Shorter Catechism Qs. 16 & 17
Q. 16. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.
Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-” (Rom 5:12)
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19)
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22)
Note: It may be a good idea here to review Shorter Catechism Q&A 12 for basic concespts related to covenant and covenant theology, as I will not repeat what I have written there.
The word “covenant” appears 325 times in the English Standard Version. This number does not even take into account the numerous times when the concept of a covenant is simply being taken for granted without being explained. One only needs to read the Bible very superficially to realize that the main themes and the events of the Bible are organized around various covenants - the old covenant, the new covenant, God’s covenant with Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, etc. That is to say the concept of covenant is something the Bible demands us to take seriously.
We can start to think about covenant seriously by listening to Paul. He says there is a covenantal solidarity between Adam and the rest of mankind. Notice that Q16 limits this covenantal solidarity to Adam and to all who are “descending from him by ordinary generation.” Jesus, who was born from an extraordinary generation of virgin birth, does not share in Adam’s fallen nature. That is the only way he can be a pure and unblemished sacrifice for sin. DV, we will develop this more in the future.
So there is a covenantal solidarity between Adam and all mankind (except, of course, Jesus Christ). As Paul teaches us, one man’s disobedience made many sinners (Rom 5:19). “Many” is Paul’s way of saying that Adam’s sin did not end with one person being cursed, but that that his sin had ripple effects upon others also. For who are the “many?” Romans 3:23 tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “Many,” means all those who have covenantal solidarity, covenantal unity, with Adam. When Adam sinned, all of his descendants sinned in him and fell with him.
Thus through one man’s sin, condemnation came to all, and consequently death came to all. Adam was the covenant-head, or the federal head, of all of mankind. In some sense we can think of him as the head of a state or an ambassador. This is an imperfect analogy, to be sure. But ordinarily speaking, the head of the state or an ambassador is not a private person. He represents his people. And what he says and does is on behalf of his people. Now, in a like but a stronger way, Adam represented all of mankind before God. And when he sinned against God and fell, we in him and with him sinned against God and fell also. That is precisely what Paul teaches us in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. The result our covenantal solidarity with Adam is that we were all brought into the estate of sin and misery with him.
But we can already sense how God rights the wrong. Read again Romans 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Adam’s disobedience brought us all under the curse of sin. But God has appointed a new covenant head, Jesus Christ. God in mercy and grace has destroyed the covenantal unity between Adam and his elect, instead creating for his elect a new covenantal solidarity with Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ has become the new covenant head, the new federal representative of God’s elect. Thus when Paul says, “so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” he means by “many” all who share the covenantal unity with Jesus Christ. Thus, in Jesus Christ, we are counted as one with him. And as it was with Adam, what Jesus has done as our covenant head is credited to our account. His perfect righteousness is credited to us, and on the basis of that imputation of Christ’s righteousness we are justified. We are declared righteous before God for the sake of Jesus Christ. DV, we will develop this more in the future.
For now, the important question is this. “Who represents me before God?” If you have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and with faith believed all that he has done to reconcile sinners to God, if you believe Christ died and was resurrected to declare you righteous before God, then you are represented by Christ. You have eternal life.
But if you are refusing the gospel, you are still represented by Adam. And in and with him you are cursed. You will not escape God’s righteous judgment. Your only hope is Jesus Christ. And if he is your only hope, think what it means to live your life with Christ as your covenant Lord. You cannot have him as your Savior unless he is also your Lord.