John Piper explains that people in our culture face a particular challenge in understanding the Gospel. It is an aspect of truth that we resist. But if we would only embrace this truth, we would find great comfort.
If you insist that what each person does is strictly his or her own business, then you cannot understand biblical Christianity. The idea that one person can represent many others, what I call the principle of the rope, is basic to Christianity and the doctrine of salvation.
The ultimate negative example of the principle of the rope is the doctrine of original sin. Scripture teaches that because of Adam’s rebellion, his guilt was imputed to all his descendents. All are born in sin and with a corrupt sinful nature.
On the other hand, for those who put their faith in Christ, his righteousness is imputed to them. Believers are roped or united to Christ such that they are represented by Him.
In response to this teaching in Romans 5:12-21, John Piper preached:
Someone might say, “But what if you come to a people group that has no categories or thought forms for understanding this sort of thing – a corporate connection between humanity and its ancestors, or the possibility of our sinning in the sin of another, or our being counted righteous with the righteousness of another? You know what? We are that people group. We don’t have any categories for that in modern America. Many third world peoples would have far less difficulty with this text than we do.
Piper is correct. We are the people group who does thinks so much in terms of radical individualism that we do not have a category necessary for understanding basic Christian doctrines.
Try this experiment. Take a random sample of non-church people, or maybe even those who profess faith for that matter, and ask them. “Do you think it is fair that when Adam sinned, his guilt was imputed to all his descendents? Was it fair that because of Adam’s sin, all are born with a corrupt nature?”
Or you might step back from biblical examples. Ask people if they think it is acceptable that children suffer in a land where there is an evil dictator?
The point is that people in our culture really resent the idea that one can represent many. And yet, this is how life works.
In the same sermon quoted above, Piper went on to encourage:
But you say, “I don’t understand this. I don’t think this way. I don’t have any categories in my brain for holding this.” Please do this: embrace it as you see it; and tell God that you receive his way of salvation in Christ; and ask him with faith that he give you the fuller understanding that you need. God loves to save humble sinners. You don’t have to understand it all to benefit from it all.
The reason that I wrote Bound Together was that I wanted to give people an opportunity to lean into the truth that we are not isolated individuals – – – that we are bound together. It was my goal to show that far from this being bad news, or news that is unfair, this is foundational to the greatest news ever proclaimed.
To think about this topic more, take the Bound Together Quiz which introduces the subject of Bound Together.
See also Piper’s sermon, Adam, Christ, and Justification, Part 2. In it, Piper explains that the great comfort we find in the teaching of corporate solidarity in Romans 5:
That is the all-important parallel. The deepest reason why death reigns over all is not because of our individual sins, but because of Adam’s sin imputed to us. So the deepest reason eternal life reigns is not because of our individual deeds of righteousness, but because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by grace through faith.
O how much light this sheds on why Paul embarked on this paragraph at all! He did it for the sake of our faith and our assurance and our joy. He did it to underline the fact that our right standing with God and our freedom from condemnation is not based on our righteous acts but on Christ’s righteous acts.
This is the foundation of the great Biblical truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone. It has rescued thousands of saints from the despair of legalism and the paralyzing fear of imperfection. Christ became obedient even unto death so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Here is rest for your soul. Here is a message that everyone you will ever meet needs to hear. Christ is our righteousness. Trust him. Trust him. Trust him.