The Human Nature of Christ
The question has been asked: "What does Rom. 5:19; 8:3, and Ezekiel 18:20 share in common." Some appear void of any discernment as to any problem existing between these verses. I will now interject another verse, 2 Cor. 5:19, in conjunction with Ezekiel 18:20. 2 Cor. 5:19 may be viewed as a New Testament corroboration of Ezekiel 18:20. It says: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Ezekiel 18:20 says essentially the same thing that God does not impute the trespasses (sins) of the fathers to the sons. Should the sons bear the iniquities of the fathers, that would be imputation of sin. If we were all guilty of the sin of Adam, our ancestral "father," that would be clear imputation of sin. This "apparent" contradiction is what these verses share.
However, Rom. 5:19; 8:3, say that we were guilty of Adam's sin. So how do we resolve this apparent contradiction of Scripture. Dennis Priebe, an SDA scholar and pastor has explained this apparent contradiction better than any person I have read. His treatise goes far in refuting the doctrinal heresies of Desmond Ford, on the Human Nature of Christ.
Excerpts from Priebe's dissertation on the matter appear below in quotation marks. The principles of his treatise on this issue reflect one of Adventism's most important contributions to the advancement of the Reformation, because in principle, early Adventists taught the same dogma. However, before reading Priebe's resolvement of the matter, consider that mainline Christianity DOES NOT even try to resolve the apparent contradiction. Mainline Protestantism says we should take Rom. 5:19; 8:3, alone and by themselves and that they share nothing in common with Ezekiel 18:20 and 2 Cor. 5:19. It does this for the apparent reason of supporting the Augustinian Error of Original Sin, which it adheres to with steadfast purpose. That purpose appears to be their adherence to the doctrine that sin is so invasive and pervasively powerful, that even by partaking of the Divine Nature of Jesus Christ, we cannot ever overcome all sin in this life until glorification. This doctrine is anti-Christ because is assumes that the power of sin is more powerful in the life than the Divine Nature of Christ in the life to overcome sin. Such Protestants thus do extreme despite to one of the greatest gifts of Christ; that of His Divine Nature for the purpose of overcoming sin. This is as anti-Christ as anyone can get without cursing Christ and the Holy Spirit, but it is essentially guilty of even that travesty by denying the power of Christ's gift.
Now consider Priebe's resolvement of the matter. Notice that Priebe does not omit the principles of Ezekiel 18:20 and 2 Cor. 5:19, versus Rom. 5:19; 8:3, in order to maintain any pet religious theory. He effectively deals with the principles incumbent in both. Also, be aware that mainline Christianity has never resolved this apparent Scriptural contradiction problem. It stops with the Error of Original Sin, and thus does despite to one of the greatest gifts of Christ, namely His Divine Nature and His mind being in us. Priebe's conclusions say that we are all born sinners because of the results of sin but are not held accountable for personal sin until we know what sin is. The sins of others are not imputed to us. That is Bible.
The process of being a sinner and being held personally responsible for personal sin and/or the sin of others, and finally overcoming sin are very different issues. Priebe's entire scenario on the human nature of Christ, requires a Saviour. First of all, for the second chance for the human race, and second, by the act of partaking of Christ's Divine Nature for the purpose and power of overcoming. We cannot do this except through moment by moment connection with the Saviour.
When one reads Romans 5:12-19, one realizes that "condemnation" came upon all men in the First Adam, the Head of the human race, at the time he sinned. This is not due to "original" sin, but simply because Adam was then the first human being, and the sin committed in the fall, for which he was responsible as the head of his family as well, resulted in the human race, which was then genetically "in Him," to be under the curse which fell upon Adam. Christ, as the Second Adam, redeemed the human race from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us. The concept that a person would not need a Savior until they personally sinned is not Biblical, but that reality does not necessitate the concept of "original sin" in the sense of original guilt. We are not personally guilty of Adam's sin. We are corporately involved, in Adam.
Dennis Priebe's Treatise
Now the excerpt from Dennis Priebe's treatise on the subject: "One of the clearest texts is 2 Corinthians 5:19. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." The work of the atonement was a work of reconciliation--a removing of barriers to fellowship and love. Christ's death reconciled all men to God. In other words, there were no hindrances on God's part to the restoration of Edenic unity and harmony. Now the only barrier would be on man's part, if he refused to accept what Christ had done for him.
Now we will return to the text which speaks most clearly of the damage Adam did to the human race--Romans 5:18. This time we must read all of the verse. "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." How many were condemned automatically because of Adam's sin? All men. What about those who have never even heard of Adam and who have never heard of the Biblical record of creation and the fall? Are they still born under condemnation? All men--the human race--were legally destroyed by Adams sin. Irrespective of knowledge or choice, every human being was doomed by Adam's rebellion.
