All mankind are viewed in Scripture in relation to the two Adams. The first Adam was the natural head of the entire human race. According to Rom. 5:12, we all sinned in him. We were in him and in him were a party to the covenant of works. Thus, Adam was not merely a private person but a public person, the real and proper head of all his posterity. He was their federal head, as well as their natural head. Therefore, legally, the guilt of his fall is righteously imputed to all his posterity.
The last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ is, by the grace of God, placed at the head of His people. Their union with Him is spiritual, not natural, but nonetheless real. They are said to be “in Christ” just as truly as Adam’s posterity is said to be “in Adam.” Thus, as the disobedience of Adam was righteously imputed to all those for whom he was a federal head and representative, the obedience of Christ is righteously, legally, and effectively imputed to all those of whom He is the federal head.
All mankind fell in Adam and came under condemnation because of his sin. Since there is no recuperative power in our fallen nature, it was necessary, if sinners were to be saved, that the condemning law should be satisfied by one who had no federal connection with Adam and who was therefore free from the imputation of his guilt. Nevertheless, he must be truly human and able to stand as the federal head of a new race.
Federal theology holds that the Scriptures (see especially Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15) teach that the Lord Jesus Christ came in this capacity and sustains this federal relationship to His people. By His life He satisfied the precept of the law, and by His death He satisfied its penalty. As the covenant of works was made with Adam and his posterity in him and led to the condemnation of his race, so the covenant of grace was made with Christ and in Him with all His people, by virtue of which God imputes to them the merits of the full obedience of their Head, Jesus Christ.
Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
Return to Index of Concepts and Definitions