1. The REALITY of Adam's Covenant Headship: Adam was the covenant representative for us all
Adam was representing the entire human race when he sinned in the garden. We see this most clearly in Romans 5:12-21, where Paul shows us that when Adam sinned, he acted on behalf of all men in such a way that his actions had direct consequences for us all. Paul declares in this passage:
Verse 12: “through one man sin entered into the world. . and so death spread to all men,”
Verse 15: “by the transgression of the one the many died,”
Verse 16: “the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation,”
Verse 17: “by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,”
Verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men,”
Verse 19: “through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners,”
In other words, Adam wasn't just a single individual acting for himself in the test God gave him. It wasn't just his own destiny that was at stake in obeying God's command or disobeying it—the destiny of the entire human race was at stake. When Adam sinned, he brought condemnation and death not just to himself—but to the entire human race. When Adam fell, all of humanity fell with him: “The very truth is, Adam by his fall threw down our whole nature headlong into the same destruction, and drowned his whole offspring in the same gulf of misery, and the reason is, because, by God's appointment, he was not to stand or fall as a single person only, but as a common public person, representing all mankind to come of him. . .and as that covenant which was made with him, was made with the whole of mankind; even so he by breaking covenant lost all, as well for us as for himself.”1
We see this in the following ways in particular. . .
A) Adam's CORRUPTION was IMPARTED to us all when he sinned:
Adam was created “upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Before Adam fell in the garden, he had no sin. He loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. But when Adam disobeyed God, a radical change took place—he became morally corrupt. And ever since Adam's fall, every single one of us has been infected with this moral corruption from birth. We are not born more or less innocent until we, like Adam, make the decision to sin against God. No—ever since the fall of Adam, every single one of us is born with moral corruption. Every single one of us is born with a heart that is deeply infected with the poison of sin. This is what we call original or inherent sin.2
This is what Scripture is describing when we read in Genesis 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That wasn't just talking about the days of Noah—it's a synopsis of the human race. This is why Jesus taught that men “love the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). The truth is, every single one of us is born with a heart that loves sin rather than God.3
Again: we're not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. We aren't sinners because we have all sinned against God; rather, we sin against God because it's our nature to sin. Sinfulness isn't a condition we contracted the first time we sinned, rather sinfulness is a disease we were born with; our particular sins are just the symptoms of that disease. Scripture teaches that because Adam fell, every single one of us has been born with the poison of inherent corruption.
B) Adam's GUILT was IMPUTED to us all when he sinned:
When Adam fell into sin, the whole world fell with him into moral corruption. But much more than just that happened in the fall. We looked briefly at Romans 5 earlier. But it's important for us to know that while Adam's fall into sin infected the entire human race with moral corruption, that is actually not what Paul is focusing on in Romans 5. In Romans 5:12-19, Paul is not talking about how we are inherently corrupt because of Adam's sin. He's rather talking about how we are judicially guilty because of Adam's sin. In Romans 5, Paul is not talking about how Adam's corruption was imparted to us. He's actually talking about how Adam's guilt was imputed to us.
In this passage in Romans, Paul's saying that the entire human race was condemned when Adam sinned. Not just corrupted—but condemned. In other words, Adam's sin was judicially reckoned to all men when he disobeyed God's command. As the covenant head of the human race, Adam represented all men in such a way, that through his sin, all humanity has been plunged along with him into guilt and condemnation. When he was condemned, we were condemned with him. His sin is reckoned to every one of us; his transgression is legally charged to our account. He sinned, but we are guilty with him; he transgressed, but we are condemned with him. What Paul is saying here is that before you and I ever sin personally, we stand condemned before God solely on account of Adam's sin. We are inherently corrupt because the nature of Adam was imparted to us. But we are judicially condemned because the transgression of Adam was imputed to us.
C) Adam's PUNISHMENT was DEALT OUT to us all when he sinned:
Actually, these two truths of inherent corruption and imputed guilt fit closely together. Think back to what God had said to the man before the fall in Genesis chapter 2. The Lord had told Adam that, “from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And despite what the serpent had told Eve, that's exactly what happened. And, as it turned out, death didn't just come to Adam; it came to us all.
Now, part of this was PHYSICAL DEATH. Adam would now die physically, and all humanity with him. This is emphasized in Genesis 5, where we read the constant refrain: “and he died. . . and he died. . .and he died. . .” So yes, Adam's sin brought physical death—not just to himself—but to every one of us.4 Physical death has come upon the world as punishment for Adam's sin.
But when God said this to Adam, He wasn't just talking about physical death. He was talking about SPIRITUAL DEATH.5 Adam would die spiritually. And do you know what inherent corruption is? It's spiritual death: The inherent corruption that came upon Adam when he fell into sin was spiritual death. The punishment for Adam's sin wasn't just physical death, it was spiritual death. And so it is for us in Adam. In other words, Adam's corruption was imparted to us because Adam's guilt was imputed to us. Moral corruption is the penalty for imputed sin:6
2. Some ILLUSTRATIONS of Adam's Covenant Headship: How to understand covenant headship
The fact that Adam was a covenant representative for the entire human race may sound like a foreign or strange concept to our ears. But it's really not something that ought to sound foreign or strange to us at all. There are actually a lot of parallels to help us understand the idea of covenant headship:
A) From OUR WORLD . . .
*Your NATIONALITY: We do not determine our nationality. We personally have nothing to do with whether we are born Indian or Bangladeshi or American or Mexican; it's just the way it is.
*Your GOVERNMENT: The congress or parliament represent the people, and it is their decisions that determine what happens to everyone who lives under them. When your leaders decide to go to war against another country, you are part of it whether you like it or not.
*Your HOUSEHOLD: The father, as head of the house, makes decisions that will dramatically affect—not just himself—but the entire family. He is the “covenant head” for the whole family.
B) From THE SCRIPTURES . . .
*Ham, Canaan, and the Canaanites (Genesis 9:20-27): It was Ham who sinned against his father Noah in Genesis 9. But instead of cursing Ham, Noah curses his son Canaan—and not only him—but the nation that would come forth from him (the Canaanites; cf. chapter 10). Though Ham was the one who was guilty, Canaan is the one who is cursed. In the biblical narrative, Canaan himself is presented as innocent--but he finds himself cursed on account of the sin of his father.
*Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 1-11): It was Pharaoh who sinned by hardening his heart against the Lord—but all the people of Egypt suffered because of his sin—both through the devastation the plagues wreaked on the land and the final plague of the loss of the firstborn.7
*Achan and his family (Joshua 7:22-26; 22:20): Though it was Achan alone who stole the bar of gold during the conquest of the land in the days of Joshua, it was the entire nation that was reckoned guilty: “Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel?” Further, it's not just Achan, but his whole family—his sons and daughters along with him—who were punished for the sin he alone had committed.8
*The Amalekites in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 15:1-3): Here we see that these Amalekites were to be held fully responsible and slaughtered—men and women, children and infants—not for their own sin—but for the sin of their forefathers hundreds of years earlier (1 Samuel 15:1-3).
*Seven descendants of Saul in the days of David (2 Samuel 21): Israel had made a covenant with the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua, but when Saul was king he violated the covenant by seeking to kill them. To satisfy justice, seven of Saul's descendants are given over to the Gibeonites to be hanged—not for crimes they themselves had committed—but for the crime of Saul their forefather.
*The disobedient kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:7-10): God tells Jeroboam, king of Israel, that because of his sin, his entire line would be wiped out (14