But is that the whole story? Right in one verse we have the complete picture. Not only were all men affected by Adam's sin, but all men were affected by Christ's life and death. The same "all men" who were doomed by Adam's sin were freed from condemnation by Christ's righteousness. To put it simply, what Adam did to the human race, Christ undid for the same human race. But what about those who have never heard of Christ and the Biblical record of the atonement? Do they still receive the free gift? All men--the human race--were legally reconciled to God by Christ's life and death. Irrespective of knowledge or choice, every human being was reconciled by Christ's atonement.
Some are confused about the word "justification" which is given to all men. One of the meanings of the word is "acquittal," which means being cleared of charges brought against one. Justification is used in this sense in Romans 3:4, where God is justified when He is judged. Obviously God does not need forgiveness, but He does need to be acquitted--cleared of the false charges Satan has brought against Him. In Romans 5 all mankind is acquitted of the correct charge of rebellion which has been brought against the human race. In other words, the race--and all individuals in the race--are no longer under condemnation.
There are some significant statements from the Spirit of Prophecy on this point. "He restored the whole race of men to favor with God." (1SM 343) "The fallen race uplifted from the pit of ruin into which sin had plunged them, and brought again into connection with the infinite God." (ST 745) "Though earth was struck off from the continent of heaven and alienated from its communion, Jesus has connected it again with the sphere of glory." (ST Nov. 24, 1887) "Christ has thrown His divine arm around the human race." (RH June 11, 1889)
These statements all address the situation of the human race as a whole, just as the Biblical texts did. The whole race had been cut off from heaven and separated from God by the sin of Adam, but Jesus restored the same human race to favor with God. All men are brought again into connection with God. Clearly we are not born separated from God, as is claimed by those who believe we are born lost and condemned. Because of Adam's sin, we suffer' under many of the curses of sin, one of which is inheriting a fallen nature, but this in itself does not constitute separation, condemnation, or lostness. While these inspired statements do not say that we are born in a righteous or holy state, they do say that we begin life connected in some important way to God. At the very least they mean that we do not stand condemned from birth for the sin of Adam or for our sinful inheritance. Corporate condemnation through Adam is cancelled by corporate acquittal through Christ.
We have even more specific information about how and when this acquittal entered the picture for humanity. In Genesis 2:17, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden tree they would die in that day. "Why was not the death penalty at once enforced in his case? Because a ransom was found. God's only begotten Son volunteered to take the sin of man upon himself, and to make an atonement for the fallen race." (1BC 1082) Why didn't Adam, and thus every member of the human race, die immediately'? Because, that very day, the plan of redemption was put into effect.
"The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ. the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, 'Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man's place. He shall have another chance.'" (1BC 1085). At the instant of Adam's sin, before he knew anything about the horrible future of mankind due to his decision, and most importantly, before he repented of his sin, Christ stepped into the picture. He stood between the living (the heavenly universe) and the dead (the human race), and He took the punishment of death upon Himself. Now this act of Christ was not about personal salvation for Adam and Eve--that would come after their repentance and the offering of a personal sacrifice for their sin. Christ was dealing with the legal condemnation that had just come upon the human race. Jesus freed the race from the condemnation brought upon it by Adam's sin, just as we read in Romans 6:18. No human being would ever bear the condemnation brought upon the race by Adam, for when Christ paid the penalty for sin, it was paid for all eternity. Yet countless Christians today believe that we are born under condemnation because of Adam's sin, in effect, denying the power of Christ's atoning blood to adequately deal with Adam's sin. When Christ stepped into the Garden of Eden that day, He gave Adam and the human race a second chance to decide for or against God. Adam and the human race were given temporary life in order to make a decision about eternal life.
"As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour... .As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race, with just as much power to avert the doom pronounced upon the guilty as when He died upon the cross of Calvary." (1BC 1064). Once again we see that there is a Saviour before repentance, which means that we are not dealing with salvation and eternal life. Jesus stepped in here on behalf of the human race. As soon as there was sin (condemnation for all men), there was a Saviour (justification of life for all men). This means that every baby born into this world already has a Saviour, who has dealt with the problem of Adam's guilt and condemnation, so that the baby does not come into the world bearing that condemnation. Adam and the human race were not left for even one second all alone under the penalty of sin and its condemnation. At the moment of Adam's sin, Christ was there to save the race from destruction.
It may be well to note here that we are not talking about justification by faith or believing in Jesus or repentance or the new birth. If Adam was to have any chance for eternal life, he would have to go through all these steps, as will any child after the age of accountability. These are steps in personal salvation. What we are dealing with in the inspired statements we have read is how God solved the problem of a race under condemnation and in dire threat of total destruction.
Now we can look at total picture. Did all men receive guilt and condemnation and the sentence of death from Adam? Is that the legal inheritance of all children? Absolutely. All the statements quoted under "The First Adam" are literally true. Adam can give us only condemnation and death. He has no life or hope to offer us. The question of the ages is, Were all men really freed from that condemnation 'in Jesus Christ? Most Christian theology, including the current Evangelical gospel, says no to that question. In spite of what Christ did on the cross; in spite of what He did in the Garden for Adam and Eve, most Christians believe that we come into the world bearing Adam's condemnation--that we are lost sinners from birth. An entire gospel system is based on this false belief, which should make us rightly suspicious of the teachings of this gospel, as they relate to justification, sanctification, and the assurance of personal salvation.
