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The Drama of Two Adams


Romans 5:12-21 (text); Genesis 2:15-17, 3:15; 1 Corinthians 15:22

May 3, 2015 (Pasig CRC) • April 26, 2015 (Trinity CRC)

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Dear Congregation of Christ: This may come as a surprise to you, but did you know that all representative types of government are based on covenant theology?


A federal government such as that of the the United States, Spain and Malaysia is covenantal. This system is based on an agreement or covenant between semi-autonomous states to form a federation with common goals, e.g., to unite different ethnic or language groups, to work together for mutual economic benefits, or to form a strong military alliance. In fact, the word “federal” is a transliteration of the Latin words foedus or foederus, which means covenant. Thus, covenant theology is also known as“federal theology.”

In Scripture, God’s covenant with man is not negotiated because, as the Sovereign Creator, he alone dictates the terms of the covenant. But while God is sovereign, he makes promises to man the creature and to all his creation. In return, man makes vows to obey the terms of the covenant.

All throughout the Bible —from Adam to Christ—God related to mankind through covenants. In all these covenants, he chose a covenant head who will represent his descen­dants. Adam represented all human beings. Abraham represented his family and his chil­dren. Moses represented all Israel in the covenant assembly at Mount Sinai. David as king represented the kingdom of Israel, which God promised will be an everlasting kingdom. Lastly, Jesus represented all those who will come to faith in him as Lord and Savior.

Now that the “drama” of two great boxers in the ring is over, it’s time to turn our attention to two other men: the two Adams who represent their own peoples, and their relationship to God. The stories of these two men form the introductory and concluding acts of a great Divine Drama in redemptive history. Their actions changed the course of human history, with eternal consequences.

Two Covenants: Law and Grace

Paul begins in the Garden of Eden, where God gave a clear command to Adam; there was no ifs or buts or maybes or loopholes, “Don’t do this and you shall die.” The reverse was implied, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them” (Lev 18:5). This is why this covenant of creation is also called the covenant of works. The prophet Hosea also, in his indictment of Israel’s disobedience, calls it as such, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6:7).

There was no provision for grace, unlike today when, if a person committed a crime with “extenuating circumstances,” or in the state of “insanity,” he might get a lesser sentence or even be acquitted altogether. Or if a student fails to attain the minimum passing grade by only one to five points, he might get a “Conditional” grade, which means he can retake the final exam or fulfill an extra requirement for a second chance.

God, on the other hand, did not give Adam a reprieve. In the spiritual realm, he died right at that moment, his fellowship with God broken and his tenure in the Garden immediately terminated. But in the physical realm, he did get a most gracious reprieve, when God let him live 950 years after his fall into sin. But he died just the same.

Paul says that because of this one man Adam, sin came into the world, corrupting all mankind after him with his sinful nature. Because he is the federal or covenant head of mankind, when he sinned, he represented all human beings—all his descendants. This is why his sin is called original sin. Therefore, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Even at conception in the womb, babies already possess this sinful nature, as David says, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51:5).

But it is often objected that this is unfair: How can I be counted as a sinner because of another man’s sin? Those who are not able to accept this doctrine usually fall into two false teachings. The first is the teaching that every person is born into this world neutral, without a sinful nature. Adam’s sin is only his own, and it did not have any effect on his descendants.

But Paul also says, “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses…” (Rom 5:13-14). If the law was not given until Mount Sinai, how cansin and its consequent penalty of death be present from Adam to Moses? Here, Paul was not talking about chronological human history but redemptive history. Instead, he was saying that all mankind came under the cruse of death through Adam, and have no hope of being redeemed from this curse through the Law.

This point becomes clearer when he says that “sin is not counted where there is no law.” Those who are not under the Law are not counted as sinners and are not under the curse of death. Who are not under the Law? These are those who receive God’s grace in Christ, those who are under the covenant of grace. Immediately after Adam sinned, God inaugu­rated his eternal redemptive plan to save Adam and his progeny from sin and death. Starting in the Garden of Eden, God provided animal sacrifices to cover the shame and nakedness of man’s sin. In the fulness of time, he sent Christ the once-for-all Sacrifice who would fulfill all the shadowy animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin.

