After spelling out the application of justification, Paul steps back and sets Christ’s death in the wider context of God’s plan by contrasting Christ with Adam. Paul picks up on Genesis 3, first stating that Adam’s action set the pattern for the whole of humanity: sin leads to death (Genesis 3:17 and Romans 1:32).
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned —
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.—5:12-14
The first man, Adam, gave in to temptation and disobeyed God’s direct command. Therefore, sin, or rebellion agains God, as an active principle or power gained entrance into the human race. And two results followed: (1) Sin and corruption entered Adam’s heart and life and became part of his being. (2) Adam then passed on sin into the life-stream of the human race corrupting all people from then on. All humans are now born into the world with an impulse and pull toward sin and evil; it is now part of our nature.
Paul does not explain exactly how Adam’s sin is passed on to his descendants. Nor does he say that all people were present in Adam and that somehow we all participated in his sin and inherited his guilt. Nowhere does Paul say that Adam was the representative head of his descendants (the human race) and that his sin was charged to all humanity. The fact is that all people follow their own sinful desires and go their own God-defying way. As a result, we all are guilty before God because of our own personal sin. The only teaching supported by the Bible is that men and women inherit a moral corruption and a strong pull toward sin and evil.
Death entered the world through sin, and now all people are subject to death “because all sinned.” Both the immediate and final consequence of Adam’s original sin was spiritual death, which is separation from God. Only because God graciously provides spiritual salvation through Christ’s sacrifice can people escape the final consequences of sin and be restored to a right relationship with God.
But how were Adam and other figures considered guilty before God gave the law to Israel at Mount Sinai? Even if sins are not counted individually when there are not individual commandments broken—as is the case for Adam—sin still reigns because Adam’s sin violated a specific commandment from God (Genesis 2:16-17). In this respect, Adam foreshadows Israel’s experience with the law: Israelites sinned by breaking a command, as did Adam, whereas the Gentiles did not sin by breaking a command. More importantly, Adam’s one disastrous action—his sin that brought death into the world—is a pattern that foreshadows Christ’s wonderful saving action—his obedience that gives life to those who believe.
In other words what Paul is saying is this: Before God ever gave his written law through Moses, the human race experienced death and separation from God. This was not because they disobeyed God’s spoken law (his direct command) with its death penalty, as did Adam. Instead, it was because they were sinners by their own actions as well as by human nature, violating the law of conscience—their inner sense of right and wrong—that was written in their minds and hearts.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!—5:15-17
On the other hand, Adam’s action is very unlike Christ’s action. Paul says twice that their actions are very different and then explains how. The difference is between death from what Adam did and overflowing abundance from what God has done in Jesus Christ. Another difference is between the fair and proportional judgement on Adam’s sin and the fact that God’s mercy vastly outweighs his judgment: one sin led to judgment, but many sins led to the gift of his Son!
Paul continues: if the feeble act of Adam brought the reign of death, then the mighty and abundant action of God’s gift of righteousness means that Christians will themselves reign through Christ. Death’s rule will be toppled, and believers brought to Christ’s side and united with him will share in his rule.
In verse 12-21 Paul is stressing the supreme and complete effectiveness of the spiritual salvation and restoration provided by Jesus Christ to undo the effects of humankind’s sin and rebellion against God. This is the real point of the passage: Adam brought sin and death; Christ brought grace and life. If human sin could cause that much death and destruction, how much more can God’s salvation provide life and restoration.
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.—5:18-19
Though we must understand how different Adam’s and Christ’s actions are, nevertheless, Adam is a pattern, or type, of Christ because their individual single actions brought consequences for many others. The status “sinner” was brought on the whole of humanity through Adam’s sin, and many are counted righteous because of what Christ has done.
However, what we must understand is that: the condemning judgment that resulted from sin, affecting all people, becomes a reality for each individual as he or she rejects God and his revelation written in their hearts (through their conscience) or revealed in his written Word. In the same way, spiritual salvation—the “justification that brings life”—is available to all people. But to become an effective reality, God’s gracious gift of life must be received by faith in Jesus Christ.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.—5:20-21
How can Paul simply divide humanity into two camps? Does he not pay any attention to Israel and the covenant law given at Mount Sinai? He makes clear that the law is not a halfway house, a staging post on the way to salvation. The law makes clear what happened in Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. That one sin—the trespass—of Adam against the one commandment in Genesis 2:16-17 was multiplied. The law truly brought sin under the spotlight (Romans 3:20 and 4:15). But this pattern of sin and death was reversed with the coming of Christ. Indeed, it was more than reversed. Grace did not just balance sin; it outweighed it; therefore, grace has taken its place on the throne of the world. God’s gift of righteousness to us means that we will have everlasting life through Christ, provided we accept it. And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as move to discuss the fact that we are dead to sin but alive in Christ.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Isaiah 22-24, Galatians 2:17-3:9, Psalm 60:1-12 and Proverbs 23:15-16
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