Scripture: Romans 5:12–5:21
There is something fundamentally and drastically wrong with the human race. As I was preparing this sermon, I took about 20 minutes to browse several internet news sites. Here is a sampling of the headlines I found:
- Arab League suspends Syria and threatens sanctions
- Turkish commandos kill Kurd who hijacked ferry
- Sanaa: a city that’s armed and divided
- Protesters remain as cops move into “Occupy” Camp
- Police search for tips on toddler’s disappearance
- Iran closer to atom bomb than thought
Every week, every day the news media are filled with alarming reports of war, violence, genocide, greed, crime, and man- made disasters. The headlines come from all over the world. No nation or race or part of the world has a monopoly on bad news. It is everywhere. Where did all this evil come from? What is wrong with us? (Hold onto that question for a moment.)
Near the back of almost every newspaper there is a section entitled “Obituaries”. As you know, an obituary is a notice of someone’s death, and usually carries a brief synopsis of the life and history of the person who has died. Every year, The Times newspaper in London publishes a book which includes a collection of all the obituaries that appeared in their pages during the year. It is a big, thick book. Someone once loaned me a copy. It was rather fascinating to page through it, scanning the pages. What struck me as I did so was this simple, universal fact of human existence. People die. Not just some people. Not just poor people. Not just old people. Not just sick people. Everyone dies. In the book were the rich and the famous; world leaders, business leaders, significant artists and performers. Within the last month or so we have read of the death of Steve Jobs, one of the founders of the Apple Computer Company; one of the richest and most influential people of our day. We have also recently read of the death of Joe Frazier, the boxer; famous for his fights against Muhammed Ali, he epitomized human strength and determination in the ring. We could go on. The rich, the strong, the smart. People with every human resource at their disposal. Yet they still die. In spite of all man’s advances in technology and medicine and science, the ratio is still the same: one out of one, 100 out of 100, a million out of a million. Everyone dies.
Why? Why does everyone die? Why is there so much evil in the world? Who got us into this mess?
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul gives us the Biblical answer to these questions. But more importantly, he not only tells us who got us into this mess, but he tells us who can get us out.
We read this text in our Scripture reading a few minutes ago. If you were paying attention during the reading, you already know that this is a rather difficult passage. Yet is also a very important passage. The British preacher, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes it as both the most difficult section in the Book of Romans and the most important; the key to the whole Epistle. In his series of sermons on Romans, he devoted fourteen sermons to this one paragraph – over 200 pages. This paragraph is the key Bible passage on the subject of original sin and what is referred to as the imputation of sin. These are topics which have stirred considerable debate and discussion. I pulled an old book off my shelf; Strong’s Theology. When I was in seminary, Esther Ruth used to come home and find me in my study, sitting in my chair, sound asleep, with this book spread across my chest. Dr. Strong spends 70 pages of very small print discussing the doctrine of imputation and original sin. Most of the discussion centers around the interpretation of this paragraph.
This passage and the doctrine it presents are difficult because many of us have been raised in cultures and societies that stress individualism and the individual. But in Romans 5:12-21, we are introduced to the truth of one man who acted, and whose actions had the gravest of consequences on all of his descendants. In addressing the question of how we got into the mess we’re in, Paul looks back at the history of the first man, Adam. Adam was created by God. As Adam walked around in the Garden of Eden, we were all “in Adam”.
What exactly does that mean? There are various theories. Even among evangelicals, theologians debate a rather subtle distinction between what is called a “federal headship” theory and a “natural headship” theory. Under the “federal headship” theory, Adam is seen as a figure-head or representative in an almost governmental sense. As the first man, he was our head, our representative; the father of the human race. He acted as our representative.
The “natural headship” theory goes a step further and proposes that all of us were actually “in Adam” physically or seminally. For support for this theory, they go to Hebrews 7, where the writer speaks of Levi being in the loins of his ancestor Abraham when Abraham paid the tithe to Melchizedek.