All of the Old Testament saints were justified under the covenant of grace, which God revealed in Genesis 3:15. There, God promised the coming of the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26). David believed in God’s promise that he “will raise up your offspring after you… and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2Sam 7:12-13). It was by grace through faith in the Head of the covenant of grace that the curse of sin and death over them was broken.

It was Christ’s one act of perfect obedience in his life and death on the cross that brought forgiveness of sin and righteousness to God’s people. In his role as covenant head, his righteousness is being imputed or credited to all those who believe in him.

Two Acts: Disobedience and Obedience

We know that God’s creation was all “very good,” including the first Adam who was created in God’s image. He was created righteous, holy and with knowledge of God (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). But God wanted to confirm him in righteousness, placing him under proba­tion by a covenant of works. But Adam disobeyed, failing his probation. From eternity, God knew Adam’s willful failure, and in his eternal redemptive plan, he ordained a Second Adam who would come to fulfill what the First Adam failed to do.

Adam and Christ were alike in that both were tested by God through the devil. But Christ’s temptation was much more severe—40 days in a barren wilderness, with nothing to eat, and no companions except wild beasts. So in verses 15-17, Paul makes a comparison between Adam and Christ. The first contrast is one man’s disobedience and the other Man’s obedience. Both of them represented their people in their roles as covenant heads. All people belong to either one of these two covenant heads—either “in Adam” or “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22). In Adam, all disobeyed God, and in Christ, all “did” obedience.

Notice hat Paul uses another parallel-contrast: one trespass versus one act of righteousness (verse 18).What was that one trespass? It is clear that this “one trespass” was Adam’s oneact of disobedience in the Paradise of God. But the “one act of righteousness” is Christ’s perfect life of obedience and sacrifice on the cross.

Moreover, the two acts are also contrasted from the lesser to the higher. Because of God’s abounding grace to many people, he gave Christ’s sacrificial act as a free gift to them (Rom 5:15). This is so different from Adam’s one act of disobedience through which many died. The verdict of condemnation of all mankind came after only one sin, while the verdict of justification was pronounced after innumerable sins by innumerable people throughout the ages after Adam. This free gift of justification is truly God’s superabounding grace to man!

And this gift is Christ himself, given to many throughout all the nations, to those who would place their faith in him. He would be like Adam’s children in all things, tempted like us, suffered at the hands of men, but would not sin. Born under the Law, by a human mother (Gal 4:4), he would fulfill all righteousness and obedience all the way to his cruel death. This is why Jesus always said that he came to fulfill the Law and to do the will of his Father who sent him (Matt 5:17; John 4:34; 6:38).

The disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ led to opposite results for the whole human race.

Two Judgments: Condemnation and Justification

Paul contrasts the consequences of the acts of Adam and Christ: disaster from Adam’s sin and the free gift of redemption from Christ’s righteousness. The first contrasting consequence is condemnation through Adam and justification through Christ.

"Expulson from Eden" by Cole (click image to enlarge)

“Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” by Thomas Cole, 1828 (click image to enlarge)

God’s gracious gift to many in the obedience of Christ was so much more than the result of Adam’s one act of disobedience. Justification came after many trespasses while condem­nation was brought down on all mankind after one trespass, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

Because the First Adam is the head of the first covenant, the guilt of his sin resulted in the condemnation of “all men”—the whole world, without exception. Likewise, as the head of the second covenant, the Second Adam represented “all men”—those for whom he died—God’s elect (cf 1 Cor 15:22). All of God’s elect are justified, not because they follow Christ’s example of obedience, but by virtue of Christ’s obedience. This is called imputation—being counted as condemned or justified, or being credited with sin or righteousness.

Earlier in Chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example of imputation of righteousness through faith, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (verse 3). But imputation is in both directions, our sin being counted to Christ, who knew no sin, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteous-ness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

This is the great exchange in this divine drama of the Two Adams: the righteousness of the Second Adam for the sins of the children of the First Adam. The unspeakable conse­quence of this great exchange is the justification of many ungodly ones and the condem­nation of the Most Holy One to the most cruel punishment—the equivalent of eternal suffering in hell that the ungodly ones should have suffered. This is the meaning of “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed.

