A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #13 Adam and Christ Contrasted – Romans 5:12-21

19 Jul

Romans 5:12-21 Adam And Christ — Tell the Lord Thank You

How is it possible for God to save sinners in the person of Jesus Christ? We understand that somehow Christ took our place on the cross, but how was such a substitution possible?

Paul answered the question in this section, and these verses are the very heart of the letter. To understand these verses a few general truths about this section need to be understood. First, note the repetition of the little word one. It is used eleven times. The key idea here is our identification with Adam and with Christ. Second, note the repetition of the word reign which is used five times. Paul saw two men—Adam and Christ—each of them reigning over a kingdom. Finally, note that the phrase much more is repeated five times. This means that in Jesus Christ we have gained much more than we ever lost in Adam!

In short, this section is a contrast of Adam and Christ. Adam was given dominion over the old creation, he sinned, and he lost his kingdom. Because of Adam’s sin, all mankind is under condemnation and death. Christ came as the King over a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By His obedience on the cross, He brought in righteousness and justification. Christ not only undid all the damage that Adam’s sin effected, but He accomplished “much more” by making us the very sons of God. Some of this “much more” Paul has already explained in Romans 5:1-11.

Skeptics sometimes ask, “Was it fair for God to condemn the whole world just because of one man’s disobedience?” The answer, of course, is that it was not only fair; but it was also wise and gracious. To begin with, if God had tested each human being individually, the result would have been the same: disobedience. But even more important, by condemning the human race through one man (Adam), God was then able to save the human race through one Man (Jesus Christ)! Each of us is racially united to Adam, so that his deed affects us. (See Heb. 7:9-10 for an example of this racial headship.) The fallen angels cannot be saved because they are not a race. They sinned individually and were judged individually. There can be no representative to take their judgment for them and save them. But because you and I were lost in Adam, our racial head, we can be saved in Christ, the Head of the new creation. God’s plan was both gracious and wise.

Our final question must be answered: how do we know that we are racially united to Adam? The answer is in Romans 5:12-14, and the argument runs like this: We know that all men die. But death is the result of disobeying the Law. There was no Law from Adam to Moses, but men still died. A general result demands a general cause. What is that cause? It can be only one thing: the disobedience of Adam. When Adam sinned, he ultimately died. All of his descendants died (Gen. 5), yet the Law had not yet been given. Conclusion: they died because of Adam’s sin. “For that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12) means “all have sinned in Adam’s sin.” Men do not die because of their own acts of sin; otherwise, babies would not die (Rom. 9:11). Men die because they are united racially to Adam, and “in Adam all men die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Having linked Jews and Gentiles through Abraham to the promises of God, Paul now shows how the gospel applies to all humankind. Paul made important points by going back to Abraham; but by going back to Adam, he will draw conclusions that affect the fate of every person.

Twice in the last paragraph Paul expressed one idea and then followed it with an equally marvelous parallel idea (from the niv): “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath,” (5:9); and “If . . . we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more . . . shall we be saved through his life!” (5:10). Here, in verses 12-21, Paul also uses a series of parallels, only this time they express ideas moving in opposite directions: “Just as sin entered the world . . . and . . . death came to all men” (5:12). . . “how much more did God’s grace and the gift . . . overflow to the many” (5:15); “For if.. death reigned through that one man, how much more will . . . righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ’ (5:17 niv); and “For just as . . . many were made sinners, so also . . . many will be made righteous” (5:19). Paul shows that all of us are affected by Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience.

5:12 Sin came into the world through one man.NRSV This one man is Adam, who sinned against God and brought alienation from God and death to all humanity (Genesis 2-3). God had warned Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Because Adam disobeyed God’s command, the judgment of both spiritual and physical death fell on him and all his descendants—death spread to all men, because all sinned.NKJV Death is the consequence of being under the power of sin. “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22 niv). It was not in God’s original plan for human beings to die, but it was the result when sin entered the world. Inevitably, the gift of life we bequeath to our children includes with it the sting of death. All human beings have two characteristics in common: They are sinners, and they will die.

