“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification. Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone. For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12-19 HCSB)
Last week, I shared with you about a trip my wife and I took to the Grand Canyon and asked you to consider the vastness of God’s grace, the breadth of His love and the depth of your sin as we studied verses 6-11 of this chapter. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. This week, I want to take that thought a step further and consider the implications and impact of some of those ideas as we consider verses 12-19.
But first, families all across America celebrated Thanksgiving this week as we took time to stop, gather around a table as family, consider our blessings and thank God for His care and provision. I hope you took time to offer up praise and thanksgiving to God for all He has done. I know this has been a challenging and especially difficult year, but He still deserves our praise, adoration and thanks. Even if you don’t have a similar celebration in your culture, you can begin a new family tradition by setting aside time (preferably more than once a year) to celebrate God’s goodness, His blessings, and to offer up thanks to Him.
Now, why continue with this idea of the Grand Canyon and use it as a means of illustrating this passage? Stay with me and let’s take a look…
In today’s focal passage, Paul begins to explain and justify his argument from last week’s focal passage. He says, “therefore” or “because of this” and that points us back to last week’s passage and thesis: our helplessness and Christ’s help. Our helplessness is due to our sin, but what is the source of our sin? Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin came death. Death has thus spread to all men, because all sinned. This introduces an idea that many of us struggle with, federal or corporate headship. The words federal and corporate, in this context, have nothing to do with government or business, per se. The word federal comes from the Latin foedus and refers to a covenant, or someone acting on our behalf and the word corporate means to act on behalf of or to impact the entirety of a group.
However, Western individualism tends to react negatively towards those concepts even though most western governments depend on a federal or corporate means of governing and representation. While I don’t have time or the desire to delve into the implications of our struggle with this issue, it does have SIGNIFICANT benefits and results. I think many of us bristle at the idea that we are sinful, guilty, and reaping the results of what someone else has done. We don’t like the idea that because of Adam’s sin we became sinful, guilty and subjected to dying or mortal. But if our sinfulness and mortality are the result of being “in” the first Adam, then our righteousness and immortality are also able to come as a result of being “in” the second Adam – Jesus Christ.
Last week, I encouraged you to stop, stand on the rim of God’s amazing grace and marvel in awe at its vastness as you peer down into the depths of your sin. I also commented on how easy it was to descend into the canyon but how hard it was to climb out. I suspect that if Tina and I had actually gone all the way to the bottom of the canyon, we might not have made it out. The climb out was that difficult. The climb out of the canyon of SIN is not just difficult, it is impossible and that’s Paul’s point.
We can stand back and theologically debate the concept of original sin and if, how and why Adam’s sin is inherent in each of us, but you cannot debate the reality of it. Because we ALL still sin and death still reigns. British writer, philosopher and lay theologian, G.K. Chesterton, once quipped that of all the church’s teachings “original sin is the only one which can be empirically proven” each and every day simply by reading the local newspaper. How? We all still sin and death still reigns. Paul argues that before the law of Moses was given, the results of Adam’s sin was evident in the deaths of those who lived during that period.
As you read Paul’s argument, you might stumble over the phrase, “death reigned… even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression.” What does that mean? The context implies that Adam’s sin was in response to God’s direct command, but those who followed (from Adam to Moses) did not have God’s direct commandments or The Law. However, they were still guilty of transgression or sin as seen in their mortality and being subject to death. We are sinful, mortal, subject to death and that has been passed down to us by our father, Adam. I can hear some of you say, “But, that’s not fair. I shouldn’t be held accountable for what someone else did on my behalf. At the very least, I should be able to choose my representative or act on my own behalf.” Let me respond to that two ways.
First, your response implies that God has acted unfairly or unreasonably in His “choosing” Adam as the representative for all humanity. He didn’t choose Adam, He created him for this very purpose. In fact, that’s even what Adam means – humanity. God made him for the express purpose of being our representative and your complaint would indicate you are better qualified than God to choose, create a representative or to even act on your own behalf in this matter. Be very careful, to imply that you know more or would do better than God is the very epitome of pride and sin and simply illustrates the depths to which sin has taken you.
Next, if you desire to represent yourself or assume personal responsibility in this matter of sin then you must be ready to represent yourself or assume personal responsibility in the matter of righteousness and reconciliation. Adam is a “type” of the Coming One or Messiah. The word “type” or “prototype” is the same word used for the image of a person stamped onto a coin. Adam isn’t the “Coming One” but he points us towards Him and what He or “the Coming One” will accomplish. The image on a coin isn’t the person represented, but it points us towards him and what he represents. To reject the work or representation of the first Adam and to assume personal responsibility is to reject the work and representation of the “second” Adam – Jesus Christ – and what He has come to do and what He represents. In other words, to make the choice to stand or fall on your own merit or achievements will apply to your sin and your salvation.
