I praise God that many are aware that man is born sinful. But the sad part is that we don’t really believe it. What I mean is, we don’t understand two main things: 1) The depth of the implications and 2) The doctrines we must affirm to consistently believe this essential truth. For many, we only give the doctrine of Original Sin a mere hat-tip of recognition because our kids tend to act badly. Even more than this, though, for those who know the depth of the implications, they fail to connect the doctrinal dots that give Original Sin its biblical bite. With these in mind, I want to persuade you, dear reader, concerning four things we must affirm to consistently believe in Original Sin.
1. Pervasive Depravity
As I already mentioned, many would affirm we have a sin nature. They would affirm that this doctrine explains why children die in the womb, and why you don’t have to teach children to misbehave. But the marked disparity is whether someone truly believes because man is born sinful, we are pervasively depraved. In other words, does man’s sin nature make him a slave to sin to the degree that it influences their whole being? And that the will is so corrupted and deceived by sin, that we willingly choose sin (John 3:19), and will not choose God (Rom. 3:11), unless the prevailing grace of the Holy Spirit convicts and regenerates our heart? (Titus 3:3-5) Some may give a hesitant “yes.” However, they don’t realize is that if we don’t believe that man’s sin nature so permeates our being that it fundamentally hinders our desire and choice to turn from sin and turn to Christ, then we don’t consistently believe the doctrinal and practical implications of Original Sin.
For others, unfortunately, this is where they draw a deep line in the sand. While some generally agree that we are conceived in sin because we are descendants of Adam, the unpopular notion that our will does not/cannot not willingly choose God is reprehensible. But Original Sin is the theological foundation that holds up, and even logically leads to, such a conclusion! While some disagree, nothing else can answer why mankind is not naturally inclined to obey God (Rom. 8:7), and why we serve sin so willingly to our own peril. And, why we would rather suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18), exchange it for a lie (Rom. 1:25), and serve that which plummets us to hell rather than seeking to be in a right relationship with the God who created us.
If we truly believe that we are born with a sin nature and that it pervades all of our being, including our will, then we must affirm that, apart from saving grace, we cannot believe in God because we will not, just as the Scriptures teach. And since we serve sin so willingly, and love darkness more than light, just saying that we are born in sin, meanwhile denying our inability to turn to God, would be theological abortion. To help us understand this better, we must look to Federal Headship as an essential point.
2. Federal Headship
Federal Headship, simply put, is representation. Specifically when one party acts on behalf of another party. In our case, when Adam sinned, he represented the whole of the human race. When he fell, we shared in his guilt as well as his punishment — death (Rom. 5:12). And because we inherit our sin nature from him, we die. Furthermore, from the moment we are conceived, we are hopelessly grafted to and perilously serving sin. But the biblical contrast, as Roman 5 teaches, is that those who are in Christ inherit not only eternal life, but share in his innocence, his righteous nature, and expect a blessed eternal destination.
Therefore, if we are going to believe in Original Sin, we must believe the inextricable connection between Adam as our Federal Head, and our pervasively depraved nature. But not just this! To be consistent, we must also see our LORD Jesus as our Federal Head. As our heavenly representative. If we profess to be born again. Because of his work as the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), we not only receive the imputation of righteousness because of His sinless life and vicarious sacrifice on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13), but justification through his resurrection (Rom. 4:23-25). And when he did this, he represented all those who are and would be found in him (Rom 5:19).
To put this more plainly, Federal Headship is the very thing that evinces why we have a sin nature. But, if someone does not agree with Federal Headship, for fear of it being unjust or unfair, they must also be willing to deny Christ’s representation on our behalf too. Because you cannot have it both ways! Denying Adam’s Federal Headship undercuts the necessary inference of the Federal Headship of Christ. And if we are willing to deny Adamic representation because of all the theological “baggage” that reeks of the depraved nature and volitional inability, we must also be as willing to deny Christ’s works just the same (i.e. the new nature, justification, etc.). This includes the necessity of the grace it takes to trust him via the Holy Spirit. Because, as I already mentioned, you can’t have it both ways. Well, not unless you want to dive headfirst into Pelagian heresy of course.
3. Adamic Covenant
Now here is a crucial issue. If we believe in Original Sin, we must affirm an Adamic Covenant of some kind (Even if you don’t feel comfortable calling it a “covenant,” we must recognize at least a “law” or “administration” between Adam and the LORD). The inability to obey God stems from the depraved nature we inherit from Adam. And our inherited, guilty nature stems from him because he is our Federal Head, if we are not born again. But truth be told, the Adamic Covenant and Federal Headship march in tandem. And because that covenant was violated by a federal head, it carried real consequences that led to our depravity and destruction.
