The Redeeming Effects of Christ’s Obedience Part 2 – Romans 5:18-21
Pastor Mark Hardy July 15, 2012
In the early 1900’s an alcoholic man by the name of Mel Trotter had fallen so low that on the evening he finally stumbled into the Pacific Garden Mission, he was under the influence of alcohol that he had purchased by trading the shoes he had stolen from his little girl’s feet as she lay dead in her coffin. While at the mission he put his faith in Jesus Christ. So wondrous was the effect of God’s grace in his life that not only did God save him and transform his life, but eight years later he became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Mel was a powerful evangelist who had great influence for Christ particularly in Chicago, but also throughout the nation as God used him to begin more than sixty-seven rescue missions from coast to coast.
Mel Trotter is but one of countless examples that show no one is ever beyond the reach of the grace of God. This is one of the things we will be looking at this morning.
As we come to the end of our study of Romans 5:12-21, this is one of the most profound and greatest passages on what is called “Adam Theology” because it is a comparison between the first Adam and the second or last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). But this is also one of the most difficult passages in Romans, if not the entire New Testament because the structure of the passage doesn’t flow smoothly. The essentials of this Adam Theology include: Two men—Adam and Christ; two acts—Adam’s sin in the Garden and Christ’s death on the cross; two results—the sin, condemnation, and death caused by Adam and the righteousness, justification, and life caused by Christ; and the two constituencies or communities—all of humanity in Adam and a new believing humanity in Christ.
In v. 12 Paul began his comparison between Adam and Christ showing that Adam’s one sin brought sin and death to the entire human race. But he abruptly broke off his sentence for an important parenthesis in vv. 13-14 to prove that all of humanity is subject to death because of Adam’s sin, even those living before the Mosaic Law. He then showed the dissimilarities between Adam and Christ by contrasting them in vv. 15-17. Now as we come to vv. 18-21, Paul completes the comparison of Adam and Christ that he began in v. 12 and summarizes the passage.
In Romans 5:18-21 we see three important focuses of Paul’s final thoughts on Adam and Christ and each man’s one act that affected countless others.
The first important focus is this:
I. The Pinnacle of Paul’s Comparison
A. Look first at v. 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.
1. The opening words “So then” here in v. 18 pick up the “just as” from v. 12 and completes Paul’s thought of his unfinished sentence. Putting the two together we read, “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—So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men…” (Stop there)
2. The word “transgression” (paraptomatos) refers to Adam’s false step or crossing over God’s line in the Garden of Eden. It is his direct violation of God’s command in Genesis 2:17 to not eat of the forbidden fruit when he took the fruit of the tree from Eve and also ate (Gen. 3:6).
3. As the representative head of the human race, Adam’s one act of sin “resulted [in] condemnation to all men,” referring here to the entire human race. The word “condemnation” (katakrima) speaks of all humanity being found guilty at the bar of God’s judgment and thereby being destined for divine punishment and doom.
4. Although it is true that everyone is born with an inherited sinful nature from which flow their own actual sins, it is Adam’s “one transgression” or original sin that is the reason why God has condemned all of humanity.
5. But in stark contrast to Adam’s one act of sin that brought condemnation on everyone, Paul says, “…even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”
6. This “one act of righteousness” refers to the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Christ’s death “…resulted [in] justification of life to all men.”
7. We have seen repeatedly since chapter 2 that “justification” or salvation (dikaiosin) means to be declared righteous by God, to be acquitted of all wrong, to be found not guilty, to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and treated as if one has never sinned.
8. Notice again that Paul calls this “justification of life.” This can actually mean justification “consisting of life” or justification “leading to life” or both.
9. Justification not only overturns the verdict of being a guilty sinner before God and sets aside the sentence of divine punishment and doom, but it also provides a new kind of life in Jesus Christ, which is called “eternal life” in v. 21. We’ll discuss that more when we get to that verse.
10. Whereas Adam’s one act of transgression resulted in condemnation to all men, Christ’s one act of righteousness resulted in justification of life to all men. Now it is important to understand that the word “all” means all and that’s all that all means, except when qualified or limited by the context.
11. Therefore, although the first “all men” refers to the entire human race, the second “all men” refers only to “those who receive” God’s gracious gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ that we saw last time in v. 17. Paul is not teaching “Universalism”—that everyone will be saved, but only those who belong to Christ, the new believing humanity.
B. Paul then goes on to restate and explain what he has just said in different terms in v. 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.
1. Adam’s one act has been called “sin” (v. 15) “offence” (v. 14), and “transgression” (vv. 15-18). Here it is called “disobedience” (parakoes), which literally means “hearing amiss.”
2. Adam’s disobedience was his refusal to hear or listen to God. He was explicitly told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17), and yet he didn’t listen and did it anyway.
3. And as a result of Adam’s disobedience “the many were made sinners.” Here “the many” are the “all men” of v. 18, which again refers to the entire human race.