5:13 Before the law was given, sin was in the world.NIV Verses 13-15 are a lengthy parenthesis to Paul’s statement beginning in verse 12. God’s law was not given until the time of Moses, so the people who lived between Adam and Moses did not have any specific laws to obey or break. Paul explains that sin is not taken into account when there is no law.NIV What Paul is saying is that the sin that was in the world was the power or force that causes people to act independently of God. All people are under the power of sin, and all people act in rebellion against God. Those sins did not count the same as Adam’s sin because they were not deliberate actions against God’s commands (as was Adam’s, see 5:12) because there were no commands. Thus, they were not taken into account. Paul continues this thought in 5:20 and in chapter 7, when he describes the law’s role in defining sin. Sin was in the world from the beginning, but it came into sharp focus when the law was given.

With this statement, Paul follows through his argument from chapter 2 regarding the pride of the Jews in their role as keepers of God’s law. The very fact that they had the law, and that it is the law that makes people accountable for sin, means that the Jews’ sin was deadly—they were certainly in as much need of redemption as the rest of the world.

5:14 Death reigned . . . even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.NIV Adam had knowingly broken a specific command (5:12). His descendants who lived prior to the time of Moses could not break any specific laws because there were none. But they still sinned, witnessed by the fact that death reigned. Adam’s descendants had sinned with Adam (5:12). Death is the result of Adam’s sin and ours, even if our sins don’t resemble Adam’s. For thousands of years, the law had not been explicitly given, and yet people died. The law was added (5:20) to help people see their sinfulness, to show them the seriousness of their offenses, and to drive them to God for mercy and pardon. This was true in Moses’ day and in Paul’s day, and it is still true today. Sin is a deep rupture between who we are and

who we were created to be. The law points out our sin and places the responsibility for it squarely on our shoulders, but it offers no remedy.

Adam . . . a pattern of the one to come.NIV Paul uses the word pattern (typos), or “type” to describe Adam’s role in history compared with Christ’s. Adam, the first man, was a counterpart of Christ, whom Paul calls “the last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45. Adam’s one act determined the character of the world; Christ’s one act determined the character of eternity. In modem terminology, we could say that Adam was a flawed prototype, but Christ was the perfect original. Just as Adam was a representative of created humanity, so is Christ the representative of the new, spiritual humanity.

5:15 The free gift is not like the trespass.NRSV The gift from God through Christ (justification) has a greater but opposite effect than the trespass of Adam and its consequences. Yet in each case, the act of one affected the lives of many.

Many died by the trespass of the one man.NIV Because of Adam’s sin, death entered the human race, and since then all people have died (with the Bible’s exceptions of Enoch and Elijah). All people will die until the end of this age.

The gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.NIV God’s gift because of his grace—salvation and eternal life—overflows to the entire human race. It is available to all, but not everyone will choose to receive it.

Every human being is born into Adam’s physical family the family line that leads to certain death. All of us reap the results of Adam’s sin. We have inherited his guilt, the tendency to sin, and God’s punishment. Because of Jesus, however, we can trade judgment for forgiveness. We can trade our sin for Jesus’ goodness. Jesus offers us the opportunity to be born into his spiritual family—the family line that begins with forgiveness and leads to eternal life. If we do nothing, we have death through Adam; but if we come to God by faith, we have life through Christ.

Adam’s offense is contrasted with Christ’s free gift (v. 15). Because of Adam’s trespass, many died; because of Christ’s obedience the grace of God abounds to many bringing life. The word “many” (literally “the many”) means the same as “all men” in Romans 5:12 and 18. Note the “much more”; for the grace of Christ brings not only physical life, but also spiritual life and abundant life. Christ did conquer death and one day will raise the bodies of all who have died “in Christ.” If He stopped there, He would only reverse the effects of Adam’s sin; but He went on to do “much more.” He gives eternal life abundantly to all who trust Him (John 10:10).

5:16 Judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.NIV God passed judgment on Adam’s one sin of disobedience. As a result, Adam and the entire human race received condemnation.

The gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.NIV Everyone since Adam has sinned, and yet Christ overcame those many trespasses and brought justification to those who accept him. The result of sin is death; the gift of God—his justifying sinners—results in reigning forever with Christ.

The effect of Adam’s sin is contrasted with the effect of Christ’s obedience (v. 16). Adam’s sin brought judgment and condemnation; but Christ’s work on the cross brings justification. When Adam sinned, he was declared unrighteous and condemned. When a sinner trusts Christ, he is justified—declared righteous in Christ.

