During our Sabbatical we studied eschatology in the patristics. Because all people have hope, and their ultimate hope is by definition their own eschatology, and because hope is the driving force that determines how people invest their lives, I thought it important to study the subject. The eschatological convictions of the church are divided between those who see it in temporal and those who see it in eternal terms.
I wanted to study those who immediately followed the New Testament writers, otherwise known as the patristics, to determine when and for what reasons the church divided on this great question. A buddy of mine loaned me his lap-top computer, and I spent hours every day reading and typing out obse,vations, quotes, summaries, etc. When I returned home and printed it, I discovered that I have between 250 and 300 pages of single-spaced material.
While studying at St. Dieniol’s in Wales, I asked myself what I should do with the material and concluded that I should not try to write a book. My ministry is to the laity, and therefore I want to share it with the laity, hopefully in an intelligible and useful way. When I finish this series on grace, I intend to devote several issues to eschatology.
In the next few issues I will explore one of the major rifts in the body of Christ. It centers around the interpretation of Romans 5-8 and how the believer is to understand God’s grace. In one sense it may appear a little technical and possibly even a bit irrelevant, although I will seek to relate it to the practical ramifications of how we should live. In another sense my treatment of the subject will be elementary and not at all thorough. It certainly would leave the theologian unsatisfied.
This controversy over how to understand Romans 5-8 has generated a number of denominations, and the implications on how to understand the Christian life are far-reaching. All of us are influenced by the undercurrents of how Romans 5-8 is to be understood, even though we may not be aware of it.
As we saw in Grace, Part 10, the dictionary defines imputation as “to ascribe to or charge (a person) with an act or quality because of the conduct of another over whom one has control or for whose acts or conduct one is responsible. To attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously.” This is at the heart of the believer’s relationship with God.
Paul says in II Corinthians 5:21: “For he bath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” God imputed the sin of the believer to Christ and the righteousness of Christ to the believer.
Romans 5 has two major paragraphs:
1) The Consequences of Justification – verses 1-11;
2) The Consequences of Imputation – verses 12-21.
Verses 1-11 deal with tribulation in the life of the believer. Justification assures the believer that tribulation is not the product of God’s anger or wrath. If I am a friend of God because of my righteousness, then when I sin, I can assume that God will send tribulation in order to either punish or chastise me. Since God imputes righteousness to me solely on the merit of Christ, I can know that tribulation is not the product of His displeasure.
Verses 12-2 1 deal with imputation in the life of the believer. Through imputation the believer is both condemned and justified; the former because of the sin of Adam, the latter because of the righteousness of Christ.
Just as God imputed sin to mankind because of the transgression of Adam, so also He imputed righteousness to the believer because of the propitious death of Christ. Thus verses 12-21 explain verses 1-11. In this second paragraph Paul explains how death and life originated in man’s relationship with God.
THE DEATH OF ADAM
We see the argument for imputation in the death of Adam as set forth in verses 12-14:
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: 13For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 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.
This passage is key in understanding Romans 5-8. In what sense did the sin of Adam result in all sinning? In answering this we must remember that Adam was the cause of
sin in a sense analogous to that in which Christ is the cause of righteousness. We clearly see this in II Corinthians 5:21 as noted above.
Sin caused death. If people did not sin, they would not die, including babies. Thus babies must sin in some sense other than an overt act, for the passage teaches that death is the penalty for sin, not the consequence of the way God created man. Paul is teaching us that there is a connection between Adam’s sin and the death of all people.
Death supposes transgression. God regards and treats all men from the moment of their existence as having forfeited His favor, because all fell in Adam. In Genesis 2:17 Adam had a LAW. When he broke it, he was placed on trial, not just for himself but for the whole race, even though all people did not break that same LAW.
We see this in a comparison between Adam and Christ. One brought death, the other life. Adam’s sin was the ground or reason for our condemnation, just as, Christ’s death was the ground or reason for our justification.
The corruption we derived from Adam is not the basis of our condemnation any more than the holiness we derive from Christ’s presence in our lives is the basis of our justification. In both cases God imputed these to us. The sin of Adam was legally and effectively our sin, and the righteousness of Christ was legally and effectively our righteousness, irrespective of our moral condition.
The statement “For all sinned” means that in Adam all men are considered, and thus declared to be, sinners. We all sinned in the sense that God imputed Adam’s sin to us.
To argue that Paul teaches that we are condemned for our sins, to the exclusion of Adam’s sin (because it would be unfair to impute another man’s sins to us), necessitates his teaching that we are justified for our goodness – which destroys all hope of heaven if we sin. It also means that it is equally unfair to impute another Man’s righteousness to us, thus negating the efficacious work of Christ on our behalf.
To impute sin means to regard and treat as a sinner; and to impute righteousness means to regard and treat as righteous The Bible-never represents imputation a~ affecting moral character but merely the relationship of man to God and His Law.
This results in a difference between moral character and legal relations. Therefore, a person may be just and unjust, righteous and unrighteous at the same time.
We did not become infused with anything immoral or sinful as the result of imputed or original sin. Rather, it means that we have a tendency or disposition to evil that results from the loss of the presence of God. When Adam sinned, God withdrew His presence from mankind. Although this left man, as it were, in the middle of the ocean without a lifeboat, God nevertheless did not drown him.
As Paul elaborates in verse 14, the Law entered with Moses. Paul is not arguing that there was no sin from Adam to Moses, but rather that God did not impute moral sin
without Law. (Man is still morally guilty on the basis of his own law as outlined in Romans 2:1-16.)
The failure of God to impute moral sin without Law is an illustration of the fact that He imputed the sin of Adam to the human race, even though God did not charge the human race with the sin of breaking His Law until after Moses (again taking into account the judgment of God on the basis of man’s own standards).
APPLICATION OF GRACE
The propitious death of Christ on the cross is the reason or ground for God justifying the sinner. God uses imputation as the means for justifying the sinner. Because God imputes righteousness to the morally corrupt believer on the basis of Christ’s death, He thus declares the believer holy and righteous.
This is a declarative act rather than actual righteousness, just as when God imputed our sin to Christ, it was declarative rather than actual. When “God made Christ to be sin for us, “the moral character of Christ was not affected, only His legal standing. So also when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer, the transaction is legal rather than moral.
We see grace in this double imputation of sin to Christ and holiness to the believer. We attain grace through imputation. The transaction of justification takes place through the medium of imputation.
One of the themes in Romans 5 is “much more.” It is a great study on the grace of God. For example, Paul says in verse 17, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”
Not only does Jesus deliver us from death, He also gives to us life eternal. If Adam and Eve had eaten of the TREE OF LIFE before the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL, our doom would have been sealed. When Jesus delivered us from the penalty of eating the fruit, He also bestowed the life from which we had been previously barred.
In Adam we died, but in Christ we live in spite of our sin. How terrible it would be if Adam had not sinned and we all remained under the conditional covenant that Adam lived under before he sinned. It would mean that if we sinned, we would die. It would be as though each individual were on perpetual probation. One sin, and death would result.
Now when we sin, we still live, due to the work of Christ. Thus, what was gained in Christ is MUCH MORE than what was lost in Adam. This is grace!