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The Basis Of Our Justification
Romans 5:12-21 (NASB)
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Basis of Our Justification
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 understood these general truths about the passage, we may now examine the contrasts that Paul gives between Adam and Christ and between Adam's sin and Christ's act of obedience on the cross.
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).
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.
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).
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."
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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