For instance, many consequences and rewards carried out in Scripture are due to a Federal/Covenant Headship on behalf of others. The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, because of their covenant headship over their families, caused their demise (Num. 16). Achan’s sin brought the same fate upon his family (Josh. 7:24). And Joshua’s decision to make a covenant with the Gibeonites troubled all of Israel (Josh. 9). But you also have David and Jonathan’s covenant that saved Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, from being delivered over to the Gibeonites because of Saul breaking Joshua’s covenant (2 Sam. 21:1-9). And of course, we have the major covenants: Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenant. Each having a federal head. And each being inaugurated and represented by a party on behalf of others via a covenant. God, of course, being the chief Covenant Keeper, and Christ being the ultimate Covenant Head over all!
Despite these examples that can be gleaned from Scripture, the reality of an Adamic Covenant is often rejected by the majority. Partly because the word “covenant” isn’t used in Genesis (as if concepts or doctrines cannot be demonstrated without the actual words being used, like the “Trinity” or “marriage”). But maybe you’re like me: for a long time, I just didn’t perceive the necessary and consistent relationship between Federal Headship, the Adam Covenant, and the New Covenant. In other words, since Christ is depicted in Scripture as our Covenant/Federal head in the same way Adam was, and we reap the consequences or rewards based upon the actions of those representative heads, then there is no real reason to reject an Adamic Covenant. But for some, this gets even more complicated and uncomfortable in our next point.
4. Covenant of Works?
Now we are heading into an often dreaded conversation (not being sarcastic). As a disclaimer, this next portion is not meant to be a pot-shot at anyone who does not affirm Covenant Theology. However, I can prove that even if one affirms some form of Dispensationalism (which some of my brothers, whom I love dearly, do), they don’t necessarily have to reject what I’m about to say. See here for one of my reasons.
But if you are reading this, and you don’t believe that the Adamic Covenant is an “actual” covenant, then how are you able to understand Christ as the last Adam? And if Christ is our Covenantal/Federal Head by whom we benefit from his obedience unto life, how is it possible to consistently affirm consequences juxtaposed to that truth unless Adam was a disobedient Covenant/Federal head unto death? I’m not saying that everyone who denies a covenant relationship between Adam and God doesn’t believe in a Federal Headship. But if they do so, it is inconsistent.
For many, unfortunately, the stumbling block is that if one succumbs to the reality of an Adamic Covenant, then they are compelled to affirm a Covenant of Works. But at the very least, even if you don’t wish to make that step, there must be a consistent, doctrinal grid similar, if not exactly like, what is commonly understood as the Covenant of Works. Or else, the doctrine of man’s depravity, Adam and Christ’s Covenant/Federal Headship, and most of all, Original Sin are built on a cracked foundation.
And this where it can get really complicated. There are many of my brothers who are Dispensational, Progressive Dispensational, Progressive Covenantal, and New Covenant Theologians that may not affirm the Covenant of Works as my Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian brothers do. Yet, nevertheless, will believe some modified version of Federal/Covenant Headship concerning Adam, whether they realize it or not. Even some within the reformed camp have used the term “Adamic Administration” as a substitute. Others may not use any terminology but will admit to a law of some kind being given to Adam.
But no matter how one articulates it, we must affirm that Adam’s representative obedience is paramount to our understanding of Original Sin. Call it a Covenant of Works, or don’t. But if we genuinely affirm that his failure to obey was ours. And that in him, we inherited all that comes with the curse of the fall. Then we must also believe that Adam was in covenant with God as our Federal Head. And that this is also a fundamental and necessary framework in order to consistently and systematically understand Christ as our New Covenant/Federal Head for our redemption.
If God simply just gave Adam a law that he failed to obey, and he fell without consequence to another party, then no such Covenant/Federal Headship would be necessary to believe. His fall would have been his own, with no guilt or sin inherited. And even more than this, Christ would not need to be the obedient, Vicarious Savior that suffers in place of the guilty. Indeed the word “vicarious” would suffer much in this regard, which does tremendous damage to penal substitutionary atonement. But since Adam stands as the Covenant/Federal Head of a fallen human race, this explains why we experience the consequences and the guilt of Original Sin.
Therefore, it is important to be convinced of all the doctrinal implications concerning Original Sin. Not only so that we can safely hedge ourselves from falling into any theological ditches, but so that we can possess a doctrinal consistency that further demonstrates the clarity of Scripture, and glorifies the internal consistency of the God’s redemptive plans through Jesus Christ our LORD. This is not to say that if you’re not Covenantal, you’re outside of orthodoxy. But perhaps, taking another look at our hermetical frameworks to tweak our presuppositions would do us some good.
-Until we go home