4. Therefore, all of humanity “were made sinners” by Adam’s one disobedient act. The word “made” (katestathesan—aorist passive) means to appoint, to establish, to constitute, and to put in the category of.
5. Because of Adam’s original sin of disobedience the entire human race was put into the category of or constituted as “sinners” by God. We were imputed or reckoned to be sinners in God’s sight, and we then prove to be what we already are in having a sinful nature that expresses itself in sinful actions.
6. But in stark contrast to Adam’s disobedience is Christ’s obedience. Look again at the second part of v. 19, “…even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”
7. The “One” here refers to Jesus Christ. The word “obedience” (hupakoes) means to hear submissively; the opposite of hearing amiss.
8. Christ’s “obedience” is His “one act of righteousness” in v. 18, which again refers to His atoning death on the cross. This is often called Christ’s “passive obedience” as opposed to His “active obedience,” which refers to His life of 33 years perfectly obeying the Father’s will.
9. Now it is only by Christ’s atoning death on the cross that “…the many will be made righteous.” Philippians 2:8 tells us, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
10. Once again the word “made” (katastathesontai—future passive) means to appoint, to establish, to constitute, and to put in the category of. Just as God reckoned the disobedient act of Adam to the account of “the many” or all of humanity and put them into the category of or constituted them as “sinners,” so God reckons the obedient act of Christ to the account of “the many” and put them into the category of or constitutes them as “righteous.”
11. This second “the many,” as with the second “all men” in v. 18, refers not to the entire human race but only to those who belong to Jesus Christ. They will be constituted as “righteous” by God because they have received Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord by faith.
12. These two verses are the pinnacle of this greatest Adam Theology passage. Thomas Schreiner sums up these two verses well when he says, “One cannot separate the representative and constitutive roles of Adam and of Christ in these verses. Those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ actually become sinners and righteous, respectively.” (pg. 288)
13. Although it may “seem unfair” that God constituted you as a “sinner” on account of what Adam did, not your own sin, but He also constituted you as a believer as “righteous” on account of what Christ did, not your own merit. That’s grace, for if God was truly “fair” and you and I got what we really deserved we’d all spend eternity in hell.
14. The second important focus of Paul’s final thoughts on Adam and Christ is this:
II. The Purpose of the Law
A. Look at the first part of v. 20: The Law came in so that the transgression would increase… (Stop there)
1. By characterizing all of human history in terms of Adam and Christ, the top two most influential persons, Paul knows that he has omitted “the Law,” which refers to the Mosaic Law.
2. The Mosaic Law was the predominate thing in the Jewish religion and, as we saw in chapters 2 and 3. But the Jews wrongly believed that by keeping the Law they could achieve salvation and exemption from God’s judgment.
3. Knowing this from firsthand experience because that’s what he once thought as well, Paul addresses this head-on. Douglas Moo accurately states, “Against Jewish tendencies to attribute virtually salvific meaning to the law, Paul dethrones the law by ranging it on the side of Adam and sin.” (pg. 348)
4. When Paul says, “The Law came in…” (pareiselthen) literally “came in alongside” he is saying that the Mosaic Law held no primary place in salvation but played only a secondary and subordinate role.
5. He is not depreciating the Law because he will later say in Romans 7:12 that “…the Law…is holy and righteous and good.” His point is only to show what God’s purpose was in giving the Law.
B. Although there are various purposes for God’s Law, here Paul says the primary purpose is “…so that the transgression would increase…”
1. The word “increase” (pleonase) means “to make abound, to become greater in quantity.” The Jews believed that the Law restrained people from sin and inclined them toward righteous living, and yet, here Paul says the complete opposite—the Law caused sin to increase!
2. John MacArthur correctly observes, “God gave the Law through Moses as a pattern for righteousness but not as a means of righteousness. The law has no power to produce righteousness, but for the person who belongs to God and sincerely desires to do His will, it is a guide to righteous living.” (pg. 309)
3. Therefore, the Law doesn’t prevent sin, but instead increases, multiplies, and show it for what it really is, even provokes it (7:8). Although sin, as evidenced by death, was already in the world from Adam until Moses, as we saw in v. 14, when the black and white standards of the Law came in through the Mosaic Law it turned general sin into explicit, high-handed violations and stepping over the line of God’s specific commands just like Adam.
4. The Law of God shows the seriousness of sin as it shines the spotlight on it, so that sin is now seen in all of its ugly rebellious character, whether in its acts of commission (doing what we shouldn’t do) or omission (not doing what we should do).
5. William Hendriksen described it this way, “…the law acts as a magnifying glass. Such an instrument does not actually increase the number of dirty spots on a garment. It makes them stand out more clearly and reveals many more of them than one can see with the naked eye.” (pg. 184)
6. The primary purpose of the Law is not to save but to condemn (4:15). Its function is to show that no one keep it therefore all are sinners, in order to drive us to faith in Jesus Christ who alone is the Savior of the world.
