Why do we need a Savior? This is a question that boggles the minds of so many. The seemingly proper Sunday School answer would be something to the effect of: “We need a Savior because we have all committed sins against a holy God.” And as good Sunday School pupils we would then follow it up with the logical question, “I mean, have you ever lied? Of course you have. We all have. Therefore, we need a Savior.” Though this is absolutely true and many have been led to Christ through this attempt, the Bible seems to indicate something more significant. And I think when we lose sight of Romans 5:12-21 or totally ignore it, we are belittling the power of Christ’s work on the cross. Let me explain. When most people are approached with the “Have you ever lied?” proposition, they will rebut with something about how they do many good things as well as bad. Although they have lied and sometimes still do, they feel they are bent toward truth. They desire the truth from others and even from themselves. They seek to be honest with their families even when it is difficult. And although they gossip and sound hateful sometimes to and about their friends and co-workers, the truth is that they really are a loving person. They love their families, friends, and they even do some kind things for their irritating neighbors. They do this. They do that. They give to this charity. They attend church on special occasions and for the children’s activities. They serve here. They serve there. After considering their lives of good deeds, desires, and actions, most of these people will conclude that there is no way that this kind of God would send them away from his presence into an eternal hell! No way!
And I would have to agree. However, Paul teaches us in Romans 5 that we are guilty because of one man’s trespass (Rom. 5:17). We stand guilty before God first and foremost because Adam serves as our representative head in the flesh. So, in order to understand our position before God, we must first understand the nature of Adam’s sin. If it was a mere behavior issue, then the traditional way of pointing out someone’s sin through the “Have you ever lied?” method is sufficient. Nevertheless, I feel something deeper was at hand. The question rather beckons: “What position are we in as humans before God?” The Bible loudly answers with vigor and divine truth.
Position of Death
The issue though centrally falls with the kind of God who has been explained to this person who declares innocence by means of more good deeds than bad. God has been explained to them in terms of a sovereign Ruler only. God is indeed a sovereign ruler, however, that is not first and foremost who he is! God is first and foremost an eternal Father full of love for his eternal Son. The love between the Father and the Son through the Spirit overflows into creation and as man and woman are created in the image of the Trinity (Gen. 1:27), mankind first and foremost has a disposition to love. Just as God is love (1 John 4:8), we all love as part of our very natures. When sin entered the world, something far worse than bad behavior came with it. We do not merely have a clinical behavior disorder that needs corrected with a behavior plan. When sin entered the world, Adam and Eve began to love other things more than God. Our ancient parents’ first sin was a desire to satisfy themselves outside of the will of God. They no longer trusted God to satisfy them. They began to love another. A love for self over and against a love for God invaded the hearts of Adam and Eve. And out of their hearts came disobedience (Matt. 15:19). Adam and Eve developed a heart problem. Their disposition to love had found a new object—self over God. They rejected God as their Lover and chose another.
This is the essence of sin: this denial of God, dissatisfaction with God, and love of self over God. Because Adam sinned in this way all after him (except Jesus) would be born in sin (Ps. 51:5). All (except Jesus) after Adam, who serves as our representative in the flesh, are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3). Like, Lazarus in the tomb dead. The kind of dead (νεκρος in the Greek) that requires spiritual rebirth (John 3:3)! The Holy Spirit must look into the tomb of our hearts and cry loudly, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43)! This is our only hope as dead sinners. Our only hope to be eternally satisfied and love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (Matt. 22:37) is to be given new life in the Spirit (Rom. 6:4). So, your position before God is more (though not less) than one of a disobedient subject under sovereign rule. Your position is one of death before a sinless and eternally living God of love. But how can the Spirit give life to those who are dead if they are also guilty?
Position of Guilt
This is the whole idea of Romans 5:12-21. The truth is we are all not only dead, but we are also guilty before God because of the sin of Adam.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man…For if many died through one man’s trespass…For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men…For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners (Rom. 5:12, 15, 16, 18, 19).
In Adam all die (1 Cor. 15:22). Because of Adam’s sin you and I stand guilty before a holy God whom we have rejected. Michael Horton dramatically observes this in his systematic theology:
Solidarity of the human race under Adamic headship is the source of both the grandeur and of the tragedy of our existence (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 408).
This doctrine has historically been referred to as original sin. Original sin or the collective guilt of humanity as a result of the one man’s (Adam’s) sin, is seen throughout Scripture in places other than Paul’s letters:
- Psalms: Ps. 51:5, 10; 143:2
- Prophets: Is. 64:6; Jer. 17:9
- Gospels: Jn. 1:13; 3:6; 5:42; 6:44; 8:34; 15:4-5
- General Epistles: Jas. 3:2; 1 Jn. 1:8, 10; 5:12
Though God commissioned Adam to be prophet, priest, and king in Eden and to stretch the borders of this blissful kingdom to the ends of the earth, Adam failed through his desire for self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, and self-exaltation. As a result, he and his posterity are cursed and guilty of treason and blasphemy, crimes punishable only by death. Horton once again helps clear up the matter: “We are not only guilty for Adam’s sin; we are guilty as sinners in Adam” (The Christian Faith, 426). This position of guilt we find ourselves in as sinners after Adam is remarkably stated by Paul in Romans 5:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).
So, Paul teaches here that all sinned when Adam sinned. How are we to understand this? Simply stated, “every human being was present representatively, federally, and covenantally in Adam. Our own personal acts of sin flow from this corrupt nature and add to our original guilt” (Horton, The Christian Faith, 426). This language of representativeness goes much deeper to the desperation of our sinful condition. And if it seems foreign to think of things this way, I will assure you that this is not foreign to the Bible. Remember Achan and the Israelites? After Achan (one man) sinned, the LORD God commands Joshua, “Get up!…Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant…” (see Joshua 7). Adam as the first man, serves as our representative head in the flesh. So, your guilt before God is not merely due to sinful acts, though they are outworkings of your sinful nature, but rather your guilt before God is due to the covenant-breaking, self-love of Adam. And this sin is pervasive.
Only in the robust, if tragic, doctrine of original sin is there a recognition that sin is also a condition from which we cannot extricate or exonerate ourselves (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 430).
Our sinful condition is deeper than we may have initially realized. Our individual position before God is rooted in the very core of humanity. Individually we are guilty before God, not because of what we have done, but both because of who we are and what Adam did as our representative head ages ago.
What a Savior!
Oh, how the doctrine of original sin shows us our dire need for a Savior. Oh, how Paul desires to communicate this need in Romans 5:12-21. In fact, he presents it in legal, economic, and logical terms. Horton writes that the historicity of Adam and the doctrine of original sin is utterly necessary for Christianity: “Christian theology stands or falls with a historical Adam and a historical fall” (The Christian Faith, 424). Note the elevated language of Romans 5:12-21 as Paul moves from the one sin of Adam to the righteousness of Christ; from the disobedience of Adam to the obedience of Christ. Notice the striking contrast:
“For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many…For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men [implication: all men who are in Adam], so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men [implication: all men who are in Christ…aka this does not teach universal salvation]. 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. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:15-21 emphasis mine).
Though the sin of the first Adam was debilitating and brought us under a curse, Jesus, the innocent and spotless Lamb, became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The innocent One takes the place of the guilty so that the guilty may be treated as innocent. I love how Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson describe this truth in their book Name Above All Names. They write,
The first man was supposed to crush the head of the Serpent. He failed at every point. But what Adam the first failed to do, Adam the last, Jesus Christ, came to accomplish (Begg and Ferguson, Name Above All Names, 119).
What a truth this is! And what a Savior we have! In order to properly understand the saving work of Christ, we must understand the pervasive effects of the sin of the first Adam. The guilt resulting from the sin of Adam is pervasively horrendous. In fact, it is insurmountable for us to overcome. As dead and guilty sinners, we sin out of the nature we have that we have inherited from Adam. What we need is not a moral example. What we need is not a behavior specialist to improve our behavior. We need a Savior to accomplish what the first man failed to accomplish. We need a Savior to suffer and die in our place so that we might have life in him. We need a new representative head to lead us to justification before God and eternal life for all who are united to him by grace through faith. The sin of Adam is great. But the grace of God through Jesus Christ is “much more” and far greater. Grace abounds “all the more” from the overflowing fountain of God’s love and compassion to sinners, rebels, and transgressors. Sin reigns through death. Grace reigns through righteousness. Holiness then is evidence of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
The failure of Adam does not even compare to the accomplishment of Jesus. Adam’s disobedience pales in comparison to Jesus’ perfect obedience. And of those who are in Adam suffering under the curse and guilt of sin that receive grace from God to believe in Jesus’ person and work, God’s blessings of grace are the Mt. Everest to sin’s molehill. Jesus did all that Adam was created to do and more. Because not only is Jesus the true Adam, he is also the perfect image of God. Oh, to be united to Christ! What an indescribable gift of grace that would be. Guilty sinners rejoice in Christ because they are declared innocent by his blood. Once in the flesh, we were united to Adam, but even more so are those who have faith in Christ united to Him in righteousness! Now the effects of the curse are being reversed as our Savior has turned the tables of history. And one day, all under his righteous headship will shine like the glory of the sun emanating the very glory of the Father as perfect image bearers of the Son (Rom. 8:29).
So, in closing, why do we need a Savior? Not because we do bad things. Not because we have lied. We need a Savior because Adam sinned and he represents us in the flesh as our head. And we need a Savior who is our perfect and righteous representative who would bear our guilt as an innocent wrath-bearer to be condemned in our place. The evangelistic proposition typically goes: “Have you ever lied? Well, then you have sinned and sin leads to death and eternal hell. You need to believe in Jesus to change you and save you from sin and death and hell.” And there is nothing wrong with this except the shallowness of its claim. A better proposition would be: “You need a Savior because you stand in a position of deadness and guilt before the eternal Judge and God. Nothing and no one can change this. However, there was one Man…”
The truth is: God created the universe and all that is in it, including men and women. He created them without sin. However, sin entered the world through the sin of one man, Adam. As a result, all men and women after him have a sinful nature. You and I from birth are in a position of death in our sin and a position of guilt in our sin. The reason you sin is because your heart is sinful and we are guilty of treason and blasphemy against the King and we have turned our hearts’ affections away from the eternal Father. We need a Savior—a new representative head of righteousness. His name is Jesus. And oh, what a Savior he is!
Man of Sorrows! What a name!
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” Can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!