Presbyterians/Sin and Imputation


QUESTION: Hello Pastor G,
I've been reading Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on man's sin. I need clarification on original sin, or eveything that was imputed on all humans after Adam sinned.

As far as I understood, after Adam sinned, God imputed on all other humans both corruption and guilt. I don't know the difference between those two variables that were imputed.

I did understand that everyone after Adam is born with a sinful nature, meaning that everyone will sin.


ANSWER: Nathan,

Although Christian theology throughout it's history has understood our sin as the result of the fall of Adam, the Reformation brought the study of it to a high-water mark.

The first contribution of the Reformation was in the recovery of the concept of covenant, whereby  a covenant head (or federal head) represents others. A loose analogy is with government, where the decisions of national leaders have an effect for good or bad on others. Adam is a federal head and Christ is a federal head. Christ is the second man (no one between him and and Adam), and the last man (no one after him) 1 Cor. 15, so that all of humanity is comprehended as being either in Adam or in Christ.

The second contribution was in separating justification from sanctification. Rome had confused/identified these two. While the Reformation would not allow a DIVISION between justification and sanctification (you can't be justified without being sanctified), they did understand a very important DISTINCTION between the two. Rome taught (and teaches) that we are justified to the extend that we are sanctified. The Reformers saw that justification was a LEGAL concept - what we are declared to be in Christ and on the basis of what He did, and received by faith in him alone. Works (sanctification) follows justification logically, it is not the basis or foundation of it.

Understanding the difference between justification and sanctification is key to understanding the imputation of Adam's sin.

First of all imputation properly applies to the guilt of sin, since imputation is a legal term. It means to lay to one's account. The guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to all his posterity - all human being are implicated in Adam's sin, so even if they did nothing overtly sinful (let's say because they died at birth), they are still implicated in Adam's sin.

So apart from any actual sin, the guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to them (this is very clearly seen in the crucifixion of Christ, where the guilt of sin was imputed to him, though he was sinless).

Pollution is "inherited" from Adam, but how exactly is somewhat of a mystery, and this is typically what is meant by "a sinful nature." It's not that people are pronounced guilty in Adam but may actually be without sin. All people have actual sin, a disposition of rebellion against God, which they have inherited from Adam - in Adam's rebellion, something actually changed in human beings.

So . . . .

The guilt of sin is taken care of in justification - we are pronounced not guilty in Christ. It doesn't matter that we still may have sin. Justification is our status before God's law, the pronouncement by him of "not guilty" in Christ. Justification is completely outside of us. Nothing changes in us by it. It is God's pronouncement.

The pollution of sin is taken care of in sanctification - we are made Christ's and become more and more like Christ. Something changes in us (and begins in regeneration).

Because these are concepts recovered by the Reformation, you will find this distinction most in Reformation theologians.

Guilt of sin     ----> remedied by justification
Pollution of sin ----> remedied by sanctification

Hope this helps!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Great! I didn't notice the justification and sactification relation to guilt and pollution. What reformed Bible Commentary do you recommend that is not so advanced but also not so shallow? I'll use it along side Grudem's Systematic theology. Usually, classic Bible commentaries that are free on the internet are great, but have somewhat archaic language.

Also, do you know of any article refuting common objections to the reformed position on Adam being our representative and on guilt and pollution?

I bought Anthony Hoekema's Created in God's Image that you once recommended for me on volition and Satan's first sin. It should arrive soon.

Thanks again.

Nathan, not sure when this came in but I just got it now.

Most of these things, unfortunately, are written in technical language, and end up being distilled by pastors for their flocks. Perhaps you could try John Murray's "The Imputation of Adam's Sin." It is quite technical at points, but it is also short, and I think you can glean a lot of information from it even skipping the technical (and Latin-laden) parts.  


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Pastor G


I am glad to answer questions about the Scriptures, Systematic, Biblical and Historic Theology, New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew (although my Greek is stronger than my Hebrew); and I am also glad to give pastoral advise and counsel.


A minister ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1993. Prior to that I served as an elder. Former Senior Police Chaplain. College and Seminary-level lecturer.

B.A. Psychology and Theology, M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Law Enforcement Chaplaincy certification, ICPC

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