I would suggest that we leave the resolving of that debate to the theologians. What is clear in this passage is that, because he was the first man, Adam’s actions had real and serious consequences which affect us all.
What were his actions and how do they affect us? You are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, found in Genesis 3. God placed the first man and woman in a perfect environment and gave them full access to the garden and its fruit with only one restriction. Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You know what happened. The Serpent tempted Eve and she disobeyed and ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree and then she gave it to Adam and he ate.
Look at how Paul characterizes Adam’s actions here in Romans 5:18. He speaks of “one trespass”. The word trespass means literally “to fall beside” or to “go out of bounds.” In verse 19 Paul speaks of ‘the disobedience of the one man.” One clear and specific command, and Adam, the first man, our father, our representative, disobeyed it. And what were the results? Paul lists several of them.
First, sin entered the world. In verse 12 we read Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man. Sin invaded. Before that, there was no sin in the world. Adam and Eve lived in a perfect Paradise. But when they disobeyed, sin invaded. But that is not all. Through their sin, death entered the world, as we read in the rest of verse 12: and death through sin — This builds off the same verb. Sin invaded, and slipping in on its coattails, so to speak, death invaded too. God had warned that this would happen. “Do not eat of the tree…for on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” They ate and they died. They died spiritually that very day in the sense that they were separated from God. And physical death also entered that day and the process of dying began.
Physical death didn’t just enter. The third result Paul refers to is that death spread to all men. It’s there, still in verse 12. , and in this way death came to all men… We might paraphrase that, “death invaded through sin, and in this way death spread to all men.” Death permeated the human race, like a poison gas filling a room with its deadly fumes. No one escaped. In fact there is a kind of “Times Obituary” found in the fifth chapter of Genesis. It is a genealogical record, but in addition to the “begetting” each entry in the record ends with the same words; “and then he died.”
Now, why did that happen? What is the cause and effect? That brings us to the last phrase of the verse and the most difficult to interpret and understand. “because all sinned…” What does this phrase tell us? The tense of the verb makes it clear that this is looking at one very specific act of sin that took place at a point in time. When did all sin? We “all sinned” when Adam sinned because we were all “in Adam.” At that moment in time, we all suffered the consequences of Adam’s disobedience as sin invaded, and with sin came death, and death spread to every one of Adam’s descendants.
The interpretation is supported by Paul’s logic in the next two verses:
for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 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 was a pattern of the one to come.
What is the logic? Paul refers to the time period between Adam and Moses. During this time, there was no written code of laws. Men were sinning during that time, but because there was no written code to hold them accountable, the sin was not taken into account. However, everyone during that time period still died. They died, even though they did not sin in the same way as Adam did, by breaking a command, since they didn’t have specific commands to break. Why did they die? Judicially speaking, they died, not because of their own sin, but because they, being “in Adam”, were implicated in the sin of Adam. They inherited death from Adam.
Let’s talk families and inheritance for a moment. We all come from families. With our family identity comes a family inheritance. There may be physical property, financial wealth, heirlooms, etc. which may be included in that inheritance. There are also genetic and physical attributes that we may inherit. A bald head, blue or brown eyes, a big nose, a high or low IQ; all of these might by family attributes that are passed on from generation to generation. Then there are less tangible or visible things: a family value system, a coat of arms, a code of honor, a family reputation, community status might all be part of our inheritance.
All of us are members of Adam’s family. What is our inheritance from him? Let me just read some additional selections from this paragraph that continue to document our inheritance.
In verse 15 we read: “…the many died by the trespass of the one man.”
In verse 16 it says, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.”
Verse 17 reads, “…by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man…”
Verse 18 states, “…as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.”
Verse 19 says, “…through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”
That is quite an inheritance, isn’t it? Sin, death, condemnation. It is not a pretty picture. That is the human dilemma. That is how we got into the mess we are in. So what is the answer? Who can get us out of this mess?
