The United States of America was established to be a representative republic rather than a democracy. In a representative republic, the citizens vote to elect representatives to govern on their behalf. The representative then acts on behalf of everyone in their congressional district. It is as if each citizen is also there. Every “yes” vote and every “no” vote—it is as if I am in Washington DC casting the vote myself. Likewise, when the president of the United States acts around the world, it is as a representative of every citizen of the country. It is as though the entire nation is within the person of the president and he represents each one of us in the world through his decisions and policies by looking out for the best interests of those he represents. The topic of this article is perhaps the single biggest aspect of the gospel message that most Christians do not understand rightly—or even at all. It is the concept of representative union—aka federal headship. I made a profession of faith in 1995, but I have only recently begun to grasp this concept and it has been very transformative in terms of my walk with the Lord.
In the culture today, we are learning to divide humanity up every which way. Soon enough, it seems there will be as many divisions of people as there are people. This is not the way God looks at humanity. As far as God is concerned, there are only two divisions of humanity and every person who has ever been born is in one of these two groups. Each group has a representative head who is the representative before God for the entire group. The first representative head is the first man—Adam. He was formed from the dust of the ground by God, Himself (Genesis 2:7). In the garden, Adam acted as the representative of the entire human race (he represented his wife before God—who came from his body [Genesis 2:20-22]—as well as all future descendants who would come from him). Since all human beings are descended from Adam, each person is represented by him before God. If Adam had represented the human race before God perfectly by always reflecting the image of God’s nature on the earth, then there would be no need for a second representative. But we know that Adam disobeyed God and it was through his disobedience that all he represents (the entirety of the human race) died in that moment with him (Romans 5:12). The result of this disobedience which brought spiritual death to all of humanity is referred to as the fall of man—Adam’s sin being imputed to the human race. Jesus Christ is the second representative head for humanity. His coming was first prophesied just after the fall of mankind in Adam (Genesis 3:15). This representative head (sometimes referred to as the second or last Adam), Jesus Christ, would prevail where the first Adam had failed. Adam’s life was marked by his disobedience which brought about the fall of the entire human race in an instant. However, the perfect righteousness of Christ provides salvation to all who are found in Him—similar to the Ark providing salvation to Noah and his family from the exercising of God’s wrath on sinful man through the flood (Genesis 6:9-7:16). Now we must consider, which group am I in?
Regardless of how many divisions we might try to use to divide the human race according to our human foolishness, here is a group we all fit into: we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Consider this question: do we sin because we are sinners or are we sinners because we sin? Keeping in mind our representative head, Adam, we were fallen in Adam (and therefore sinners) at the moment of his disobedience. Romans 5:12-14 says that death spread to all men because all sinned—that is all of present and future humanity sinned in Adam. Even though sin existed in the world before the law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, sin is not counted where there is no law. However, from Adam to Moses, everyone died (except Enoch—Genesis 5:21-24)—as Genesis 5 makes clear with the repeated phrase, “and he died”—with death being the wage of sin (Romans 6:23). The only explanation for this is that the sin of our representative, Adam, was imputed to all humanity making the human race guilty of sin even without the law. It is as if we were there eating the fruit with Adam. We don’t tend to like this part—for obvious reasons. We might want to react pridefully and try to plead our case. It doesn’t seem fair to us that we would be counted as guilty on the basis of Adam’s sin. The fact that we sin on a daily basis doesn’t make us sinners, it is merely the outworking of our identity in Adam. We conduct ourselves in accordance with our identity. We are born spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) into the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13) and there is no fear of God in our eyes (Romans 3:18). With Adam as our representative, mankind walks in accordance with his fallen nature and does what is right in his own eyes without regard for God. In fact, all we do is sin in our fallen flesh. Even the mundane things we do are sinful because they are done without faith—they are done without regard for the glory of God on the earth.
