Revised January, 2016 – Notes designed to accompany a sermon on Romans 5:12-21 by David H. Linden
To understand salvation, we must understand
the structure of all human life. God
created man in a family structure. The first man was united to his partner and
others of his kind came from them. This kind of family structure is unknown to
angels who live and act as individuals. In this sense man is more like God than
angels are! God is a family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God
made mankind to have a head, namely Father Adam. To this head God committed the duty to decide
for us all that we would be righteous. But Adam decided we would be sinners. By
this I mean not that Adam decided our sins, but just that we would be sinners.
It was a decision that has shaped all human history since, except for the other
Man Who came to earth and stepped into Adam's shoes. When Adam became a sinner
by choice; we too became sinners by that choice he made for us. This Biblical
doctrine is not widely thought about these days; it is not popular; it is not
mainstream; it is often not even believed among Christians. In the world around
us, it is the silliest doctrine one can imagine. “Someone long ago decided our
life today – how preposterous!!” It is, however, Biblical and taught in this
text in very clear language.
Christ: Adam was a pattern for “the One to come,”
v.14. After Adam’s sin, God did not change the structure of the human family. He
provided a new leader for us, inserting His Son into this world as a fully
human person. God sent Him to take Adam’s place, to fill that vacancy, and to
give what some might call a “second chance”. We are all sinners, so we do not
get a chance to obey God again so that we can be justified. The gospel is that
a new man from outside came in to do that for us, Jesus Christ. As the new man,
Christ did the opposite of Adam – He obeyed. Like Adam, He represented His
children and made a decision for us outside our lifetime, beyond our ability
and without our consent, support, or participation. It was absolutely
undemocratic; we elected neither leader and they did not act according to our
wishes. It was far more monarchial and familial, a father deciding for his children.
Representation, the opposite of autonomy, cuts across the grain of our age. The
way Christ represented His people was to obey for us, deciding our status as
righteous, and to die for us, moving to Himself the penalty God's law once held
against us. Our salvation sits on this structure, a “one for others”
representation, where Jesus Christ decided our right standing with God and
thereby secured eternal life for us.
Two streams course through this section. While they are as different as heaven and hell, they have this in common: The doctrine moves from an act to a judgment to a consequence. In the case of Adam, the act is sin, and therefore God's judgment (condemnation), and the resulting penalty (death). In the case of Christ the flow is: obedience, which merits justification (i.e. God's approving declaration of righteousness), and the reward of eternal life.
Frequently the idea of a judgment
is limited to a penalty. That is only half the picture. Whatever a judge
decides is his judgment. A judgment may go either way. He may acquit or find someone
guilty. So it is with God; condemnation means the person is judged to be
guilty. Justification means he is found to be not guilty, so he is acquitted or
pronounced innocent, and declared to be righteous. Both condemnation and justification
state a judicial ruling.
The action by a person
The judicial ruling of God
The resulting experience
That way of saying it applies equally to Adam and Christ, but in both
cases the action, ruling, and result are opposites. We need a larger chart.
Action by Either Representative
God’s Judicial Ruling
God’s Decision Executed
Paul is not describing the detail of Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit.
He speaks rather of the character of the act. A journalist might describe a
murder with a weapon adding detail of where a victim was struck, how many
times, what pain it caused, and the precise cause of death. The same crime
could be evaluated as cruelty, a shameful act, a betrayal of trust, a violation
of law, etc. Romans 5 is not narrative. This text's focus is on the reality and
significance of Adam's act, described as “sin” (vv.12,16), “disobedience”
(v.19), “trespass” (v.15), and “the breaking of a command” (v.14). The act of
eating the fruit is not mentioned.
Romans 5 says nothing of Eve who also sinned, because she was not the
head of the human race, so her eating of the forbidden tree did not represent
anyone other than Eve. We should note that the moment of disobedience was one
sin. That was enough to cause death to reign over all of us thereafter. It was
not an offense that would bring a major penalty today; in fact it would be
viewed as petty crime. We lose the significance of Adam's sin any time we
overlook that it was a conscious defiance of the command of God.
Our Lord's obedience was just as deliberate as Adam's sin. His conduct
is called “righteousness” and “obedience.” He came born of a woman
under the law and was obedient to it all His life (Galatians 4:4). It was an
obedience of purity unknown in anyone else in history, produced in the frailty
of human flesh, against the temptations of Satan, and unassisted by the fellowship
of His friends. It was produced in the fullness of the Spirit Whom God gave to
Him without measure (Romans 8:3; John 3:34). The climax of that obedience was
His offering on the cross (Philippians 2:8). So a key contrast in Romans 5 is
the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ. One Man acted in
righteousness; the other committed a trespass. Both Adam’s sin and Christ’s
righteousness are historical realities that occurred under the eye of God. Both
brought a divine judicial declaration upon their actions, upon themselves, and
upon their constituencies.
Paul begins by speaking of a certain kind of consequence. “By one man sin entered into the world and
death by sin!”, v.12. Death has some cause. So Paul begins with the
transgression, a transgression that has affected everyone, even people between
Adam and Moses who lived before the law was given to Moses. He connects cause
and its eventual result. But there is another crucial element that logically
comes between sin and the experience of death, namely the legal side, where
Adam is judged to be guilty which is what it means to stand before God
there is first a
transgression of a law,
then a charge with a chance
to plead guilt or innocence;
if the charge is contested,
evidence must be presented;
when that is finished, there
is a decision, either by a judge or jury, the climax of which is the
declaration of guilt or innocence. (This obligation is the chief role of a
court, separate from police work and the execution of penalties.)
Only then is the person
released if cleared, or punished (outside the court) if guilty.
Paul simplifies this order without rearranging it. That order is: the
act, the legal decision of condemnation, and finally death. It is not wrong to
say a man was hanged for murder. We all speak in such sweeping phrases as Paul
did in v.12. Saying a man was hanged for murder is a simplification. If it was
a legal hanging and not a lynching, it had to be that the man who murdered was
first found guilty of it (i.e. condemned) and then hanged. Guilt means that a
sin is judicially established as sin. That is why our newspapers are careful to
say that a man has been charged, or that a crime is alleged. They do not speak
judicially and say, “Last night a man was murdered downtown and the murderer
was picked up shortly after near the scene of the crime.” The crime is reported
but the guilt of the charged man has yet to be properly established in a court.
Newspapers are careful to use words like “suspects”.
In God’s court, sinners and the ones cleared both have a legal
standing. To sinners, God is the offended party, witness, prosecutor, judge,
and executioner. To those who are saved, He is the redeemer, forgiver, the
judge declaring us righteous, the one who remembers offenses against us no
more, and our defender.
When man dies, he simply experience the penalty for sin. If God is God
Who rules justly over all, then we must be guilty, or the Judge of all the
earth has done wrong in executing a sinner without establishing guilt. Romans 5
does not deny our guilt for our sins. But our independent guilt for our sins is not what
this passage is speaking about. Romans 5:12-21 is focused on guilt brought on
us through another person’s sin, Adam’s. He sinned for us. In Adam all mankind
begins in a state of condemnation. We begin with guilt acquired in Adam and
continue in our own sin.
Great Parallel I do not say we stand
accused of Adam’s specific sin, but that he represented us in such a way that
we sinned in him, and so we are justly condemned as a result of his sin. What
we mean and do not mean is worth further consideration. When we are justified,
we are not considered the ones who did the acts of Jesus’ lifetime. We did not
do the preaching, praying, healing, teaching, rebuking, and comforting that He
did. We did not live His life of obedience, yet God grants us the righteousness
of Christ without ever saying that we performed His righteousness. Neither are
we viewed as those who actually ate the forbidden fruit. God does not make
false statements by rewriting the facts of history. The sinner’s condemnation
is simply that God considers him to be what Adam became, namely “sinner”, and
then God treats sinners accordingly. The justified soul is justified apart from
any obedience of his own, and without God ever claiming that Jesus’ compliance with
God’s law is what we have actually done. In Christ we are declared obedient,
righteous, and acceptable, so that we have that new standing before God. The
imputation of Adam’s sin is that identified with him, we are declared to be
sinners. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness involves no legal fiction, since
in union with Him by faith we are simply declared to have as a gift the
official status “righteous”. For this reason, God then treats us as righteous.
about Babies? What of humans who have not
sinned for themselves? Babies may die in the womb; some die the day they are
born or shortly after. All this happens before they are able to comprehend a transgression.
They had made no decision to break any commandment. Where is their guilt? If
they are sentenced to death by God in early infancy, what is their disobedience?
What is their trespass?
The Christian answer is that Adam represented them and sinned for them
and they in him. His disobedience (not his consumption of the forbidden fruit)
became theirs. He had made a decision for them in their place and the
"credit" (or demerit) for his act of transgression was considered by
God as theirs. (We say it was imputed
to them.) They did not do what Adam did, but Adam’s sin established them as
sinners before they even got a chance to commit a sin, and so they are truly
guilty. In this state of acquired guilt, for which they did nothing, they die.
They did not do the offense but gained from their father the guilt. Condemnation
always means that the condemned one is found guilty. When Adam sinned all
sinned (5:12), that is, all of us sinned in him. All of us were condemned, and
we all face death.
No one believes this but Christians. It is “in Adam” that all die (1
Corinthians 15:22). He sinned for us. One single trespass of his resulted in
our condemnation! (Romans 5:18). Manlind is credited with Adam’s sin. The guilt
of it is as much ours as if we had eaten the forbidden fruit ourselves. In
other words, God has condemned us in Adam for the offence our representative
made for us. If a lawyer acts in another man’s name and makes motions in a
court or gives arguments, the represented client cannot go back to the judge
after a verdict and say what his lawyer said was not his defense. What the
representing lawyer does for the client is recognized as that client’s real
case. The lawyer’s arguments are the client’s arguments even if the client
never opened his mouth. Adam represented us in the original trial and spoke for
us. When he disobeyed, we disobeyed in him for he was acting for us all. In
Adam we suffer our lawyer's penalty, but in Christ, Christians have a lawyer
who paid for theirs. No man has ever had an advocate like that. It is far more
than a lawyer who pays his clients’ bills; Christ is the representative who has
suffered the consequences His clients deserved.
One cannot be condemned justly where there is no crime. There must be a
sin! If dead infants broke no law, yet experienced the penalty of death because
they were already condemned, it had to be that someone had sinned for them. The
alternative to this would be that babies are born condemned for no sin at all,
neither Adam’s nor theirs, yet they die anyway. That would be a miscarriage of
justice. In God's court that cannot happen. In Romans 5, the sin clearly
preceded the condemnation. It was
“through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners,”
v.19. "The judgment followed one sin and brought
condemnation,” v.16. “The result of one
trespass was condemnation for all men,” v.18, “…death spread to all men,
because all sinned,” v.12. So the condemnation followed the sin, Adam’s
sin. For all of us without exception, beginning life condemned had nothing to
do with what we have done.
Many people do not like this doctrine of representation. Apart from the evil of disagreeing with the Word of God in Romans 5:12-21, this dislike encounters two major problems:
1. One is the loss of autonomy and independence in human life. We are
designed and created to be communal not just in living arrangements, but in our
standing before God. God in His wisdom chose to have a humanity that was so
tight-knit that its head could decide our lives for us. We still get little
driblets of this when parents decide what country they will live in, what
schools children will attend, what language they will speak and whether or not
their child will have surgery. Humans do not stand alone, nor do we merely
stand together, we stand before God in our head, and our head was Adam. Fallen
angels sinned one by one. We fell all at once in the official corporate
decision of one man. Denying the unity man used to enjoy does not solve man’s
problems. Neither governments nor courts can avoid representation. It is part
of the human essence.
2. The second major problem with not liking this structure is even worse,
because it is within this representative structure that all salvation comes. When
we were sinners without righteousness to merit God’s justification, God sent a
Savior to assume the headship of a new humanity and to act in our behalf. This kind
of human relationship is an irritation to those who make a cult of autonomy,
but it is only by a leader deciding, dying, and obeying for us that we are
saved. To reject the created framework in which Adam represented us, is to
reject the only way we can be saved – that is through the legal advocacy of
Christ our Representative Mediator Who obeyed and died in our place.
about Deuteronomy 24?
children being put to death for their fathers; and requires that when any
person is punished that it should be only for one’s own sin (Deuteronomy
24:16). Since this is a principle of justice which applies to all ages, how can
anyone be punished for Adam’s sin since Adam’s children did not participate in
it? The answer lies in the surprising truth that in Adam all sinned (5:12);
otherwise God would not have condemned nor applied the death sentence upon them
for it. Death was upon all and condemnation was upon all, because all of us
were united to Adam. God viewed the human race as such a unity, so much so that
Adam’s sin was ours. The Christian is so united to Christ that we died in Him
before we were born, we were buried with Him when we were not present; and we
have been raised with him already (Romans 6:1-11). Furthermore, His
righteousness or obedience is ours though we did not participate in it
(1Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:20,21; Philippians 3:8,9). If God can view
His people in Christ (and He does), He can view Adam’s children in Adam, and He
does. Romans 5 teaches that God gives sinners who have been joined to Christ
the free gifts of righteousness and life.In the same way those joined to Adam in
creation are implicated in a sin they did not commit and are justly condemned
to death. The alternative to this is a human race contrary to God’s creation, one
that would be billions of standalone units. That was not the way it was, and so
when our first father sinned all humanity sinned in him and with him, apart
from our will in Adam’s wicked decision. The children Deuteronomy 24 mentions
are not represented in their fathers, and thus not in their sinful acts. Therefore
the children ought not to be punished as if they were.
illustrations will help:
So, to summarize:
In a nation, all were officially made to be enemies by the declaration of
representatives. The declaration of the few became the official position of
all, including the uninformed. The hand that touched a dead body brought instant
defilement to the entire body. The man Adam decided that the entire race would
instantly become sinners apart from anything they would later do. The gospel is
that the second Man, the Lord from heaven, has brought righteousness to all who
are His, prior to and apart from any eventual righteousness in us.
Adam’s sin and death created a vacancy in the human family. God chose to have a new creation, to establish a new humanity out of the old. It would be composed of those no longer condemned, who will have eternal life on the merits of Christ. It is too late for Adam and all his posterity to have life on their own. Our corporate decision as sinners has been made and we cannot reverse it. But God could and did send another Person into the human family, a Person from outside Adam’s circle. God sent His Son from heaven, One Who is the Lord Himself to step into Adam’s position, and fill the vacuum. Adam sinned. The Gospel is of the Man who obeyed.
The Lord Jesus would have an awful mess on His hands, and His
representation would need to fulfill a double need.
1. He would have to take on the condemnation of those He would save, which
means that He would have to assume the penalty that goes with it – and this He
did on the cross when Jesus died for His peoples’ sin. (See 2 Corinthians
2. He would have to provide the required righteousness. (See Philippians
If anyone thinks it is evil for people to be
condemned for sin they did not commit, the Bible never speaks of the Judgment
Day as being for more transgressions than people committed on their own. From
Adam, they got their condemnation plus their sinful nature. If they have no
Mediator, they go on to stand before God alone to face Him without a redeeming
advocate simply for what they have done.
So just as the transgression/condemnation/death
complex forms the judicial pattern for Adam and all his, so Christ’s later
righteousness/obedience will bring justification and life to those united to
Him. Romans 5 does not spell out the circumstances of Christ's obedience. It
does not mention His temptation in the wilderness. It simply asserts His
obedience. Paul’s motive is to wrap up his doctrine of justification, which he
earlier built on the atoning blood of Christ in Romans 3:24. Elsewhere in
Romans he argued that righteousness comes from God (3:21,22) and is imputed to
ungodly people (4:5) who believe and do not do any righteousness to obtain the
verdict of being righteous! He had argued the principle of grace from God
versus merit by man (4:4). Paul's doctrine is strong gospel medicine, contrary
to every instinct in natural man.
How else can Paul show that our justification
is in no way attached to our actions? How can we learn that something WE do not
do can result in God’s judicial acceptance of us? Paul had at hand the parallel
of condemnation and used it, because in Adam it is already the case that
someone else acted for us, merited God’s favorable judicial decision concerning
us, and secured the result. The parallel is powerful. Since this is the way God
constituted human life from the outset, justification simply falls into a
framework that already exists.
Paul labors to show that just as it was with
Adam’s sin, so it is with Christ’s obedience. Both are representative acts.
Their actions result in two consequences, a judicial (guilt or acquittal) and
an experiential (death or life). So if we understand Adam’s sin and its legal
result, we can grasp justification and see that it rests on obedience outside
us. We were as much involved in Christ’s obedience as we were in Adam’s transgression,
which is not at all, and that is the point! In both cases we did nothing, yet
were tremendously affected by one or both of those events outside our lives.
