Two old friends bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”
The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“And, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand dollars.”
“Sounds like you’ve been blessed!”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.”
Now the friend was really confused. “Then, why do you look so sad?”
Most people balk when they are first confronted with the biblical teaching that all humans sinned in Adam. Their initial reflex seems to be, “How can God hold me accountable for something that Adam did?” This intuitive reaction to the doctrine of original sin is so consistent that it might just lead to the suspicion that most people are born Pelagians.
The two principal theories that attempt to answer this question are called federal headship and natural headship. To most people, the theories are hardly more comprehensible than the doctrine itself. Federal headship states that God sovereignly appointed Adam as the representative head of the human race, so that whatever obedience or disobedience Adam chose would be imputed to his posterity. Natural headship states that all of the human race was somehow in Adam, participating in his sin.
Most people can’t help thinking that federal headship is unfair. This supposed unfairness, however, evaporates pretty quickly once the theory is understood. Everybody understands that some people have to make choices for other people, and that sometimes these choices are matters of life and death. For example, small children are not allowed to decide for themselves whether they will receive an inoculation or other painful procedure. They do not have the maturity to make a wise choice. Parents are tasked to make the decision for the child, and a good parent will make the choice that mature persons would make for themselves if given the choice. Certainly Adam was in a better position to choose to obey God than any of his posterity. It makes sense that God would permit Adam to choose for all of his children. No evidence exists that any of Adam’s children would have made a better choice. In fact, none of them ever does.
From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2012. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
How is a person justified before God? That was the question that ignited the Reformation. Beyond that foundational question, theologians have debated additional questions, such as “What is the importance of justification in relation to the other benefits of salvation?” and “Where does justification fit logically in relation to saving faith?” In this article Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and chair of the Systematic Theology Department at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, guides us in an in-depth consideration of these significant questions.
To answer these questions about justification, we must first explore the exact nature of justification. Theologians have held two main positions: infusion and imputation.
Roman Catholic Position: Infusion
At the time of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants differed greatly in their understanding of justification and grace. The Catholic position defined justification to include all of the benefits of salvation, making it a process. Grace was understood as a God-given ability to do good works which was infused into the person. This Catholic view is sometimes described by the words, “Christ IN us.”