The 18th chapter of Ezekiel involves the refutation of a proverb that was being used in Israel as an inappropriate complaint about God’s justice, wrongly perceived. The basic idea was that children were being punished for the sins of the fathers. It is important to note that there is a difference between experiencing negative effects due to the sin of another person and being punished for the sin of another person. The essential point of this passage is, even when dealing with the negative influence of the sin of others, each person is responsible and accountable for their own sin, for their own choices and responses. God will not judge one person for the choices and conduct of another person – a child for the sin or righteousness of a parent, nor a parent for the sin or righteousness of a child. This is clearly the point of verse 4, which reads, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” This is followed by explaining that moral behavior, good or bad, is not simply transferred from one person to another. This is the difference between imputation and impartation. One can impart moral truth but not impute moral character.
It is also important to emphasize that this passage refutes various forms of determinism that have become very popular. Both genetic and environmental determinism is refuted by the statement, “Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father’s sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise” (Eze.18:14).
With the points established in Romans 1 (people are without excuse for unrighteousness) and Ezekiel 18 (each person is accountable for their own sin) we can compare certain “popular” theories that have received acceptance in the Christian community. As stated at the beginning of this chapter, I will attempt to avoid massive amounts of detail while also attempting to offer a legitimate representation of such theories.
I am going to “lump” a number of slightly different views under the general heading of imputation. Imputation basically maintains that the moral conduct or the judgment for the moral conduct of one person (good or bad) is transferred to the account of another person.
The teaching promoted under the label of Original Sin indicates that the sin of Adam and / or the guilt of his sin, has been transferred (imputed) to the entire human race.
In conjunction with this view, one might hear reference to The Federal Headship Theory. This simply means that Adam served as the representative for all human beings. Our guilt is based upon the sin of our representative. Some state that this is imputed while others emphasize that we were actually present in the act in the form of seed. Regardless of one’s preferred mechanism, all human beings have been, hereafter, born in a state of sin and guilt. In light of an upcoming question, I must emphasize that maintaining this view, one must remain consistent across the board. In other words, whatever interaction (we can’t just stop with his sin) God had with Adam would have to be applied to all other human beings.
Another phrase often tossed around and appearing in the NIV Bible in place of the Greek word sarx (flesh) is, sinful nature. This is something human beings supposedly received due to Adam’s sin. It is often stated that one’s sinful nature is the source of (cause of) sin.
A different angle used to get at the same outcome is the concept of inability. Whereas a sinful nature was something gained due to Adam’s sin, inability has reference to that which was lost due to Adam’s sin.
Many of these ideas are associated with the phrase, Total Depravity, which emphasizes that, due to the effects of Adam’s sin; human beings are unable to obey God, all we can produce is sin.
In light of all we have covered thus far, consider the following questions.
- How do these theories / concepts compare with Romans 1 and Ezekiel 18?
- What did God hope to accomplish by destroying mankind, excluding Noah and his family, if the moral state of the human race was strictly, literally and utterly locked into Adam’s sin?
- If Adam was the Federal Head of the human race, would not all men be reconciled to God upon Adam’s reconciliation to God?
- Does the prevailing view of Scripture indicate that God treats human beings as though they have no ability to obey Him (consider Dt.30:9-20 with an emphasis on verse 11)?
- Upon such an imputation scheme, what conclusion would we draw from Romans 5:19 (“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so, through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous”)?