“It’s not fair!” This is a phrase my children are beginning to test out as they face the consequences of their decisions or balk at parental direction. Humans love to shift blame. We are pretty good at it. We have been doing it since Adam took a bite of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and then blamed his wife for giving it to him (Genesis 3:11-12). In a similar way, many people resist the guilt of original sin by asking, “Why am I held accountable for the bad choices of Adam?”
As we have discussed previously, human suffering and sin are directly linked to Adam committing the original act of rebellion toward God. While God created man “upright,” Adam chose his own path. (Genesis 1:26-27, Ecclesiastes 7:29) In Romans we read that we have inherited the consequences of Adam’s rebellion resulting in humanity being born corrupted, sinful and worthy of death (Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:3, Psalm 51:5). The guilt is clearly upon all mankind, but how do we understand why all humans are suffering as a result of one man’s bad choice? There are two main ways in which this guilt can be understood.
Federal headship means that Adam was mankind’s legal representative and was able to make covenantal agreements for all. Because Adam was man’s representative, when he fell through sin, all men fell. As a result, humans are born in a sinful condition. The concept of imputed corporate guilt (why all are guilty of one person’s actions) is difficult to understand for people living in individualistic cultures (i.e., Western). However, this principle plays out in daily life. When a father makes a decision for his family, or when a senator casts a vote for his constituency, they are acting as representatives. The consequences of the father’s decisions will be enjoyed by the family, good or bad.
It is important to note that though suffering and death come from the headship of one man, Adam, salvation and life also come from the headship of one man, Jesus (Romans 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:22). The biblical principle of federal headship is pivotal to our own salvation since it was through Jesus’ death that we all died with Him (Romans 6:8, John 14:6).
Natural headship is the concept that the entire human race was present with Adam – either seminally (in his loins) or in soul – so that when he rebelled against God, all took part in that rebellion.  In this view, we all actually sinned in Adam. An example of this seminal identity can be found in Hebrews 7:1-10 when Levi is credited with tithing through Abraham because he was “still in the loins of his father.” Under natural headship, each person is held accountable for their own sin (2 Chronicles 25:4). If indeed we all sinned with Adam, we are all guilty and deserve the consequences of suffering and death. At the very least, since Adam is our biological father, our sinful nature has been inherited from him.
APPLY IT: If your children ask a question regarding the fairness of the sin nature that has been passed along to us, using the example of a father’s decisions effecting the family or discussing biological traits that are passed down may help them understand. If you have had a fruitful conversation with your child about this topic, please let us know so that we can share your strategy with others.
. Philip Schaff, ed., A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Vol. II St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Co., 1887), 251.
. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 654.