For all of us now, these two events of disobedience and obedience happened long
before we had any awareness of them. Paul is clinching the Christian doctrine
of justification: in the received condemnation, we did nothing, and likewise for
the gift of justification we do nothing. Our justification rests only on
Christ’s obedience, not ours even one little bit.
So it is true that by one man sin entered
into the world, and just as that happened, righteousness entered the world by
one Man. The former brought condemnation to all and the later Man, our Lord and
Savior, brought justification to all of His. The first man brought death, and
the last brought life. So when Paul taught about a justification that excludes
our righteousness, it was a doctrine fully consistent with the universal condemnation
that was not based on us sinning for ourselves.
We were not there in the wilderness of
One of the difficulties in reading Romans 5 is that while the parallels are so clear, they are also lopsided. Death is not neatly balanced with life. The dullness of death is contrasted with “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflowing to the many” vs. 15. This is the way this evangelist apostle chose to contrast life and death.
The statements of death are terse and stark:
“death [entered] through sin;” “death came to all men;” v.12 “death reigned;”
v.14,17, and “many died,” v.15. But the life side is exuberant and “overflowing” as one moves from bleak assessment
to joyful proclamation. Life is put in v.17 as,
“… 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.” His expression is not emotionally detached. Sin once reigned, but
grace overcame it as v.21 says, “that … grace might reign through righteousness
to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
It takes no great skill to start a forest
fire. A child with a match can do that. But if one man puts out the fire by
himself, restores the forest and revives what the fire destroyed, the contrast
is more than mere parallel; it is amazement. To kill is easy; to raise to life
is supernatural. Adam’s sin required no great effort. As an accomplishment it
is a zero, as easy as eating a piece of fruit. But the accomplishment of Christ
is incredible, cleaning up after sin’s desolation throughout history to bring
about an entire earth of redeemed mankind in a new creation. We have all seen
advertisements where something is demolished yet with the film being run
backwards, all returns to normal. It is a clever technical device, but it is
not reality. For His own, this reversal, so impossible to us, is reality, the wonderful
effect of Christ’s saving obedience.
The other consequences that flow from
justification are in other Scriptures: the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians
1:13,14), a new and godly life (Romans 6:4), the resurrection of the body (1
Corinthians 15:51-55), a renewed earth (Romans 8:18-21), and God walking among
His children in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:3).
One man/One Man
Two men decide for us. Our destiny depends
upon one or the other. No other person is in the picture until the two
judgments of condemnation or justification are already in place. (See John
3:18.) The first head of the human race was Adam alone. (Eve’s sin is
irrelevant to the condemnation of the rest of mankind. She represented only
herself and became a sinner on her own.) The new head is Christ alone, with all
of our defective “righteousness” irrelevant to our justification. Is there a
clearer way Paul could have shown that we depend on Christ alone? If anyone
inserts his righteousness into the picture, he destroys the teaching of the
passage that justification for all men rests only on the
deeds/actions/obedience/righteousness of one man. Justification does not sit on
a WE but on a HE. The purest goodness of the most sanctified saint on earth
cannot compare with the purity of the righteousness of Christ. None of us have
ever done anything to affect the condemnation with which we began our lives.
Nor can any of us do anything to remove it. We are prisoners to Adam’s
transgression and are without hope apart from Jesus’ intervention.
All the Christian duties of our obedience and
“cooperation with grace” are sealed out of this doctrine in an airtight
compartment. In justification, God looks only at the obedience of Christ. And
that is all we want Him to look at, because if God ever looked to ours for a
judicial ruling, He would never declare us righteous. The question must never
be how can we get our good deeds into the picture, but how can we keep them and
Regeneration is a transforming act within us.
Sanctification is a transforming work of God within. Justification makes us
look outside to one Man, whose obedience is holy, and Who deserves the
declaration of righteous that God gave Him in the resurrection (4:25). God
gives this declaration just as really to all who are found in Him (i.e. are
represented by Him) not having their own righteousness but that of the God-Man
sent to replace Adam as Head of the new race of righteous men. These righteous
persons all have an acquired perfect righteousness received as a gift from God
who views us in Christ and treats us as righteous.
Our Father Adam is now gone and we do not
know the location of his dust. The Other Man has left to go home to His
Father’s side. Our righteousness is seated at God’s right hand (1Corinthians 1:30). There He intercedes
for all who are in Him; He ensures our enjoyment of the life He has earned for
us (Romans 8:35).
Paul begins this passage speaking of the
entrance of sin through one man acting alone, and finishes his presentation
with the gracious reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may read my paper and not
understand all I write. I do not myself. You do not need to understand this
paper to be saved, but you must trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.
If you trust in your righteousness,
you are not trusting in His and thus
not in Him at all, and you are still in Adam under condemnation and assured of
eternal death. Please flee for safety to Christ Whose righteousness and life is
presented to us as a gift in Romans 5:12-21. Four times in these verses Paul
calls it a gift, so believe the Lord Who cannot lie, and take it as a gift. All
you need is Christ as the representative you embrace. He promises you that if
you will come to Him, He will receive you. But you must come as a beggar with
nothing to offer and everything to receive.
In the gospel, Christ offers His
righteousness as your defense before the bar of God. It is a righteousness
already accepted by God, and all guilty sinners who receive it are all accepted
by Him. The judicial sentence is either condemnation or justification, and we
are all out of the loop when it comes to the sin or obedience that establishes
one or the other. Adam "earned" one and Christ achieved the other.
All the actions of sin or obedience that result in the judicial ruling of God
are now over. No sin from us caused our state of condemnation. That was done
for us and we were condemned before we ever started to sin. For sure, sinners
are well able by sin to increase the consequences it brings, because a just
punishment is based on the sinners' behavior.
is no obedience from us that can justify us. Justification can come only from obedience
outside us. The case against Adam is
closed for all in him, unless they flee to Jesus Christ where the righteousness
found there has already been produced and no additions to it for justification
are permitted or accepted.
Two men and only two, each acting alone,
decide our lives for us. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Leave the first
man; come to the right man. There is no third. In Christ there is forgiveness,
righteousness, and reconciliation. Be reconciled to God in the only way God has
opened (2Corinthians 5:20,21). That way is through His divine Son Who became a
man to stand in for us, to go to bat for us, to die and obey for us. As a
result He brings many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10).
“…So also grace
might reign through righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord,” v. 21.
There is no alternative to the way God has constructed
human life: You may stand before God still condemned in the sin of someone else
and punished for your own. OR you may be justified in the righteousness of the
Man Who is the Lord from heaven, Who walked on Adam’s turf and returned alive
to sit at His Father's side. Choose the Adam who saves.
Justification is in its essence an imputed
righteousness from outside our experience. Receiving it will always lead us
into righteous conduct. The justified person is freed from the domination of
sin, while a new fresh grace from Jesus Christ rules our lives. When Paul
opened this subject in Romans 5:21, he built a bridge from justification to
sanctification and the fresh life that replaces our death.
Up to and including Romans 5, Paul gives us
no imperatives, no commandments. The subject of our obedience is suppressed till we have been evangelized by the
obedient law-keeping of Christ. Paul held off on the duties owed to God, lest
in our deeply ingrained sense of merit they might be lumped in with the work of
Christ. In the first five chapters of Romans, the Holy Spirit is mentioned but
once (5:5), and then only as a result of the justification already in place (5:1).
Our justification rests on the obedience of Christ, the only Person of the
Trinity to become a man and to live under the law. But our holiness and
fulfillment of duty, springs from the Spirit of Christ within, given by God
only to the justified. So just as sin used to reign in us but reigns no more in
the saved man, grace now reigns instead. This new life is obtained for us
through Christ's external ministry, but will be perpetuated in us through the
Spirit Who comes only through Jesus Christ our Lord. The pieces have come
together. First is the righteousness of our Lord that replaces and undoes the
sin of our first father. Only then is it followed by new righteousness
springing up Christian conduct, steadily replacing sin.
I hope all who read this will ponder Romans
5:12-21 and find new reason to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
Appendix: A Caution and Appraisal
This text is one of the more difficult ones in the entire Bible, a passage not well known, one obviously neglected, and culturally irritating. Some reasons for that are:
Romans 5:12-21 is so outside
us that the modern mind cannot identify with it. That mind is interested in its own
experience, not what happened in the lives of others long ago. Our time has little interest in history.
