Today we are going to turn our attention to one of the most difficult sections of God’s Word. Many Bible commentators throughout the ages have said that these ten verses of Romans are the most complex and enigmatic verses in all of Scripture. When you examine each verse of Romans 5:12-21 you will find that they are difficult, but the overarching theme of these verses is easy to understand–One act makes a world of difference.
In our study for today we will learn that the sin of Adam has affected each and every person who has ever lived–we are all united in Adam. We will also learn that the obedience of Jesus in dying on the cross has affected each and every person who has ever lived. I don’t want you to be misled by my words so let me clarify. The death and resurrection of Jesus has a profound affect on each of us, believers and unbelievers alike, because at the cross God placed His mark on human history and the question has echoed throughout creation since that day–“What will you do with My Son?” Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and then we will take a closer look at what I’ve just said.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned– 13 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. 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. 20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 NIV)
Paul makes it very clear from verse 12 that sin entered the world through one man–Adam. Death entered the world through sin. Death comes to all people because all sinned. We are united in Adam from birth. What Paul is stating is not a foreign concept to his readers; it is rooted in the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. After God created Adam and placed him in the Garden, He told Adam,
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIV)
By the next chapter we find Adam and Eve being tempted by the enemy and eating from the one tree in the Garden that God said they couldn’t eat from. After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they realized that they were naked and they hid from God–we have been hiding ever since.
God came to Adam and Eve in the Garden, He made a covering for them, and then pronounced His judgment on each of them. Then, we read in Genesis 3:23-24,
23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24 NIV)
Adam and Eve left the Garden, they didn’t immediately die, but death entered into the human experience in more ways than one. They were estranged from God, the intimate relationship they once shared with Him in the Garden was altered, marred, and sin and death began its slow, but unending march throughout humanity.
In Genesis 4 we read about the murder of Adam and Eve’s son, Abel, by his brother Cain. Before we get to the end of Genesis 4 we read about Lamech’s act of vengeance. Take a look at Genesis 4:23-24 with me.
23 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:23-24 NIV)
In the very next chapter, Genesis 5, we read about “the written account of Adam’s line.” There are ten generations listed from Adam to Noah and the story of each one, except for Enoch, ends with the same statement, “then he died.” Let’s look at just a couple of these examples in Genesis 5. First of all, turn to Genesis 5:5.
5 Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:5 NIV)
We read in Genesis 5 that Methuselah was the oldest person who has ever lived. He lived to the ripe old age of 969, but his end was no different than that of the other descendants of Adam…“then he died.” Read Genesis 5:27 with me.
27 Altogether, Methuselah lived 969 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:27 NIV)
All of Adam’s descendants suffered the same end–they died. All except for one who is found in Genesis 5:22-24. There is an important piece of information about Enoch that is found in these verses that I want us to take the time to explore. Read along with me.
22 And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:22-24 NIV)
“Enoch walked with God…” The defining reality of Enoch’s life that separates him from all of Adam’s other descendants is this description…”Enoch walked with God.” God has made provision for those of us who are in Adam today to walk with Him and avoid the tragic end that awaits all of Adam’s descendants. God’s provision is through His Son Jesus. If you want to walk with God then you must be united with Jesus by God’s grace, through faith.
Romans 5:12-21 is an exclamation point on the verses that come before them in Romans 5:1-11. We’ve learned during the past few weeks that we are powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God, but God has reconciled us, He has radically transformed our relationship with Himself. Remember Romans 5:10? Let me refresh your memory.
10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10 NIV)
Now, in Romans 5:12-21, we see just how radical this transformation truly is. We are united, all of humanity is united, in Adam. Paul makes this clear for us in Romans 5:12.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned– (Romans 5:12 NIV)
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Because of Adam’s sin death entered into the human experience. This is not hard to understand, but the last phrase of verse 12, “because all sinned…”, has been understood in two very different ways. Let’s take a look at each of these two explanations.
First of all, there are those like John Calvin and St. Augustine who viewed this phrase as describing all of humanity “in Adam.” Adam is the representative of the human race so when Adam fell into sin all of those who would come after him were infected by sin, not so much specific sins, but the inherent, innate, propensity to sin. Adam is representative of the human race so therefore when Adam sinned all of humanity was corrupted from that point forward. John MacArthur writes,
Paul’s argument begins with the assertion that, through Adam, sin entered into the world. He does not speak of sins, plural, but of sin, singular. In this sense, sin does not represent a particular unrighteous act but rather the inherent propensity to unrighteousness. It was not the many other sinful acts that Adam eventually committed, but the indwelling sin nature that he came to possess because of his first disobedience, that he passed on to his posterity. Just as Adam bequeathed his physical nature to his posterity, he also bequeathed to them his spiritual nature, which henceforth was characterized and dominated by sin. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.)
