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Adam's Debt to the Law and Christ's Payment by Grace

The Bible says that God is love. Of all the attributes that may describe the divine nature, this is the most basic. So we read in 1 John 4:8,

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Everything God does proceeds from His heart of love. The most basic expression of God’s love is when He sent His Son to pay the debt for sin and save the world. He came and died because of love. So 1 John 4:9 says,

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.”

Adam’s Debt

All sin is reckoned as a debt. When Adam sinned, he incurred a debt he could not pay. Because of the law of headship, all of Adam’s household and estate had to be sold to pay for Adam’s sin. So Jesus’ parable about the debtor tells us in Matt. 18:23-25,

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, the one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.”

Adam was given rulership over God’s estate, which included all things. So when Adam sinned, the entire world was subjected to the bondage of unpaid debt. So the apostle Paul tells us in Rom. 8:19-21,

“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

It is clear from this that the whole world was subjected to the bondage of sin and corruption because one man sinned. All of his possessions and his family were sold into bondage in the attempt to pay this huge debt. The problem was that the debt was too great for them to pay.

Because God is love, He decided to pay the debt. Yet in the law of God, an unpayable debt requires the death penalty. This is why Jesus Christ was required to die to pay for Adam’s debt.

The Love of God

In Rom. 5:6-10 the apostle sets forth the love of God.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life [that is, His resurrection].”

Men have different definitions of love. Many are able to die for their prophets or leaders, whom they consider to be righteous men. Such love is commendable, but God’s love is greater than this. He is willing to die for the ungodly and for His unrighteous enemies.

That is what we see expressed in Jesus when He was willing to give His life to pay the penalty for the sin of the world. He did not die only for the righteous or for His friends. He died for all—even those who hated Him.

Men have difficulty understanding such love, because it is of a higher quality than they have seen in the earth. Such love is incomprehensible to the fleshly mind. To the world, such love may be even a sign of insanity.

But it is the love of God, and Christ’s death on the cross was motivated by this divine love. Such love was proven while Christ was dying when He said in Luke 24:34,

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Who else could have forgiven His murderers while He suffered such a cruel death? He knew that He was called to suffer death in order to pay for the sin of the world. He saw the greater good. His death had purpose. His death was not merely to uphold a principle of truth. His death had been prophesied from the beginning of time.

Two Kinds of Death

The Bible speaks of two kinds of death. The first is not numbered, but because there is a “second death,” there must also be a first.

The first death is mortality, which came from Adam’s sin. All of Adam’s children were born mortal before they had an opportunity to sin. This condition of death is our weakness which causes us to sin.

Then, because of our own sin, we are judged by the second death, described as a “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).

Rom. 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” Mortality, the first type of death, is the wages of Adam’s sin. But the wages of our own sin is the second death.

Two Heads of Creation

The apostle Paul taught that Adam was the head of the first creation, and that Jesus is the Head of the new creation. Both men were given authority by the law of headship. This is the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). It is also found in Eph. 6:1,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

Paul tells us that this law applies to both Adam and Christ, who is called “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Each is the father of children who are in the image of their father. Each has authority over his own family.

Both sets of children are affected by the genetics and the actions of their father. The children of Adam are begotten through natural, corruptible seed from their father, who was the first sinner. The children of Christ are begotten through incorruptible seed, which is the word of God. 1 Peter 1:23 says,

“For you have been begotten not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.”

We see then that Adam’s seed was corruptible and mortal. So all of his children were equally corruptible and mortal, because they were brought forth in his image. On the other hand, Christ is the Head of a new creation. His family are those who are begotten by spiritual seed through their ears. These are the ones who hear the word and respond to it by faith.

Just as Adam was responsible for passing mortality to all of his children, so also was the last Adam (Christ) responsible for passing life to all of His children through His incorruptible seed. Both parents made a decision that has affected all of their children.

Paul wrote about this in Rom. 5:17 and 18,

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam] death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted in condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”

Again, Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:21-23,

“For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive, but each in his own order” [tagma, “squadron, or group”].

Just as the result of Adam’s sin brought universal death and corruption to all men, so also Christ’s righteous act upon the cross brings life and salvation to all men. Even so, most will be judged before they receive the full benefit of Christ’s payment for the sin of the world.

Who Will Be Saved?

We know that no one will be saved apart from faith in Christ for Rom. 10:13 says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus said in John 3:16, “that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In other words, they will not be saved until they believe in the One who paid their debt to sin. To be saved they are required to recognize what He did on the cross and accept His payment for their sin.

In the present age, only a few believe in the work that Jesus did. Only a few believe what He said of Himself. But the day of judgment will come when all men from all past generations will be summoned to the Divine Court. They will give an account of themselves to the One who sits on the White Throne (Rev. 20:12).

There, every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear allegiance to Him (Phil. 2:10, 11). When they see the truth for themselves and understand what Christ has done for them, they will believe and give glory to God.

Justice Through Grace

God’s grace was presented to the world through Christ’s death on the cross to pay for the sin of the world. This established the fact of salvation. The world will indeed be saved, as He said. Nonetheless, God will also judge all men according to His own law before they are saved.

The judgments of God come out of His heart of love. So even His judgments are designed to restore all men to Himself. If we have faith in Christ’s work on the cross, and if we believe that He paid the debt of our sin, then we will be saved without being judged.

The rest of humanity will learn the way of salvation at the great White Throne judgment. Yet they will still be required to experience the judgments of God’s “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2) in order to teach them righteousness.

It is not a literal fire. God’s law was revealed through fire (Deut. 4:32). He Himself is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). Isaiah 26:9 says, “when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”

Hence, the “lake of fire” is a great purifying baptism of fire that burns the “chaff” of sin from our lives (Matt. 3:11, 12). Believers experience this baptism in this life; sinners will experience it in the age to come.

God’s system of justice is based on love. Love restores sinners by teaching them righteousness through judgment. Jesus paid the debt for the whole world by grace alone, but each person will be saved only by the baptism of fire, either in this life or in the age to come.