Evangelicals often bolster this trend by sermons aimed almost entirely on life
now, with only passing reference to what has occurred outside ours. Part of this decline is neglect of the Lord
Supper, and a focus on what is thought to be more relevant, viz. how to be
happy at work, how to keep my kids off drugs, how to communicate better with my
husband, how to lose pounds, and make friends, money and music. In such a
climate, Romans 5 soon becomes the thinking of another planet, yet it is the
thinking of heaven! It is certainly not
the thinking of our age, except for those interested in their Savior’s role in
It is abstract. If we read the account of the Serpent’s
conversation with Eve, or our first parents eating the forbidden fruit, then we
visualize it. We see the story in our
imagination, which makes it easier to follow.
That is why children’s Bible storybooks are always of things the child
can see. Doctrine does not always lend itself to pictures. Diagrams maybe, but doctrines are not as
vividly generated in the mind as the Good Samaritan putting the wounded man on
Paul’s argument does not
state his point immediately. He begins
with a “just as” and does not give the “even so” until later. People impatient for him to make his point
up front cannot read another 59 words for him to resume his main argument. When
Paul does not finish verse 12, they get lost in verses 13 and 14 and do not
hang on for the later verses. We should
remember the Bible has parts written for adult minds.
We tend to lose the big
picture. Paul has laid out earlier in
Romans that righteousness comes to us from God. He stresses that since we are
sinners we have none, and he reminds us we cannot attain righteousness through
the law. But we can receive it as a gift
by faith, just as Abraham did when righteousness was imputed to him. Paul’s
doctrine of justification is really quite complete before he got to Romans
5:12-21, but he decided to add the final nail to the "works righteousness
coffin" by bringing up the fall. Adam and Christ have in common that each
decided his people’s destiny with no
input from the ones affected! That ought to raise every eyebrow on earth,
but widespread doctrinal dullness allows us to overlook such passages. Many have seen trees of salvation and not had
a good look at the forest. Many just do
not know what they are missing.
This doctrine is
unacceptable in current world thinking. Paul’s doctrine would be virtually
immoral to our culture. It would be disgusting (as well as unconstitutional) to
teach a child the first letter of the alphabet as the old New England Primer
did: “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” There would strenuous objection at
a school board meeting if that were taught today. Our culture intimidates us, so we are less
likely to hang out before it a doctrine repugnant to it. So we think we are more “relevant” to propose
to the world a doctrine it has already influenced before we give it to our
neighbor as a message from God. People
who like to be in control will hardly be warm to a doctrine that asserts they
have no control whatever of their standing before God. Yet the Lord in Whose
control it is, grants justification to all the helpless guilty sinners who come
Romans 5 is considered
exotic stuff, and not basic, the kind of irrelevant thinking that theologians
are prone to fall into, the sort of time-wasting thing that complicates the
simplicity of our lives. Yet, it does just
the opposite; it clarifies our lives.
Salvation cannot be stated
in one line very well, and we live in a day when people say they believe the
whole Bible, all 1189 chapters of it, and then reduce their doctrinal
statements to a piece of paper. There is little room for something like Romans
5, which is the same as having no room for the basics. It is a sin to overrule
God in demanding an oversimplification of what God commissioned His apostle to
spell out for us. The lazy mind says,
“Too hard!” The Christian mind says,
“Tell me more.”
Romans 5:12-21 was central
to the Reformation and is to today's debate on justification. Some feel that the most Christian thing to do
is to flee all controversy. If you want to avoid controversy, stay away from
the gospel. It is the stuff that lit Reformation fire in Europe, dividing
Christendom into those who trusted for salvation in Christ alone, and those who
added to Christ their own contribution. Nothing so defines the issues of works
versus faith like imputed righteousness.
Related to salvation, nothing is so contrary to all human instincts as
what Romans 5 teaches. It is still met with contempt or joy; and those two
things do not have much in common. Biblical teaching will grate or gratify.
In Romans 5:12-21 the apostle has given us a closely reasoned abstract
argument of the significance of ancient events outside our experience and
interests, a passage further burdened by being culturally offensive to the
world and boring to the church. To the
issues raised in this Scripture, I invite your careful attention.