5:17 By the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man.NIV By capitulating to sin Adam allowed the whole human race to succumb to death. Death is inescapable; it comes to every living thing. We all live close to the valley of the shadow of death. And the reign of death over creation began because of Adam’s sin.

Will those who receive.NRSV The only condition upon these wonderful provisions of grace is that we receive them by faith. God’s love and Christ’s work are for all men and women, but they are appropriated by faith.

Reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.NKJV Those who believe in Christ will become rulers, reigning in his kingdom of life, where there is no death (Revelation 1:6). What a promise this is to those who love Christ! We can reign over sin’s power, over death’s threats, and over Satan’s attacks. Eternal life is ours now and forever. Though this promise has its greatest fulfillment in the future, it also has a significant immediate impact. In Christ, death loses its sting (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We are still subject to the physical suffering and death brought by sin in the world, but we are free from the eternal spiritual separation that we would experience outside of Christ. Also, in the power and protection of Jesus Christ, we can overcome temptation (see 8:17 for more on our privileged position in Christ).

The two “reigns” are contrasted (v. 17). Because of Adam’s disobedience, death reigned. Read the “book of the generations of Adam” in Genesis 5, and note the solemn repetition of the phrase “and he died.” In Romans 5:14, Paul argued that men did not die “from Adam to Moses” for the same reason that Adam died—breaking a revealed law of God—for the Law had not yet been given. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Because sin was reigning in men’s lives (Rom. 5:21), death was also reigning (Rom. 5:14, 17).

But in Jesus Christ we enter a new kingdom: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). “Therefore being justified by faith” we are declared righteous, we have peace with God, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Note that it is we who reign! “Much more they… shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” In Adam we lost our kingship, but in Jesus Christ we reign as kings. And we reign “much more”! Our spiritual reign is far greater than Adam’s earthly reign, for we share “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17).

5:18 Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation.NIV Paul emphasizes the contrasting roles of two single agents, Adam and Christ. Adam’s sin brought condemnation on the human race. Christ’s sinless sacrifice, or as Paul writes, his one act of righteousness opened the way for justification that brings life.

5:19 By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.NRSV The same statement is made in different words: Here Adam’s trespass is called “disobedience,” and it resulted in all people becoming sinners and thus unacceptable to God. The word trespass describes the specific act of Adam’s sin, while disobedience describes its intent. The original temptation downplayed the importance of the act (see Genesis 3:1-7) and focused attention on the desired ends: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5 niv). Temptation still takes that same form, rationalizing deliberate disobedience to God in pursuit of some supposedly higher ideal. Ends and means do not justify one another. In Adam’s case, neither the ends (disobedience) nor the means (trespass) turned out to be right.

By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.NRSV Again, in contrast, here the act of righteousness is called Christ’s “obedience.” Adam’s response to temptation was “My will be done”; but Christ’s prayer to God was “Thy will be done” (Luke 22:42). Because of Christ’s obedience, those who believe will be made righteous. Becoming righteous is both an immediate standing before God and an ongoing process to be completed when he returns.

The two “one acts” are contrasted (vv. 18-19). Adam did not have to commit a series of sins. In one act God tested Adam, and he failed. It is termed an “offense” and an act of “disobedience.” The word offense means “trespass—crossing over the line.” God told Adam how far he could go, and Adam decided to go beyond the appointed limit. “Of every tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).

In contrast to “the trespass of one” is “the righteousness of one,” meaning the righteous work of Christ on the cross. In Romans 5:19 Paul calls it “the obedience of One” (see Phil. 2:5-12). Christ’s sacrifice on the cross not only made possible “justification,” but also “justification of life” (italics mine). Justification is not merely a legal term that describes our position before God (“just as if I’d never sinned”); but it results in a certain kind of life. “Justification of life” in Romans 5:18 is parallel to “be made righteous” in Romans 5:19. In other words, our justification is the result of a living union with Christ. And this union ought to result in a new kind of life, a righteous life of obedience to God. Our union with Adam made us sinners; our union with Christ enables us to “reign in life.”