At the end of verse 14, Paul introduces a key concept. He says that Adam is a pattern of the one to come. What does he mean by that? The word is “tupos” or “type”. Adam is described as a picture, a foreshadowing of the one to come, referring to Christ. In fact Jesus is referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as the last Adam in contrast to the first Adam. How is Adam a type of Christ? Certainly not in the matter of disobedience or sin! He is a type in this matter of being a representative or head of all who are “in him”. This is the truth upon which Paul will build his argument in the rest of this passage. So far it is all bad news. The whole human race was “in Adam” when he sinned and as such, we inherited a sin nature, death and condemnation. Sin invaded and with sin came death and death spread to all men. That is how we got into the mess we are in. That is the historical and the theological explanation for the universality of sin and evil and the universality of death. All sinned. All died. And still, all sin and all die.
What is the solution? The solution is to join a new family. The solution is to join a new family with a different head or representative. The solution is to join a new family with a different inheritance. We need to find a way to be adopted into the family of the second Adam. Look at how Paul compares and contrasts the inheritance of the members of the family of the second Adam with that of the inheritance we received from the first Adam.
Beginning in verse 15:
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! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 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. 18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 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.
There is both comparison and contrast here; like and not like; same, same, but different. The comparison lies in the fact that the act of the one influenced the many. Just as the disobedient act of the first Adam resulted in death for all men, so the obedience of Jesus Christ, the last Adam, in submitting to the will of the Father and going to the cross, results in life for all who are “in Christ.” That is the comparison.
What about the contrast? How is the gift “not like” the trespass? First there is the contrast in the actions of the first Adam and the last Adam; disobedience versus obedience. Next there is a difference in result. The result of the first Adam’s act of disobedience was all negative. The result of the second Adam’s obedience is all positive. Instead of sin, righteousness; instead of condemnation, justification; instead of death, life. Instead of death reigning, we shall reign in life through Jesus Christ. Instead of sin reigning, grace reigns.
The third point of contrast that Paul makes is the “how much more” kind. He looks at God’s grace in Christ and he contrasts it to the effects of Adam’s sin, and he says “how much more, how much greater!” God’s grace in Christ is far greater than man’s sin and condemnation in Adam. Look at verse 15 again: “…how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.” He makes a similar point in verse 20: But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
God’s grace in Christ is greater than man’s sin in Adam. God’s grace trumps man’s sin.
So, whose family are you in? We are all born into the first Adam’s family. We didn’t get a choice about that. But we have to be adopted into Christ’s family, the family of the last Adam. We do get a choice about that. We got into the family of the first Adam by being born. To get into the family of the last Adam, we have to be born again. We can be born again by believing in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. We can be born again by calling out to him in faith and thus being justified by faith.
There is a great deal in this section of Scripture that is hard to understand. There is truth here that is puzzling and even troubling. The good news is that we don’t have to understand it to believe it. The declaration is clear. In Adam all sinned, all die, all are condemned. In Christ all are made righteous, all are made alive, all are justified. Are you still “in Adam”? Or are you “in Christ”? Who is your representative? Whose family do you belong to? The last Adam is greater than the first Adam. God’s grace trumps man’s sin.
The Greek word for “grace” in this passage is used interchangeably with the Greek word for “gift”. All you have to do with a gift is accept it! And the result of accepting that gift? It is beautifully summarized in the final verse of this chapter: So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- After reading this passage, what do you find most puzzling or troubling and why?
- Can you give any examples from your culture or life experience in which a community or group is held liable for the actions of one person? Are there any parallels between your example and the concepts Paul presents in this passage?
- Pastor Cam interpreted the phrase “for all sinned” at the end of verse 12 as referring to the entire human race participating in some way in the sin of Adam and therefore suffering the same consequences. Do you agree with this interpretation? Can you suggest any alternative interpretation?
- Verse 14 describes Adam as “a pattern of the one to come” (the word is “type). In what sense is Adam a type of Christ?
- What did we inherit from Adam?
- What do we inherit from Christ?
- Meditate on verse 21, and then express your thoughts in a time of prayer together.