What is Imputation?

Romans 5:15-19 teaches what is called realistic and federal imputation. There are three "categories" of sin: 1) imputed sin--from Adam; 2) inherited sin--from our ancestors; and, 3) personal sins--committed by each of us. Since we would stand guilty on all three counts, we are not overly concerned with the question, "Upon which basis am I condemned?" However, Romans 5 very clearly tells us that it happens to be upon the basis of our imputed sin from Adam that we stand condemned. We might have viewed this a little differently if we had never committed a personal act of sin ourselves. It may have seemed unfair to be judged for Adam's sin if we did so much better than him. However, we would still lack the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), and thus be unworthy of God's glory. We must recognize that what we really deserve is eternity in Hell. We still lack His righteousness and cannot enter heaven on our own. We are free to try, but all our human efforts will fail. Yes, it may seem unfair, but it isn't, and it doesn't change the truth. Unfairness is only in the eyes of the condemned.

Federal Imputation

Romans 5 teaches federal imputation. This is the beauty of this passage--that if we stand condemned through the sin of one man, "much more" did the grace of God abound to many through Christ.

Concerning Christ, he was pure since he had no earthly father, and concerning Eve, she was Adam's progeny, in that she was born from Adam's rib (Genesis 2:22). By Revelation 20, we are judged by our deeds, but we each ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil while we were in Adam's loins. We each shared in this deed. We are all damned personally and individually, not collectively. Concerning personal volition, we must recognize that even our faith comes from God.

Some have even suggested that the difference between men and women includes a "sin gene" in men, which is passed to descendants through the male. Under this hypothesis, women have one "perfect gene" to match the "sin gene" of the male, but the rest of the woman is polluted just as the men are. This theory might explain how Jesus was born without a sin nature, not having a human father.

The person who has a problem with realistic or federal imputation may be making this whole issue more difficult than God intends for it to be, perhaps by reading more into Romans 5:13-14 than is there. These two verses simply tell us that death reigned, even when no law was broken. In the context of verses 12 through 19, these two verses only enforce the doctrine of imputation. Sin may not have been imputed (inherited) during this time, but it WAS imputed at the point in time when Adam sinned.


The real issue here may be election. God provides salvation in His omniscience as he purposes (Romans 9:11, 18), and we are led to repentance by His kindness (Romans 2:4). It is His choice, not ours (Romans 11:5). He chose us--we did not choose Him (Ephesians 1:4, II Timothy 2:10). God is the one who is in control--not us. He prepared us beforehand (Romans 9:23-24, Ephesians 2:10), and even the ungodly have their destiny predetermined (Jude 4). Volition is involved and faith is required, but even our faith comes from God.

Owen Weber 2009