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In the Beginning (Part 4): Imputed Sin & Amazing Grace

June 15, 2009

A comment on a previous post about Romans 5 got me to thinking, but I did not have a chance to really study it until this weekend.  Thank you, you-know-who, for the incisive questions that prompted me to study this!  I became so excited after reading and re-reading the passage, for I felt as though I had never fully understood Paul’s point before…and it is a jubilant, powerful one!  (Some of you may wonder, after reading this, why I didn’t fully get it before….) 🙂

The apparent contradiction

The commenter had pointed out that there seems to be an inherent contradiction in the passage.  That is, Paul says people living before Moses died.  However, these people should not have died for their own sins because “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (v. 13), and the Law was not given until Moses.

This apparent contradiction, I believe, is Paul’s point exactly.  He is using the death of these pre-Mosaic people as proof of imputed sin, which leads into his assertion of imputed righteousness.  “Imputed sin” can sound totally unfair when not properly understood, but Paul’s words show the justice of it.  Let me walk through the passage, and others can see if this makes sense:

Proof of Adam’s imputed sin

For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law (v. 13).

People living between Adam and Moses sinned, but their sin was not imputed to them because there was 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 (v. 14).

Death reigned anyway during the pre-Law period—but not because people’s own sin was imputed to them (since it technically could not have been in the absence of law).  This shows (Paul argues) they were judged due to Adam’s sin (since he had broken the “law” regarding eating from the tree).  Notice the several places where Paul is clear that people died because of Adam’s sin rather than their own:

through the offence of one many be dead (v. 15)

the judgment was by one to condemnation (v. 16)

by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners (v. 19)

Fair is fair

However, Adam’s guilt was not attributed to innocent people.  Indeed, it appears that Adam’s sin was imputed (and thus death came to others) on the basis of their own personal sins:

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 (v. 12)….

In the previous chapters of Romans, Paul had presented a thorough case for the guilt of all humanity — whether they had disobeyed explicit law (Jews) or law written on their hearts/consciences (Gentiles).  He had summed up his courtroom-style condemnation of all humans with this:

…We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin;

As it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one:

There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-12).

Thus, while Adam’s sin was imputed to all people, all people personally deserve judgment.  Essentially, this seems to be Paul’s scenario:

Adam’s sin –> imputed to others –> results in death (for Adam’s sin) –> but imputed based on their own (universal) participation in sin

And the whole point is…

This is critical for understanding justification, because Paul is clearly using the imputation of Adam’s sin to explain the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  (Adam is the “figure of him that was to come [Christ].”)  Note the parallels:

Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners [imputation of sin], so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous [imputation of righteousness] (verses 18-19).

In other words, just as people were imputed with Adam’s (rather than their own) sin, so people are imputed with Christ’s (rather than their own) righteousness!  However—once again—this is not a random imputation of one man’s righteousness to everyone else.  People’s reception of Christ is explicitly said to be the basis for imputing His righteousness to them:

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 (v. 17).

This is the scenario:

Christ’s righteousness –> imputed to others –> results in “reigning in life” (due to His righteousness) –> but imputed based on their faith.

The beautiful contrast: Amazing grace

A distinct contrast between these two imputations reveals God’s character—and it was when pondering this that I was touched so deeply.  When it comes to the imputation of Adam’s sin, God shows Himself completely just toward people:  those who were imputed with Adam’s sin deserved judgment due to their own sin.  God is just in His judgment of all of us, for we ourselves have sinned.  Indeed, those of us alive today know God’s Law, causing our guilt and sin to “abound” (v.20)!

But when it comes to the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness, God shows to us not His justice but His “abundance of grace” in offering a “free gift” (verses 17-18).  That is, Christ’s righteousness is not imputed because we ourselves have been righteous.  Rather, the free gift results from “many offenses [our own] unto justification” (v. 16).  Unlike those who are imputed with sin, those who are imputed with righteousness do not deserve it!

This fits precisely with Paul’s statement, in the previous chapter, that righteousness is imputed to the undeserving based upon faith:

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted [Greek–imputed] for righteousness (4:5, emphasis mine).

Amazing, amazing, amazing grace!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2009 6:08 pm

    NChristine, this has given me lots to think about. Thank you.

  2. June 17, 2009 8:49 pm

    Good post. Another verse which goes right along with this is Romans 1:20

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    Since all of creation testifies of God, none can be declared truly innocent – NONE are without excuse.


  3. June 17, 2009 8:54 pm

    Obviously on the above I meant ALL are without excuse! My brain and hands aren’t in sync.



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