Letters of Grace Part 12

Letters of Grace Part 12

Part 12

In the last issue we sought to understand what is one of the most complicated and yet important portions of the New Testament, Romans 5. Theologians call the sin of Adam and its imputation to the human race Original Sin. Adam originated sin for the human race.

Another theological term used is Total Depravity. This means that God withdrew His favor from man in a way analogous to the fallen angels. Man is totally depraved not in the sense that he is as bad as he can be, but rather that his mind is so influenced by sin that he cannot reason his way back to a place of sensing his lostness and alienation from God.

Because of God’s withdrawing of Himself from the human race, man, in his quest for independence, has a natural aversion to authority, especially the authority of God. This does not mean that the substance or essence of the soul is corrupted. Neither is it an essential element infused into the soul as poison is mixed with wine. The effect of Adam’s sin on his posterity is: 1) We share his guilt; 2) God considers us unrighteous; 3) Our whole nature is corrupt.

We see that before the Fall Adam craved the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Without that desire the Fall would not have happened. God’s presence provided the antidote for this craving for independence. When Adam sinned and God removed His presence, this appetite for autonomy went unchecked. Man decided what was in his best interest, i.e. what was good. This rebellion against authority in general and God’s law in particular is the definition of the corruption of man’s nature.
Satan hoped that the Fall would result in his becoming god with man being dependent upon him. He didn’t count on man seeking autonomy. Thus in the Fall, instead of man transferring allegiance to Satan, man set up a third competing center of authority and power. If this had not happened, in all probability man would have been hopelessly lost, and Satan in essence would have accomplished his objective.

God imputes sin to the human race because of the sin of Adam. This is the teaching of Romans 5:12-21. To impute means to attribute something to a person upon adequate grounds, not because of criminality or moral evil, but due to the judicial obligation to satisfy justice.

Thus God can impute Adam’s sin to us, our sin to Christ, or Christ’s righteousness to us. He did not impute the sin of angels to man, since there is no connection. In the imputed sin of Adam to the human race we see in Adam our natural head. Just as our sins bear on our children (for example, our children must bear the weight of the national debt in the U.S.A. even though they didn’t spend the money), so Adam’s on us. We call this the Federal Headship of Adam. In his sin he represented the whole human race.

I have introduced three theological terms: Original Sin; Total Depravity; and the Federal Headship of Adam. All three have a direct bearing on our understanding of grace.


This is a summary of Paul’s statement in Romans 5:18-19: ‘Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” The same idea is stated in I Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”.

The ALL means “all who are represented by.” “As all who are represented by Adam die, so all who are represented by Christ are made alive.” If Paul did not intend this, then Universalism results, and if there is one thing that the Bible does NOT teach, it is Universalism.

The same way sin came upon “all,” righteousness came upon “all.” The “all” of sin is not universal in that Adam’s sin was not imputed to Christ. This is the purpose of the Virgin Birth. So also, the “all” of righteousness is not universal; only those who are represented by Christ are made alive in Christ.


In the fifth century Augustine and Pelagius debated the meaning of Romans 5-8, beginning with what happened in the fall of Adam. How grace influences your understanding of the nature of the Christian life is clearly presented in this debate. The position I hold is essentially Augustinian and is the basis for my understanding of grace.

Pelagius and his followers believed that the statement, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive,” means that Christ undid what Adam did, i.e. abolish original sin. Sin or guilt, therefore, is limited to a person’s own voluntary act or thought.

They viewed grace as God removing Adam’s sin from the human race. People do not go to hell for Adam’s sin, but for their own. Election exists only in the general sense of God electing Israel or, with individuals, in electing on the basis of His foreknowledge. He sees in advance who will respond to the Gospel and then elects to save them. Grate in this sense doesn’t need election, for grace is universal rather than particular, or it is based on what God knew we would do and is therefore dependent on our actions (cf. Grace, Part 2 for the relationship between grace and election).

Pelagius believed God created man as a rational free agent, without moral character. He was neither righteous nor unrighteous, having the capacity to become either by virtue of his being created with reason and a free will.

Just as man was not created righteous, but neutral, so also after the Fall he is not unrighteous by birth. Pelagius denied original sin as well as the possibility of indwelling sin in the life of the believer.

This thinking is predicated on an assumption that underlies all of Pelagian thinking: Man is responsible only for what he has full power to do or to avoid. Man cannot be charged with a crime that he did not commit nor for a wrong that he could not avoid committing. That which is not within the power of the will cannot have any moral force.

Augustine argued that man has characteristics that are neither acts nor states of mind under the control of the will that we readily admit to be sin. “Selfishness, maliciousness, ingratitude, unbelief, lack of love towards God and man are not willful attitudes, but a state of being which constitutes the character of man and is the ground of his condemnation.”

This fundamental flaw in the nature of man is not the product of education and environ­ment. No one in any age has been able to create the kind of environment that eliminated these characteristics. It didn’t happen in Israel under Moses and Joshua; It doesn’t exist on the university campuses of today; and Lenin couldn’t create it in the classless society.

Jesus had this in mind when in Matthew 12:34-35 He said,
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man Out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

We learn more about ourselves when we react than when we act. In reaction we overrule the will and the real person is revealed.

All of this has a direct bearing on Sanctification. If sin is only an act and not our nature or character, then as we will see in Romans 6, when we died in Christ, we were free from
actual sin. Thoughtless, involuntary acts are not sin since they are not the product of the will. This results in a doctrine of sinless perfection.

Pelagius said, “If I ought, I can.” Ability limits obligation. Free will means that a person has power at all times and at every moment over choosing between good and evil, being holy or unholy. Whatever man does not have power over, and is thus unable to choose, is not moral. Sin is only the deliberate choice of evil. It presupposes knowledge of what is evil as well as the full power of choosing or rejecting it.

For Pelagius this means that all men are born into the world in the same state as Adam before the Fall. Adam’s sin only injured himself in that the imputed sin of Adam was erased by the imputed sin of Christ. Sin is not transmitted or inherited, argued Pelagius. Why? If God created me and I am naturally sinful, then it follows that God is the Author of sin. So also it follows that physical death was not the product of sin, for Adam would have died had he not sinned, just as the animals and all people.

Furthermore, Pelagius argued that theoretically we can be saved apart from the Gospel. Paul says in Romans 2:7-11 that good men receive eternal life. Since we do not need to sin, we can go to heaven without needing to trust Christ.

Much of this obviously contradicts Scripture, and Pelagius would not have naturally embraced it had not the logic of his presuppositions forced him into it. Thus as his antagonists began reasoning with him, in order to defend himself, he began embracing unbiblical positions.


Pelagius reacted to what we identified in earlier issues as the intrinsic unfairness of grace. Because grace is God’s commitment to the sinner without reference to reciprocity or anything attractive in the object of grace, it is linked to election. You cannot have grace without election.

Here Pelagius stumbled. Election was abhorrent to him, and he therefore concluded that
Romans 9 teaches the election of nations, not individuals. This resulted in the above.
Grace is denigrated, and man goes to heaven because of what he did.

Pelagius certainly affirmed that Christ was necessary for salvation. But for him salvation is void of election. Grace is universal, given to all people everywhere. One man goes to heaven because of what he does, i.e. embraces God’s grace; the other goes to hell for failing to embrace His grace.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. We will see more of the implications of Pelagianism as we move into Romans 6.

Grateful for grace,