, death spreads to all men because the sin of Adam is imputed to his progeny, the rest of humanity, until the end of time. The sin envisioned by Paul here, as he makes clear five times in this section, is the one sin of the one man, Adam. Paul's point here is to reiterate that what Adam did in his disobedience, we did, as those whom Adam represented. Adam's sin, because he is our covenant representative, is our sin, by virtue of imputation (i.e., it is credited to our account).

2. But it was not simply, or in general, Adam's disobedience that is imputed to us. Paul makes clear that it was the "one sin" of Adam that is constituted as our sin. So, (with reference now to 1 Cor. 15:45-49), John Murray says, "There is none before Adam; he is the first man. There is none between Adam and Christ, for Christ is the second man. There is none after Christ, he is the last Adam." The kind of relationship that Adam sustains to those whom he represents is like the kind of relationship that Christ sustains to those whom he represents. All who die, die in Adam; all who live, live in Christ. It is not our relationship to Adam genealogically that Paul is concerned to clarify, as if our only link to him was by natural generation. Rather, it is our relationship to Adam representatively, or better, covenantally that is in view in Paul's discussion.

(Parenthetically, we should be able to see here how monumentally important it is for us to affirm the special creation and historical existence of Adam. As if Genesis 1 and 2 were not clear enough, it is both biblically and theologically necessary that Adam be the first man, as well as that he exist in history. So, if one is intent to deny the biblically grounded and founded historicity or special creation of Adam, then one is not simply left with no "first man," as if that were not serious enough, but one is left with little more than one's own imagination as to how such things as sin and atonement can be construed. And the historical record of human imagination with respect to theology is abysmal, at best. The denial of the historical Adam as the first man leads to a denial of the central truths of the gospel itself.)

This means that our relationship to Adam is meant to be thought of in the same way that the relationship of Christ to his people is taught in Scripture. As Christ was our representative substitute, so also was Adam in the Garden. There is more, therefore, to our relationship to Adam than his headship; Scripture includes in Adam's status his substitutionary status as well.

3. The question is sometimes asked as to whether the imputation of Adam's sin was mediated through our depravity, or altogether unmediated. In other words, is Adam's sin imputed to us because we are depraved? The answer to this is no. The sin of Adam is, in that sense, unmediated; it is imputed to us by virtue of the sin itself, and not by virtue of our own depraved natures. Paul makes this clear in Rom. 5:18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." It is the "one trespass" that led to our condemnation. Or, as Paul says in v. 16: "For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation..."

As Paul is concerned to parallel our relationship to Adam with the relationship that Christians have to Christ, it is useful to think of the imputation of Adam's sin in much the same way as we think of our imputation of Christ's righteousness. For those who are united to Christ, we are justified before God because his righteousness is imputed to our account. Our righteousness in Christ is not in any way mediated through our regeneration or our sanctification. We are not declared by God to be righteousness because we are sanctified. We are declared by God to be righteous because of what Christ has done. So also with our sinful status. The one sin of Adam was credited to our account, because God instituted a covenantal structure in which all of us are, as individuals, constituted in Adam.

4. Following on this, it is not sufficient for us to think that since we are conceived and born in sin (which we are), the sin in which we are born is given to us by way of natural generation. As Murray puts it, "...the reason why we are naturally generated in sin is that, whenever we begin to be, we begin to be as sinful because of our solidarity with Adam in his sin. Thus the relation of natural generation to depravity is that by the former we begin to be and having begun to be we are necessarily sinful by reason of our involvement in Adam's sin." That is to say, at the point in eternity when God contemplates our own individual existence, he contemplates us as sinners in Adam, first of all. For those who are God's people, being by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), we are also contemplated in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3-11).

Maybe an analogy will help us to see the connection we have to our covenant head(s). As I sit here writing this on my computer, I remain "connected" to the worldwide web (though such connections seem most often to be more a curse than a blessing). That connection is not accomplished "physically," but is (somehow) a "wi-fi" connection; it has no physical links to me or my computer. As connected, I am able to click "links" to other web sites and pages. 
In an analogous way, all of us are "connected" to one of two covenant heads, and only two are available. We are connected either to the "web" of all who are and remain "in Adam," or we are connected to all who are "in Christ." There are no other webs to which to connect. Any "link" that we "click" will simply be a species of the web to which we are connected. Unless the Lord, through his Spirit, changes our covenant head b uniting us to Christ, we will always and everywhere move within the web of our first covenant head, Adam. We are who we are because of our connection to one of those heads. (My attempt at an analogy here will betray my ignorance of such things. But, hopefully you get the point.)

Why is this important? For many reasons, but we'll only mention one or two. It is important because it directly challenges, even contradicts, our typical notion of individualism, rugged or otherwise. This covenantal constitution does not swallow the individual, as if the "group" is all that matters. But it properly (i.e., biblically and covenantally) places the individual into the proper, covenantal context. The moment one is conceived in the womb, that one who is conceived was already contemplated by God as being in Adam. Thus, as Paul makes clear in Romans 9, there is a hatred of God that accrues to all who are conceived and born in Adam; they are contemplated by God as having sinned in Adam. And, It is the love of God that distinguishes others who are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.

So, if this is true, someone might want to say, why does he blame me? If all of this is a matter of God's determination to constitute humanity covenantally, surely my being conceived in Adam is not my fault. I can't resist the eternal predetermination and will of God. You are probably already aware of Paul's answer to such musings: "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Rom. 9:20-21)

The fact is, God can constitute humanity in any way that pleases him, and it is not our place to pretend, for example, that if he had a little more respect for rugged individualism he would have been more just in his dealings with us. This is an important, probably largely misunderstood, apologetic point. It helps us to see why there is so much sin and evil in the world. The reason is not simply that God ordained such things, though that is true enough. But the reason is more historically concrete than that. It is found in the fact that when God created Adam in his image, he also constituted him as head and representative of the entire human race. Therefore, what Adam did with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we all did. We all did that, not because we were there (we weren't), and not because we were going to descend from Adam (although we do), but we did that because, as our covenant head, Adam's sin is imputed to us.

Everyone we meet, therefore, is "in" one of two covenant heads. Those who remain in Adam, as Paul makes clear in Rom. 1:18ff., suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They will not have God in their thoughts, so they substitute the truth that he reveals in and around them for a lie, and worship and serve something created. Those who are in Christ, are being renewed unto knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). This is basic to Reformed theology.

The question included the relationship of this antithesis to "evangelicalism." My primary response to this part of the question is that the relationship will remain as ambiguous as the moniker itself. To the extent that evangelicalism imbibes the biblical truths of Reformed theology, to that extent will it affirm the antithesis, and structure its theology (including its apologetic approach) accordingly. To the extent that evangelicalism partakes of (some kind of) a less-than-Reformed theology, to that extent will it undermine, subvert, contravene or contradict the antithesis.

But any appropriation of Scripture's insistence on our covenantal status will inevitably need to reckon with the application of that status to the discipline of apologetics. Whatever the outcome of that "reckoning," it dare not water down our actual status, nor pretend that what is true "in principle" has no "real" application. Who we are as covenant creatures has much to say about what we know and do in God's world. Perhaps more on that at a later point.