There is another view, an alternate understanding, of the phrase “because all sinned.” This view originated with a man named Pelagius, who lived from 354-420 A.D. Pelagius’ view may be ancient, but it is held by many people today as well. Pelagius believed that each person sins, but our sin has no relationship with Adam. Pelagius also believed that each person dies because of their own sin and not because of Adam’s sin. The view of Pelagius would make logical sense to most Americans since we are much more focused on the individual than the corporate body of humanity, but I don’t think Pelagius’ view is what Paul was trying to communicate to us.
Let me say this before I share with you why I believe Pelagius was wrong: Pelagius was partly right. Let me explain. Pelagius was right when he said that each person sins. We’ve already covered this in Romans 3:23 where Paul wrote, 23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) In Mark 11:25, Jesus was speaking to His disciples when He said,
25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25 NIV)
There can be no debate that we sin, all of us sin, but to recognize our sin apart from the sin of Adam misses the root cause of our corruption.
When I was in Plano, Texas serving as their Youth Pastor, I had a friend who was married to a man with lots of problems. She and her husband had a little boy who had health problems from the time he was born. She took her little boy to the doctor and the doctor ran test after test to try and find the reason for his problems. After months of visits to the doctor, and continued bad health, the doctors determined that the little boy had the HIV virus. His mother was tested and learned that she had the HIV virus.
What had the child done to contract the virus? What had the little boy done to corrupt his blood with the deadly virus? The answer is nothing, and yet the family was given notice that their son had the HIV virus. It can’t be argued that the little boy had sinned, he was just a baby, totally oblivious to the law or to sin of any kind. Yet, because the little boy was the son of his mother and father, carriers of the virus, he was infected. And so it is with us.
The difference between the little boy and us is this: we are not only sinners, corrupted in our very nature, but we sin. The truth is that the little baby, even though he was unaware of sin at such a young age, if he lived long enough, he would sin in his own right some day. There comes a time when we become aware of “right” and “wrong,” we become aware of God’s law and we do what we want to do instead of what God desires for us.
Pelagius was partly right. We do sin, but he was also dead wrong, we are sinners, not so much because we sin in specific ways, but because we are corrupted in our very nature because of our union with Adam. Verses 13-14 shed additional light on the point Paul is trying to make for us in Romans 5:12. Read along with me.
13 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. (Romans 5:13-14 NIV)
These two verses are so important in helping us understand that it is not so much sin that condemns us in God’s sight as much as it is our union with Adam. Paul has said that death entered the world through sin. Whose sin? Our sin or Adam’s sin? In verses 13-14 Paul makes it clear that it was Adam’s sin because from the time of Adam until Moses sin was not taken into account because the Law was not given yet. Even though sin was not taken into account death continued to reign in the world.
Adam broke the direct command of God–“Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:17) From the time of Adam until Moses there was no law. The law was given through Moses on Mount Sinai and from that time onward sin was taken into account. In the in-between times of Adam to Moses people continued to suffer from death’s reign. We took a look at Adam’s lineage in Genesis 5 if you will remember. At the end of the description of each of their lives we read, “then he died.” If Pelagius was right and it is our own sin and not our union with Adam that leads to our deaths then why did Seth, Methuselah, Noah, and the others die? If God did not take into account their sin then why did they die, unless it was because of their union with Adam? Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
Adam’s sin is imputed to us in exactly the same way that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. We inherit, of course, a sinful nature from Adam, but that is not what condemns us. What condemns us, and makes us subject to death, is the fact that we have all sinned in Adam, and that we are all held guilty of sin. It is our union with Adam that accounts for all our trouble. It is our corresponding union with Christ that accounts for our salvation. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 5, Assurance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972. p. 210)
I know that this is a hard concept to get our heads around and that is why I’ve taken so much time to try and unpack Paul’s teaching. It may be a difficult teaching to understand, but it is vitally important to understand so that we can comprehend the even greater, more glorious, and mind boggling teaching that is soon coming about what God has done through His Son Jesus. You see, Paul says in verse 14, that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come.”