Beloved Christian Friends: It is tragic that some Reformed believers deny this great exchange. They deny that Adam or any human being could have merited anything from God through good works, that God bestowed grace upon him even before sin. They even say that the Westminster Standards speak of God’s “voluntary condescension,” saying that this term implies “grace.”

But if those great Westminster theologians meant “grace,” they would have used “grace” instead of “voluntary condescension.” They knew exactly what they meant, and it is not grace. First, they wanted to explain that God was not compelled by any necessity to create heaven and earth and man himself. He did not need anything or anyone, for he is sufficient and perfect in himself. Second, when God said that everything he created, including Adam, was “very good,” he meant that by nature, Adam was perfectly and inherently good, able to willing to obey him. Third, “grace,” or unmerited or undeserved favor, is used in relation to sinners after Adam sinned. 1 God’s condescension, communion and friendship with Adam did not involve God’s grace to him because he has not sinned yet. Although one of God’s inherent attributes is his graciousness, how can God give Adam grace or undeserved favor if he hasn’t sinned as yet? This is the meaning of the covenant of grace, in which God grants grace and mercy to sinners who do not deserve nothing.

The tragic consequence of this rejection of Adam meriting eternal life if he obeyed is also the rejection of Christ meriting eternal life for us because of his perfect obedience. The parallels between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 are clear. Adam would have merited eternal life if he obeyed God’s commandment. But Christ merited eternal life for us by his perfect obedience. How can a sinner be justified if Christ’s perfect righteousness is not counted to those who believe in him? The Belgic Confession says that we are saved with “a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ with all his merits… Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place” (Art 22 and 23, emphasis added).

The danger in this rejection of Christ’s merits is the teaching that the basis of our justification is faithful obedience rather than the strict obedience of Christ. This means that we are saved by faith and works. Who teaches this doctrine? The Roman church. This is exactly what they teach: justification by sanctification or good works. If the justification of Adam, Christ and all believers is through this faithful obedience, then this is not good news; it is the worst kind of news, because then no one will be saved! Grace, not works, justifies, but a final justification through faithful obedience still awaits on Judgment Day! More bad news.

This doctrine of justification by faithful obedience is commonly called “Federal Vision.” 2 A few Federal Vision pastors and other Reformed believers moved over to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then to the Catholic Church, since they finally realized that their beliefs are the same. This is not to say that all who believe and teach this doctrine will become Catholics, but there is great danger lurking in the shadows.

This is why the 2007 Synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America pub­lished a document against Federal Vision called “Nine Points of Schererville.” 3 Several other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations issued similar documents: Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA), etc. The first four points are very clear on: (1) Adam’s pre-fall perfection; (2) the strict distinction between the covenant of works and covenant of grace; (3) the ground of justification before and after the Fall; and (4) the merits of Christ imputed to all believers. Several other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have published similar condemnations of this new teaching.

The works-only principle in God’s covenant with Adam is not only an apostolic teach­ing, but also a classic Reformed doctrine. Therefore, whoever teaches otherwise is not only in error against Scriptural teaching, but is also in violation of our doctrinal standards. Let us then be watchful and discerning of this error whenever we read, listen to, or watch pastors and teachers around us.

Let us then be thankful to the Father for his Word that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Let us praise God for sending his Son who merited salvation for us by being obedient all the way to the cross.

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  1. The definition that applies with regards to God’s grace towards sinners is “the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.” A “beneficent disposition” of Christ “who give (undeserved) gifts to people.” A few examples of the use of grace as God’s disposition towards sinners are: Rom 3:24; Gal 1:15; Eph 1:6ff., 2:5,7,8; 2 Thess 1:12; 2:16; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11. Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testa­ment and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.
  2. For a brief history and summary of the Federal Vision movement, see R. Scott Clark’s “For Those Just Tuning In: What is the Federal Vision?”
  3. Several other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations issued similar documents: Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA), etc.