Sunday Evening Bible Study: Romans 5:16-21

5 Nov

16  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.
So Paul has said first that the free gift is not like the trespass. Now he says the free gift is not like the result of one man’s sin. This is a restatement of verse 15 from a different angle, the angle of our legal standing before God.

In Adam, there is condemnation. In Christ, there is justification. Adam sinned in the midst of a perfect garden with everything he needed for life and godliness. Jesus saved in the midst of a corrupted creation, bruised and battered on the cross, dying to forgive the sins of millions, literally trillions of sins poured out on Him in His death, all of which He willingly suffered to bear out of love for the Father and His people.

Paul has been using this language of the courtroom already in Romans, especially in chapter 3. But it will really reach its apex in Romans 8. We need to remember the language of the court when we hear Romans 8:1 —

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And we hear it again in verses 31-34 . . .
31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Now we come to the most important verse in this text for avoiding a potential false teaching that will come in verses 18 and 19 . . .
17  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.
Now this verse shows the contrast not in a legal sense but in a life sense. Adam’s trespass brought death, but those who trust in the abundant free grace of Christ reign in life. The gift they receive is righteousness. This is better than just a forgiveness of sins it is a gift of righteousness, right standing, right relationship, right actions. The benefits of Christ’s death then, bring a life that is far greater than the death brought by Adam’s sin. So its not that Adam scribbled over the picture and Jesus covered over the scribbles with primer. No, Jesus wiped away the scribbles and replaced them with a masterpiece better than what was there before.

Now I think the significance of this is hard to underestimate. For what we see in this world are tremendously awful effects of sin. Death, disease, hurt, pain, brokenness. But what this passage and others in the NT are saying is that the effects of the work of Christ will be far greater than the effects of sin. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

But there is an important distinction here. Whereas Adam’s sin has affected all mankind, the benefits of Christ’s death come only to those who trust in Him, those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. As Paul says in Romans 3, we are justified as a gift by faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. And as he will pick up in Romans 10, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how will they call unless the hear and how will they hear unless they are preached to and how will they preach unless they are sent? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. So this issue of hearing and believing is critical.

So while the depth and richness of Christ’s work is far greater than Adam’s the true benefits of that work do not come to all people but only those who believe. But if you don’t read verse 17 and just skip on to verses 18 and 19, you might not see it that way . . .

18  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
This is not saying that everyone will be saved (universalism). We know this because of what Paul has just said in verse 17 as well as what he says elsewhere. The key comparison is one trespass led to condemnation and one act of righteousness leads to justification.  But this use of all people. What are we to make of it?

Douglas Moo says, “Paul’s point is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his. When we ask who belongs to, or is in, Adam and Christ, respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: every person, without exception, in “in Adam”; but only those who “receive the gift” are in Christ.  That all does not always mean every single human being is clear from many passages, it often being clearly limited in context, so this suggestion has no linguistic barrier.”

Context indicates that Paul was comparing the fate of those who are in Adam (the position of all by virtue of their birth into the human race) and the blessings of those who are in Christ (the position of all who have responded in faith).

Verse 19 gives another statement of this great truth . . .
19  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.
Verse 19 is not just a repetition, but is an expansion on the idea of verse 18. Adam’s sin corrupted the world. Christ’s work brings about a new age, a new people and in the end, a new heaven and new earth. The contrast here is disobedience and obedience. “The many”  here is pointing to all who are born into the family of each man. The many in Adam are all who are born into the human family and the many in Christ are all who have been born into the family of God by faith in Christ. As we were made sinners through the inheritance of sin from Adam, so we are made righteous by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Notice the future tense in this verse. There is a sense in which we await the completion of our salvation but there is a present aspect and a future aspect in which we are growing in holiness even as we await our final glorification.

Now I will confess that there is something that has always disturbed me about this passage. My way of thinking about this has been like this: If Adam’s sin affected all and Christ’s obedience affected only those who believe in Him, how can it be said that Christ’s obedience is a greater thing than Adam’s disobedience? Adam’s sin damned all but Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t save all, but only those who believe. How would you answer that problem?

My conclusion is that I have defined what is better by what benefits people rather than by what glorifies God and that I have quantified the benefit by its sheer numbers when I have not yet seen the full outworking of God’s plan.

The work of Christ is deeper, fully, better than the work of Adam. In this way it is superior. The work of Christ is a real work of grace, whereas Adam’s work is a work of death. But more than this, in some way Jesus’ work will be fuller and greater than Adam because this passage says it will be. I don’t know exactly how that looks. I know it is not universalism but it is a new creation. I know it is not every human being, but I know it is a multitude without number. I believe the greatness of Christ and the glory of God is vindicated even in the judgment of those who reject Him, so that in the end God’s justice and mercy are both upheld and the glory of God is central.

Now this makes me long for glory, because if what we are seeing in this passage is true, the new heaven and new earth are far greater than we imagine.

20  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
The purpose of the Law was never to save humanity but to show us our need for grace. The law is good, but we mess it up by using it to try to make our way with God or by our inability to keep it.

The law comes in  to turn those who use it into “Adams,” people who knowingly violate the law and are therefore more aware of their accountability to God.

Here again is the super abounding power of Christ in grace. Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.

So sin is horrible, but grace is better. I think there is a temptation among biblically committed Christians living in a world where sin is no big deal to emphasize sin to the neglect of grace. Yes the world is bad. Our hearts are wicked. But God’s grace is greater. His power is greater than sin’s power. In the end He will win. He has already won the decisive victory through the cross and the empty tomb.

21  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grace abounded so that grace might reign to eternal life. The earlier picture of the courtroom has been replaced in the end with the language of kingship. Sin reigned by the power of transgression and brings death. Grace reigns through the power of righteousness through the finished work of Jesus Christ and brings life when we repent and believe.

Warren Wiersbe says,
Adam came from the earth; Jesus is the Lord from heaven.
Adam was tested in a garden, surrounded by beauty and love; Jesus was tempted in a wilderness, dying on a cruel cross surrounded by hatred and ugliness.
Adam was a thief, and was cast out of Paradise; Jesus turned to a thief and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Old Testament is the book of the generations of Adam and ends with a curse (Mal. 4:6); the New Testament is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ and ends with “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3)

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