It is really, really tempting to take that approach to sin and salvation in a culture of individualistic achievement. As the Nike brand says, Just Do IT! If you prefer an old west saying, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. The reality is that when we approach sin that way, we fail to recognize the breadth of our own sin and the depth of our personal depravity. We glance down into the canyon, but we don’t realize its depth or its breadth. We see our sin as insignificant or irrelevant, but it becomes much more apparent when we look at the condition of our world. What? That’s not my fault. I didn’t make this mess. No? We did, really. The condition of our world is the result of our humanity, as a whole, and our sinfulness, in particular. Sin touches every aspect of our lives and our existence. Everything is impacted by it and everything is reeling from that impact…
Fortunately, Paul tells us that the “gift is not like the trespass.” If the trespass is capable of being that far-reaching, then HOW MUCH MORE is the reach and impact of God’s grace and the gift of Jesus Christ. The impact of one man’s sin resulted in judgment and many, many trespasses but Christ’s gift resulted in justification and LIFE!
Are you familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics or Entropy? Simply put, that law states that the exchange of energy in a closed system results in the continued loss of efficiency which results in a move from order to chaos. When you expend energy it results in an inefficient exchange and a “loss” or undesired, unintended, unused or wasted form of energy. For example, when you energize a light bulb with electricity you get light but you also lose some of that energy as heat. If you continue to do this, then you do not get an equal amount of light energy to electricity energy because some of the electricity was converted to heat energy. Some methods are more efficient than others, but all result in a waste of energy. So, in a closed system the exchange of energy will result in a move from order (your desired outcome) to disorder (an undesired outcome). If you carry this law out to its natural conclusion you end up with things breaking down and falling apart – from order to disorder, from life to death. Science accurately defines and describes its own death.
In a closed system…
But the gift is not like the trespass because God intervenes into this closed system. Our continuous efforts and the energy we expend on attempting present ourselves righteous before a Holy God just falls short. Just as we heard Paul say earlier, “all have sinned and (continuously) fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But, if the trespass of one man can result in the death of the many, how much more can the gift of God’s grace through Jesus overflow to the many. While Paul clearly says that Adam is a “type” or a pattern of the One to Come – Jesus Christ, he also shows how they are distinctly different. Adam’s contribution to this mess was his selfish trespass, but Christ’s contribution was the selfless gift of Himself – His righteous, perfect self-sacrifice. Adam’s act was the intentional breaking of God’s command while Christ’s gift was the fulfillment and completion of it. So, they are different in their motivation.
They are also completely opposite in their results – Adam’s act brought death, Christ’s gift brings life. Adam’s act brought judgement and condemnation, Christ’s gift brings grace and justification. What a stark contrast between them and what hope Christ’s gift offers to us. But, not only has Adam’s act brought death and condemnation, but “death reigns” over those who are under Adam’s curse. Now, compare that with what Christ’s gift brings… “those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness REIGN in LIFE through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Under Adam, death reigns over us but under Christ, we reign in life!We were slaves in bondage to the hold that death had on us, but in Christ we are set free and we reign in life. No longer slaves under sin and the threat of death, but set free from sin and the threat of death and enabled to reign in life as children of the King.
Finally, the last comparison I want you to see is the stark contrast in the power that Adam’s act and Christ’s gift have over us. Adam’s act has the power of condemnation, judgment and death. Sounds formidable, doesn’t it? While it is powerful, it is NOT formidable. One man, Adam, may have brought us into this mess but the ONE MAN can bring us out of it, Jesus Christ. But how? I’m glad you asked…
How. Much. More. Adam’s act of deliberate disobedience had an incredibly powerful effect of bringing sin, condemnation and death upon all children born of man and woman. But HOW MUCH MORE will Christ’s act of selfless, intentional sacrifice bring justification, righteousness and life to all men who are born of the Spirit. Some, in our modern culture, dare to ask how Jesus can be the only way of salvation. Isn’t that narrow-minded bigotry or false spiritual superiority? Surely there are other ways to a relationship of peace with God, right? If the path of relationship with God were achievable based on our own merit, I would agree. There would be as many ways to God as there there are methods of being good. That’s the power, allure and disillusionment of Adam’s act of selfish and intentional disobedience. But the pathway of a right relationship with God is not through self-based achievements or merit, it is only through THE one man, Jesus Christ.
Why is there only ONE WAY to God? Because there was only one man who had the power to overcome Adam’s disobedience that brought sin upon all humanity – the one man, Jesus Christ. If Jesus was just a good man with good words and moral actions, then he was no different from many other good men with good words who sought and taught methods of “salvation” and access to God. But He was the one man, the unique, the one and only, powerful Son of God and there is NO other like Him and there is NO OTHER WAY. One man brought sin upon humanity and only one can take it away and bring forgiveness and righteousness.
Last week I asked you to stand on the rim of God’s grace and consider its expanse, to look at the breadth of His love and then to peer into the depths of your sin. I wanted you to recognize just how deep your sin goes but also how vast God’s mercy and love are for you. This week, I want you to face the reality that Jesus Christ is the only one who can get you out of that canyon. He’s not just another messenger, prophet or religious teacher. He didn’t die as a sacrifice on our behalf just to fix a bad habit or two in you. He has no desire to just make you a nicer person. He intends to make you fit to bear the title, Child of the King. He’s equipping you to “reign in life” through Him. Not just survive this life but reign in life! How much more?
Well, C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity