Picking up from the last post on sin, here we want to focus on the universality of sin. All people are sinners and stand guilty before God. Romans 3:23 – “there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This universality of sin is seen in two ways.
First, as a result of Adam’s sin we all enter the world with a fallen nature. This is original sin–the sinful tendencies, desires, and dispositions in our hearts with which we are all born. Thus, original sin is something inherent in us–it is a morally ruined character. The original sin that we are all born with manifests itself throughout our lives in actual sins–the actions, thoughts, and feelings we have that violate God’s moral commands.
So our sinful hearts (original sin) cause us to make sinful choices, think sinful thoughts, and feel sinful feelings (actual sins). We are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. We are all born totally imprisoned in original sin. There is no island of goodness left in us. In Ephesians 2:1,3 Paul says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Thus all people, until and unless they are converted, are sinners. Paul makes it absolutely clear that all Christians came from this state and that all non-Christians are still in this state. Scripture regards all people before they are saved by Christ as sinners and thus deserving of punishment from God. Which is to say that from the inception of our existence, we are sinful. In Psalm 14:2, 3 we read: “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Here again we see unrighteousness as a quality of the human race: “they have all turned aside…there is no one who does good.” Similarly, Job 15:14 declares that sinfulness is a property of humanity: “What is man, that he should be pure, or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” Verses 15-16 then speaks of the human race as a whole in shocking terms expressing our general corruption: “Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight; How much less one who is detestable and corrupt, Man, who drinks iniquity like water!”
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it.” This seems to assume original sin–wickedness is a property of the human heart. Ecclesiastes 9:3 declares a similar truth: “…the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts through their lives.” Again, the human heart is sinful, and therefore all humans are sinful. These texts indicate, then, that human nature itself is corrupt.
Second, the guilt of Adam’s sin is credited not just to Adam himself, but to us all. We are regarded as having sinned in Adam, and hence as deserving of the same punishment. This is imputed sin. We not only receive polluted and sinful natures because of Adam’s sin (original sin), but we are also regarded as having sinned in Adam such that we are guilty of his act as well (imputed sin).
Imputed sin is the ruin of our standing before God and is therefore not an internal quality but an objective reckoning of guilt, whereas original sin is the ruin of our character and thus is a reference to internal qualities. Both original sin and imputed sin place us under the judgment of God. The key text for this is in Romans 5–
Romans 5:12,15-19 – sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . . .  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
At least five times in the proceeding verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:
- Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died
- Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation
- Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one
- Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men
- Verse 19: through Adam’s sin, the many were made sinners
We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam’s one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.
Verse 19 provides us with a direct statement of imputation: 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. Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take “made sinners” here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with “made righteous.”
The phrase “made righteous” in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ–not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says “made righteous” here, he means “imputed with righteousness” not “infused with righteousness.” Since “made sinners” is paralleled with “made righteous,” it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam’s sin.