7. Romans 3:20 says, “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” And Galatians 3:24 states, “…the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
8. But praise God even though the Law only causes sin to increase, this is not the last word! We see this in the third important focus of Paul’s final thoughts on Adam and Christ, which is this:
III. The Power of God’s Grace
A. Look at the second part of v. 20: …but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
1. The enormity of sin increasing as the black and white standards of the Mosaic Law exposes it for what it really is can be pictured as a wildfire raging across an open plain engulfing everything in its path.
2. But as powerful and far reaching as sin is, Paul declares that God’s “grace abounded all the more.” The word “grace” (charis) refers to the unmerited favor of God that He bestows on the undeserving.
3. God’s grace is also His enabling power that He gives to those believers who truly live in dependence on Him.
4. Notice again that God doesn’t give His grace sparingly, “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The word “abounded” (hupereperisseusen) means to super-increase or super-abound.
5. It speaks of an enormous flood. God’s super-abounding grace is like the breaking of a dam that unleashes a wall of water that not only overtakes and puts out the wildfire of sin raging across the human race, but also buries it under 50 feet of water.
6. Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. God’s grace is far greater than our sin.
7. Praise God for His marvelous grace! Therefore, no matter how deep a person has sunk down into sin, the grace of God is deeper still.
8. So never write anyone off. Speaking about who can be saved, Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
9. Because of the depth of sin in everyone’s life, it is only by the grace of God that anyone can be saved. But God’s grace is seen in its abounding greatness in such lives as of Mel Trotter and countless others.
10. Remember what God did in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian who has ever lived. As a zealous Pharisee, Saul had been Christ’s greatest enemy as he aggressively persecuted the church. But by His mercy and grace, the glorified Christ struck him blind on the Damascus road, saved him, and called him to be an apostle.
11. This is why Paul describes himself in 1 Timothy 1:15 as the “chief of sinners” (NKJV). And declares in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
12. But God’s grace is not only seen in our salvation, but in our sanctification as well. Listen to what the glorified Christ told the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, when he was struggling with his “thorn in the flesh,” “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
13. To this the Paul proclaimed, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9-10).
14. This is the power of God’s grace and how it mightily triumphs in the believer’s life over sin and all of the difficulties of life!
B. Look at v. 21: so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. The goal of God’s super-abounding grace is to the end that it would replace the reign of sin. We saw in v. 12 that sin resulted in death and its reign (vv. 14, 17a)
2. But here we see that “sin reigned in (the sphere or dominion of) death.” Whereas death has its own dominion; it is in this dominion that sin is in control and holds the entire world in bondage.
3. But God’s reign of grace is more powerful! Paul says, “…even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life…” (Stop there)
4. Notice that God’s grace “reigns” as king in sinners’ lives “through righteousness.” The word “righteousness” (dikaiosunes) here is the “gift of righteousness” that we saw last time in v. 17, which comes to all those who receive Jesus Christ by faith whereby they are declared righteous by God and imputed with the righteousness of Christ.
5. Since Paul speaks here of grace as a power that “reigns,” this reign of grace also produces righteous living in the lives of believers. The “gift of righteousness” or salvation inevitably involves a changed life, which we will begin to see next time as Paul starts talking about Christian living or our sanctification in chapter 6.
6. Now notice again that God’s reign of grace is “through righteousness to eternal life.” Eternal life for the believer is both a present reality and a blessed hope.
7. This is because our salvation is an already, but not yet reality. Right now we can enjoy eternal life in knowing God and Christ (Jn. 17:3) and having the life of God indwelling us. But it is not until heaven when we see Jesus face to face that we will possess eternal life in all of its fullness and enjoy it forever.
8. Paul then concludes at the end of v. 21 by stating that God’s grace is made possible only “…through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s all because of Him!
9. We have seen this throughout the entire chapter:
• Verse 1: …we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
• Verse 9: we have been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
• Verse 10: we were reconciled to God through [His] death, and we shall be saved by His life.
• Verse 11: we have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
• Verse 15: the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ.
• Verse 17 we reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
• And here in verse 21: grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
10. Notice here His full title: “Jesus” means Savior; “Christ” means Messiah, Anointed One; “Lord” means Yahweh or Jehovah.
11. Whereas with the first Adam redemption was made necessary, it is only with the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, that redemption is accomplished and secured by the grace of God. No wonder Peter proclaimed in Acts 4:12, “…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
12. Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? God’s super-abounding grace in Christ is extended to you!
In closing, all that believers have is because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. John Stott says it beautifully, “Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace.’ For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. So when we are convinced that ‘grace reigns,’ we will remember that God’s throne is a ‘throne of grace,’ and will come to it boldly to receive mercy and to find grace for every need (Heb. 4:16).” (pp. 157-158)
Because of all that we have received in Jesus Christ by grace, may we show our gratefulness to Him each day by depending on His enabling grace to live holy and loving lives that bring glory to Him.