Before we leave here this morning I want us to take the time to examine the word, “pattern.” The Greek word that is translated, “pattern,” in the NIV is “tupos” and literally it means, “the mark of a stroke or blow, a figure formed by a blow or impression, or an example.” The word is used 16 times in the Greek New Testament. It might be best to understand the word by taking a look at how we speak about kids as a reflection of their parents. We say, “She is a splitting image of her momma.” Or we will watch an athlete and say, “He reminds me of so-and-so.”
In the Bible the word is used as types by God as an indication of what is to come. When Jesus comes onto the scene He casts a different light upon the entire Old Testament. The Passover Lamb of sacrifice becomes more than just a lamb without spot or blemish, he is a forerunner of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) In Numbers 21:4-9, the Lord sent venomous snakes upon the people making their way to the Promised Land because they were speaking against God and against Moses. When the people confessed their sin, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Moses lifted the pole into the air and anyone who looked upon it was healed. In John 3, Jesus spoke to Nicodemus and said,
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15 NIV)
The snake lifted up in the desert was a type, it was a visual image of what would happen one day when the Son of Man was lifted up on Calvary’s cross and bring healing, eternal life, to those who would believe.
There are types throughout God’s Word and here in Romans 5:14 we learn that Adam is a pattern, he was a type of the one to come. The one to come that Paul is referring to is Jesus. Now, you may be wondering, “how is Adam a type of Jesus when Adam brought death to all of those who follow in his line and Jesus brought life to all of those who will believe in faith?” I want to encourage you not to think so much of the similarities of Adam and Jesus’ life as much as you focus your thoughts on how God used each of their lives. Let me give you an example. Through Adam’s disobedience God brought judgment and death upon all of humanity. Through Jesus’ obedience God brought forgiveness and eternal life to all of those who will believe in Him. Adam was the representative of the human race and Jesus is the representative of the new humanity, of those who will trust in Him. God has done this. God has appointed Adam as the “head,” as the representative of humanity. He was not elected by humanity, but he was appointed by God as the representative of all of those who would ever live. Jesus is the appointed head of the new humanity. He was not elected, He was hung on a cross by those He came to save, but this was God’s work and not ours. The writer of Hebrews says,
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:9-15 NIV)
Long before Jesus ever lived, about 700 years before Jesus lived, God already had a plan. Isaiah writes,
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:6; 11-12 NIV)
“We have all gone astray.” From the time of Adam we were headed left and we’ve been off track ever since. God made Him who knew no sin, who never sinned, to take our sin upon Himself so that we might be forgiven. One act can make a world of difference! We see that in Adam as he sinned and each of us were affected and now we see it in Jesus–one life given for many.
Horatius Bonar was a minister in Scotland who loved the Word of God. He lived from 1808-1889. Listen to these powerful words written by Bonar in comparing the effects of the lives of Adam and Jesus.
The first Adam dies and we die in him; but the second Adam dies and we live in him! The first Adam’s grave proclaims only death; the second Adam’s grave announces life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” We look into the grave of the one, and we see only darkness, corruption, and death; we look into the grave of the other, and we find there only light, incorruption, and life. We look into the grave of the one and find that he is still there, his dust still mingling with its fellow dust about it; we look into the grave of the other and find that he is not there. He is risen, risen as our forerunner into the heavenly paradise, the home of the risen and redeemed. We look into the grave of the first Adam and see in him the first-fruits of them that have died, the millions that have gone down to that prison house whose gates he opened; we look into the tomb of the second Adam, and we see in him the first-fruits of that bright multitude, that glorified band, who are to come forth from that cell, triumphing over death and rising to the immortal life; not through the tree which grew in the earthly paradise, but through him whom that tree prefigured–through him who was dead and is alive, and who liveth for evermore, and who has the keys of hell and death. (Horatius Bonar, Thoughts on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Kregel, n.d.) pp. 274-275. (Original edition 1875)
One act can make a world of difference! I want to urge you this morning to consider this powerful lesson by the Apostle Paul. Each and every one of us who are seated in this sanctuary this morning are in Adam. We were born in Adam and as a result of our birth we are corrupted to the core of our being. We may try to deny it, we may try and compare ourselves to others to show that we are not as bad as once thought, but you know better than that. Your deeds may not rival those of mass murderers, child abusers, or criminals of various strains, but you know the hardness of your heart, you know the deadness of your soul, and you know the thoughts that ramble in your mind that shock even you. You also know that one day you will die. All of these are evidence of our family tree–we are of Adam. The question this morning is, “Are you ‘of Jesus?'” Have you been grafted in to the family of Jesus and are you experiencing the new life that only Jesus can bring? I want to urge those of you who have never trusted in Jesus to do so this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 8, 2013