5:20 Law was added so that the trespass might increase.NIV This statement is certainly not what Paul’s Jewish readers expected to hear. Paul had already explained that the law was ineffective for salvation, but now he says that rather than being an antidote for sin, it actually increases sin! Paul is winding up the argument he has been carrying on through the first five chapters of his letter. The purpose of the law for his own people, the Jews, had been to make them aware of their need for salvation; thus, their trespass was increased. Sin was present from Adam, but the giving of the law was like having a huge spotlight turned on—the sinfulness of people became all the more defined (see also Romans 7:7-13). The solution to sin was not law, but grace.

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.NIV No matter how much people sin, God’s grace is greater. There are occasions of insight in life when people realize in a new way the reality of their sinfulness. Sometimes, reflecting on the commandments reminds us of our tendency to fall. Our consciences also flare with guilt from time to time. At other times, a loving friend may confront us with a sinful act or habit. When our awareness of sin increases, we need to ask God to help us see that his grace is always greater in its capacity to forgive than our capacity to sin.

As sinners, separated from God, we see his law from below. Sometimes it seems like a ladder to be climbed to get to God. Perhaps we have repeatedly tried to climb it, only to fall to the ground every time we have advanced one or two rungs. Or perhaps the sheer height of the ladder is so overwhelming that we have never even started up. In either case, what relief we should feel to see Jesus with open arms, offering to lift us above the ladder of the law, to take us directly to God. Once Jesus lifts us into God’s presence, we are free to obey—out of love, not necessity, and through God’s power, not our own. Then we know that if we stumble, we will not fall back to the ground. Instead, we will be caught and held in Jesus’ loving arms.

5:21 As sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life.NIV Our age is characterized by sin and inevitable death; but the age to come will be characterized by grace, righteousness, and eternal life. It is common to call the ultimate struggle that is going on in the universe “the conflict between good and evil.” Paul was picturing here the outcome of the war between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of sin. Until Christ, the war appeared to be decided, because sin reigned in death. But Christ’s death and resurrection provided the decisive victory by which grace will reign. Under the reign of grace, a righteousness is declared that will bring eternal life.

This ends the first section of Paul’s letter and his explanation of the law and its relation to salvation. But the law is not set aside as old and worthless. Paul will explain, in coming chapters, the role of the law for believers.

Law and grace are contrasted (vv. 20-21). “Then Law crept in” (WMS); or, “Then the Law came in beside” (literal translation). Grace was not an addition to God’s plan; grace was a part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God dealt with Adam and Eve in grace; He dealt with the patriarchs in grace; and He dealt with the nation of Israel in grace. He gave the Law through Moses, not to replace His grace, but to reveal man’s need for grace. Law was temporary, but grace is eternal.

But as the Law made man’s sins increase, God’s grace abounded even more. God’s grace was more than adequate to deal with man’s sins. Even though sin and death still reign in this world, God’s grace is also reigning through the righteousness of Christ. The Christian’s body is subject to death and his old nature tempts him to sin; but in Jesus Christ, he can “reign in life” because he is a part of the gracious kingdom of Christ.

An Old Testament story helps us understand the conflict between these two “reigns” in the world today. God rejected Saul as the king of Israel, and anointed David. Those who trusted David eventually shared his kingdom of peace and joy. Those who trusted Saul ended in shame and defeat.

Like David, Jesus Christ is God’s anointed King. Like Saul, Satan is still free to work in this world and seek to win men’s allegiance. Sin and death are reigning in the “old creation” over which Adam was the head, but grace and righteousness are reigning in “the new creation” over which Christ is the Head. And as we yield to Him, we “reign in life.”

In Romans 5:14, Adam is called “the figure of Him that was to come.” Adam was a type, or picture, of Jesus Christ. Adam came from the earth, but Jesus is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). Adam was tested in a Garden, surrounded by beauty and love; Jesus was tempted in a wilderness, and He died on a cruel cross surrounded by hatred and ugliness. Adam was a thief, and was cast out of Paradise; but Jesus Christ turned to a thief and said, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Old Testament is “the book of the generations of Adam” (Gen. 5:1) and it ends with “a curse” (Mal. 4:6). The New Testament is “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 1:1) and it ends with “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

You cannot help being “in Adam,” for this came by your first birth over which you had no control. But you can help staying “in Adam,” for you can experience a second birth—a new birth from above—that will put you “in Christ.” This is why Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).


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Posted by on July 19, 2021 in Romans


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