I was recently asked the question in the title of this post by a member of Good Shepherd and I thought it might be helpful to post my response here:
1. The idea of corporate participation in the actions of a forebearer conflicts with contemporary western individualism but it is thoroughly biblical. In fact, the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, grounds part of his argument for the superiority of Jesus’ Melchizedekian priesthood over the Levitical priesthood on the tithe that Levi (Abraham’s great great grandson yet unborn) offered to Melchizedek through Abraham in Genesis 14 (Hebrews 7:9-10). In the same way, Paul in Romans 5:12 places all of us “in Adam” and attributes his sin to all of us as corporate participants…“just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” It is important to point out that Paul does not say that you and I are held responsible for Adam’s sin. Instead, you and I both sinned in Adam. We were actual participants.
How can this be?
2. The idea is not completely alien to those of us who live under a republican form of government. When we elect a congressional representative we do so understanding that his legislative acts are, legally speaking, ours. It is as if we cast our votes through him. Of course, we are, admittedly, quite inept at choosing representatives who accurately represent our corporate desires. Hence the need for congressional elections on a regular basis.
But what if God were to choose a man to represent you? Would his choice be in any way inaccurate or deficient? Do you think that God could choose a man who would act on our behalf in precisely the way that we would want him to act? God has done just that in Adam. And so it is perfectly just that: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men…”(Romans 5:18).
3. The good news is that while we are all willing participants in Adam’s rebellion (as our present lives demonstrate) and we are all, therefore, justly condemned, God has sent another chosen representative; one who lives in perfect obedience, loving his Father with all his heart soul, strength, and mind, one who as our representative endured the full eternal penalty for Adam’s sin and ours, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And the promise of God is that all who call on his name, who repent, surrender, and trust in his work alone, will be represented by Christ and not by Adam. “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.”(Romans 5:19)