LIFE AND RULE THAT (WILL) FAR SURPASS DEATH AND SLAVERY: Romans 5.12-21
I’m sure all of us have heard the horrible news about the earthquake and the tsunami that has devastated Japan. When we hear about these awful and death-dealing natural disasters, as Christians we are reminded of the sin of Adam and how God cursed the ground in response to that sin. Our text today promises us that the curse on the earth is not the last word. Hear the word of the Lord.
You may be seated.
The passage I read starts with a “therefore”
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man…
Why “therefore”? Paul is making an observation based on the statement he has just made. So look at the preceding verses and see how they lead Paul into this discussion of Adam and Christ.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Now this passage is deceptively familiar, but remember Paul is not talking about a conversion experience you or I had. He is summing up the human races downward spiral of sin which he started describing in Romans 1.18ff when he wrote:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…
And he goes on to describe human culture, both Gentile and Jewish, as it descends from sin to sin. It was in the middle of that awful history that Jesus came and appeased the wrath of God and provided atonement for sin… “while we were still weak” “while we were still sinners” “Christ died for us”
And that means that now, since Christ has died for us to reconcile us to God, now much more “shall we be saved by his life”
So Paul now says, “Therefore” because what he has said means that Jesus’ victory is mightier than Adam’s defeat. Jesus’ salvation is mightier than Adam’s misery. The human race’s spiral into sin started with Adam and Jesus is going to far far outshine Adam’s darkness. So we read.:
sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
From Adam and Eve onward sin has been a fact in human existence. We grow into it spontaneously. And we live in a world suffering under the curse of death because of sin. As Paul writes later in his letter to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We see this futility in food shortages and natural disasters. We see it in hurricanes and flu outbreaks. Just the other night I watched a special about the influenza outbreak of 1918. I had never heard of that because there was seemingly an effort to forget it happened. But we lost more people to influenza that year than died in World War I. In fact, if you graph the life expectancy of Americans over the years you see it plunges down and then comes back up due to this flu epidemic. The curse on the world is real.
And we see it most directly in the universal fact of death.
— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Adam and Christ are alike in that they both were covenant representatives whose actions affected the entire world. Paul points out that Adam was himself a kind of prophetic image of Jesus.
But Paul also writes about how the giving of the Law to Israel intensified sin. Paul here is building on something he wrote in Romans 3, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” and by “knowledge” I suspect he means intimate acquaintance, not simply intellectual knowledge. The law, Paul writes, rather than alleviating sin, intensified it.
Think about Adam and Eve. They were in a special garden sanctuary, in the land of Eden, where they used their privileged position to transgress God’s boundaries. People sinned after that, but it wasn’t until Moses that God again set up a special sanctuary. The Tabernacle plans were given with the Law from Mount Sinai. As a result, Israel was enabled to commit transgression just like Adam did.
Paul makes it clear, by the way, that when he writes “sin is not counted where there is no law,” that he means it is not counted as much. He is being intentionally hyperbolic. As he writes just below, “the law came in to increase the trespass.” It did not create trespass but it increased it. The Law intensified sin and guilt.
But why give the Law if it is only going to increase trespass? Paul deals with that issue in more detail later in Romans, but he gives a short answer here if we read a little further. But first he contrasts Adam and Jesus:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
So here is the basic claim. From Jesus salvation as a free gift is going to spread and grow to leave a far greater mark on human history than Adam’s sin. It may not look like it yet. We may wonder how God is going to convert billions of people, but make no mistake that God’s long term agenda is to see the work of Christ produce results that far outstrip the horrible results of Adam’s sin.
And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
Now here is another parallelism. Not only does Paul compare Adam and Jesus, he also compares the sin of Adam to the sins that led Jesus to the cross. He contrasts “judgment following one trespass,” with “the free gift following many trespasses.” Adam’s sin brought condemnation. You would think that the many more sins would bring even greater condemnation. After all, that is what those sins deserved.
But it all turns out to have been God’s plan for grace and salvation! God was creating a Judgment Day not in order to condemn humanity further, but to deal with sin in a way that provides salvation. As Paul writes in Romans 8,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
When Israel rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas so that Jesus would be crucified, that climactic crime–the culmination of many transgressions in Israel’s history–turned out to be part of God’s plan for mercy. As Paul writes in Romans 11
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Nations, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now the timing of this is debatable but I want you to see that it is clear that Israel’s sin of unbelief, which resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus, was part of God’s plan to provide atonement.
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
So all this sin—all the trespass that was intensified by the giving of the Law to Israel, was all part of God’s plan to provide the means for judging sin. Jesus came in the fullness of time to stand in the place of the world and pay the penalty for sin.
That’s why over and over in Romans Paul deals with people who are outraged by his message and mock him saying “Let us do evil that good may come” Remember these words from Romans 3:
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
You see, God had promised to bring salvation to the world through Israel and told Israel to be faithful to the covenant. Yet we find now that God used their unfaithfulness to keeps his promise to bring salvation to the whole world, Jesus and Gentile alike—to anyone who will place their faith in Jesus. So now we have a free gift that is greater than the condemnation resulting from Adam’s trespass. And it is a gift that, amazingly, was brought about through many trespasses.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that? Paul writes that “death reigned” and you would expect him to say that now “life will reign” But he doesn’t. He says that “death reigned” and now WE REIGN: “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life.”
This is the promise of Daniel 7. The Son of Man (Son of Adam) is vindicated and that means the saints are given the kingdom. Adam was given dominion but then reduced himself and us to slavery to sin. So now Jesus exalts us as rulers with him over the cosmos. Paul is telling his readers that the prophecy of Daniel is already true. It has been fulfilled.
Now maybe you don’t feel like a ruler. But that’s because you’re not looking with the eyes of faith. When God called Abraham he said he did so in order to give him a position of authority. In Genesis 18 we read, “The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…” And what follows is the story of how Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah. The reason why we pray is because we are kings and queens. We are God’s counselors. We have access to God’s throne room.
But we can trust that there will be other tangible growing blessings as well as the Faith spreads. If we compare our world to the world of Paul’s day, in terms of disease and natural disasters I think we can see some pretty favorable changes. Maybe we’ll lose some ground in the near future, but God’s kingdom will not be stopped. That is what Paul tells us in Romans.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Now Paul has already made it clear that only believers benefit from Jesus work, but the point here is that he expects more believers than not. If it frustrates you that we don’t see more of these conversions in our own time, that is good. Pray for them. Work on being used to bring them about. We are given these great descriptions of what God expects and promises to bring about eventually in order to make us impatient to see them now. We should be motivated to share the Gospel.
And so Paul sums up.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul wrote at the beginning of Romans that he was called and “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” Romans is a book about the Great Commission. God is not content with a small remnant. He loves us but he wants us to be the seed of something much bigger. He has a vision of the whole world being more dramatically affected by the death and resurrection of Jesus than it was by the fall of Adam.
Remember his words through Isaiah the prophet in chapter 49 of that book:
Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
and my recompense with my God.”
And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”