The human condition is bleak, indeed. With Adam as our representative before God, we are seen as disobedient and sinful rebels in union with him. Although we are physically alive, we are spiritually dead. In our fallen state, we cannot grab the life preserver, nor can we reach to grasp the hand of the Savior. We are unresponsive to all spiritual stimuli—dead in sin. Our greatest need is for a new representative—One who gives spiritual life in Himself to then be able to respond to spiritual stimuli in faith. We need a representative before God who is holy, righteous and accepted before God. That, of course, is Jesus. We see in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 that Jesus is referred to as the “last Adam”. This is to highlight the fact that He is the representative of those who are born again to spiritual life whereas the first Adam is the representative of those who are born into spiritual death. To contrast the two, before Adam had even had time to obey God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), the entire human race was plunged into spiritual death in union with him through his rebellion. On the other hand, Jesus could say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to [the Father]” (John 8:29). We know that He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet He is without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ life was a life of perfect obedience and perfect submission to the will of the Father. He always did what the Father commanded and He humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8-11) where He suffered the wrath of God on behalf of those who the Father had given to Him (John 6:38-40; 44).
After seeing that Adam is the representative for all who are dead in trespasses and sin and that Jesus is the representative for those who have life, the big question is, “How can one who is dead in Adam be made alive in Christ?” Through repentance and faith. It is God, by His grace, who gives life to fallen man (Ephesians 2:1-10) through the working of the Spirit (John 3:3-8), but the response of the new creation in Christ to this new life is to repent of his deeds of darkness and to follow the Lord Jesus in divinely imparted faith. Without life—without repentance and faith which are the heartbeat of spiritual life—we remain dead in sin and on the path of eternal destruction. If we think that it’s unfair that we would be counted as guilty in Adam on the basis of his sinful disobedience, what do we think about being counted as righteous and justified before God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness? It is completely undeserved. Even though man lives a life of rebellion against God as though he himself is the highest thing, he is counted as completely holy and fully accepted before God through union with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is not only looked upon as if he had never sinned, but also as though he had always obeyed. Christ Jesus took the sins of His people upon Himself so that He would be able to clothe them in His righteousness.
As you’ve read Scripture, you’ve undoubtedly encountered some variation of the phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” as this is a common way for biblical writers to encapsulate this concept of union with Christ. To be “in Christ” is to have full confidence and assurance that what Christ has accomplished as my representative before God is sufficient. There is nothing to add to a perfect sacrifice. Christ has earned for His people full acceptance before God. The implications of this are huge. This means that the lives of those who are in union with Christ—through repentance and faith—are not lives of performance before God. This isn’t one big talent show where we are trying to dazzle God with our abilities. There is no scale for good works in order that we might feel accepted by God when we do them or rejected by Him when we don’t. We tend to think of God’s favor (His love and acceptance of us) as something that fluctuates in response to our performance. If I wake up and spend two hours in prayer and Bible study and then share the gospel with five people, surely God’s favor toward me must be rocketing upward! However, if I oversleep, skip Bible study and prayer, suffer some road rage on the way to work and then spend the whole day thinking about how people aren’t doing right by me, then God’s favor toward me must be crashing through the floor. We can all think this way, but this isn’t grace. That’s performance, and God doesn’t relate to those who are in Christ on the basis of performance, but rather by grace (Romans 11:6). God’s love and acceptance of His people is never changing and is already maxed out if you are in union with Christ, and this is because God’s love and acceptance of His beloved Son is maxed out and you are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). This is amazing grace! We want to know this God. We desire to obey and serve this gracious God in response to the blessings that are ours in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14), and we are truly free to do it when we understand that God’s favor is based on Christ’s merit and our position in Him.
In Adam, there is no way to save yourself. All are guilty before God and stand condemned. Adam, himself, required salvation. If Adam was to stand accepted before God it would have to be on the merit of One who is worthy since he was unworthy on the basis of his own merit. If Adam was in union with Christ (I believe he was), it was because God was gracious to him and empowered him to live a life of repentance and faith looking forward to the coming Messiah promised to him in Genesis 3:15 and trusted in this Messiah to save him rather than trusting in himself. This is our only hope as well. Who represents you before God? Is it the first Adam or the last?