But if it is true that we are all condemned through Adam, it is far more importantly true that we are all freed from that condemnation through Christ. If the first part is true, than the glorious truth is that the second part is just as true. Just as Adam condemned all men, Jesus freed all men from condemnation, both without personal involvement or choice, and both at the same instant of time. All human beings were given a second chance to make up their own minds about the gift of personal salvation.
Some would like to suggest that we must divide Romans 5:18 into two chronological parts. First we are under condemnation through Adam, and then later we are freed from that condemnation. That is a little like asking whether the front of a coin comes before the back of a coin. If we could slice the coin in half and separate them in time, that might be a possibility. But the reality is that when we cut the front of a coin from the back of a coin, the coin no longer exists. The only way the coin has value as money is when the front and back are Joined together, both in time and space. The only way the plan of redemption can have any value is when the front of the coin--Adam's coin--is inseparably connected with the back of the coin--Christ's atonement. It is impossible to speak of a time in the history of sin on this planet when the atonement did not alter' what sin had done to us. Therefore we cannot speak of condemnation through Adam without immediately speaking of how Christ altered that condemnation. It is false theology to split corporate condemnation and corporate acquittal into two separate compartments, first analyzing one part and then examining the other part. Christ's entrance into the Garden of Eden forever altered, for all men, the guilt and condemnation that Adam handed to the human race.
The practical reality of all of this is that while we are born in a sinful world with a fallen nature, we are not born lost sinners. We become lost sinners later by wilfully choosing to sin when we know the difference between right and wrong. E. J. Waggoner summarized it well in these words: "Not that men are born into the world directly condemned by the law, for in infancy, they have no knowledge of right and wrong and are incapable of doing either, but they are born with sinful tendencies, owing to the sins of their ancestors." (ST Jan. 21, 1889)
Another way of saying it is that we inherit character traits, not all of which are positive. Then character is developed in the very young child by the interaction of parents and the child together. Up to this point there are sinful habits being formed to some degree, but there is no personal guilt or condemnation. At some point character is chosen by the individual, which is the point of personal accountability and guilt for wrong choices. Here is where personal sin enters the picture. "The thoughts and feelings combined make up the moral character." (ST 310) It is the character that determines our condemnation or salvation, not our inherited nature. If we are saved, we will take our character to heaven exactly as we developed it on earth, while our nature will be totally recreated. In the matter of the gospel, the focus must always be on character development, which is the result of many personal choices. Sin and salvation always have to do with the character, not with inherited nature."
David Linn's Response
What follows is Pastor David Linn's response to the above treatise, to which I fully concur--Ron Beaulieu.
The "receive abundance of grace" in Romans 5:17 is crucial to the problem you discuss. The Greek is lambanoo, which means to accept. We were given no choice with regard to our fallen natures. We did not have to accept it. We were born with it. But the grace of God has to be accepted and received, before it can help us. That is the chief difference. That was why Paul said, "Be ye reconciled to God." Our reconciliation depends on our reaction to God's grace. Two parties are reconciled only when they love each other. God loves the sinner, but the sinner does not love God. Hence he must be taught of the love of God. A response must take place in his mind. True, Christ had paid the ransom, but the sinner can refuse it and remain in sin. He must be touched by the love of Christ and repent and have a change of heart--from enmity against to love for God's law. He must pray, "O how I love Thy law, it is my meditation day and night." Ps. 119:97. That is conversion--to be born of the Spirit. So the difference between the first Adam and the last Adam is that the first one brought death to all men, whether they like it or not. The last Adam brought life to all, but they must accept it to receive it.
Compare the two Adams to captains of two boats. The first one caused the boat to capsize, throwing all occupants into the sea. They are doomed to death, whether they like it or not. The last Adam brings a life-boat to the scene, and all who want to be saved must climb on! That act is indispensable. It you prefer to remain in the water, that is your choice. If you want to be saved, you must act!--believe that there is salvation on the life boat, and thank Jesus for it. That is what Romans 5:17 means when it says, "they which receive abundance of grace," The sinner's part is to receive, or more accurately, to accept (lambano), to grasp Jesus' hand reached out to save. And then we must continue to receive His grace to be "saved by His life." Romans 5:10. That is, after being reconciled by His death, we are to let Christ live out His life in us.
So the plan of salvation is not simply a matter of heavenly book-keeping. The first Adam brought all of us into debt, and now Christ has paid off our debts for us, no matter what we believe or do. Some preachers comfort us with the words, "You were reconciled to God before you were born." But if reconciliation has to do with a man's attitude to God, how can I be reconciled to Him before I was able to form an attitude? Paul saw the need to plead with sinners, "Be ye reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:20. We need to do the same!