Grace Might Reign

Sermon preached on Romans 5:12-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/26/2012 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Romans 5:12-21

“Grace Might Reign”

Paul continues today to teach us about our justification by faith. A point he has made repeatedly up to this point is how we all need this justification. We all need it because we are all sinners. We’ve all broken God’s laws in various ways and have earned condemnation. However, in today’s passage he brings out another way in which we are all sinners. An even more fundamental way. It’s through our connection with Adam. In Adam, we are all sinners. This gets at original sin and its effect on humanity. But he doesn’t stop there. He then makes a contrast between Adam and Jesus. If there is bad news for mankind with Adam, there is the greatest of good news with Jesus. And in making this contrast, we continue to learn more about this wonderful doctrine of justification – of how man has went from being under divine condemnation to being in a right standing before God.

Let’s begin first by then by noticing that Adam is what we call a type of Christ. Verse 14 says that Adam was a type of the one to come. That one to come is Jesus Christ. And so it says that Adam was a type of the Christ to come. I’ll often talk about typology when we study the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of types and shadows. People can be types. Institutions can be types. Buildings can be types. Actions can be types. A type, from this Biblical sense, is simpley something that serves as a pattern or model for something better to come. Of course, this is not done in an allegorical way; rather such typology draws itself from the context of the text, and is connected with the organic development God’s plan of redemption. We see how the New Testament authors do this, and we learn that interpretive skill from them. Paul’s pointing this out here with Adam. And so, such typology usually draws from earthly, humanly, temporal, things to look forward to heavenly, often spiritual, eternal sort of things. The Old Testament type looks to something better to come. So for example, the temple in the Old Testament was a type of the true temple in heaven, a copy and a shadow of something heavenly, according to Hebrews 8:5. Or the sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament look forward to Jesus’ sacrifice; as John the Baptist called Jesus the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, John 1:29!

In the same way, humans can be types of Jesus Christ. They can reflect aspects of his ministry, role, and purpose. For example, Moses predicted another prophet like himself would rise up. Hebrews would have us to see that fulfilled in Jesus. Moses as a prophet was a type of the Christ to come. Christ was the prophet par excellence, giving us directly the very words of God, speaking as one with authority. And so that too is important to understand when we think of types. The Old Testament type is necessarily inferior to what it’s typifying. The Old Testament temple is like the heavenly one, but it is not the real heavenly one. It falls short of that glory. The sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament are like Christ’s sacrifice, but they fall short; an earthly lamb is not going to really atone for our sins. Those sacrifices but looked forward to Jesus’ coming sacrifice. Moses is like the Christ, but he is not the Christ. He couldn’t even bring himself into the Promised Land, let alone God’s people. That was because of his sin. He too fell short.

And so the same is true with Adam. As a type of Christ, there is something about what he does that looks forward to the Christ. But there is also something about what he does or who he is that shows that he is not the Christ. That he is inferior to the Christ. Paul uses this comparison of Jesus with Adam in a few places, and he’ll even use the language of the first Adam and the second Adam, the second Adam referring to Christ. And so our goal today will be to undestand this typology. To see what Adam has in similarity with Christ, and to see what he has dissimilar to Christ. There is actually quite a lot of dissimilarity shown in this passage!

So then as we think about this first Adam versus this second Adam, let’s begin by observing what Adam means for us. For humans, the Bible sees a solidarity of all humans with Adam. Like it or not, that’s our natural condition. Fallen sinners and dead in Adam. This is the doctrine of original sin and see a lot of that doctrine described right here. This whole passage really drives home this point with a lot of repetition. We are guilty because of Adam’s first transgression.

Look, for example, at verses 12-14:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned — (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

So, first here we see that sin entered the world through one man. That’s Adam. It says death came through that sin. Remember God said that is what would happen if they ate of that tree. But what’s striking here is that Paul says that this death spread to all men. It wasn’t confined to just Adam and Eve. The reason given in verse 12 is ”because all sinned.” Some have thought that might refer to the actual sins of the rest of humanity. But that doesn’t seem to best fit the context. Rather, it seems best to understand that this is referring to how Adam’s sin is imputed to us. Adam sinned, and so on account of that one sin, we all sinned. He committed the offense, and we all became guilty of it.

That becomes clear in verse 14 when the point is that many people between Adam and Moses did not commit the same kind of transgression that he did, but yet they still died. Death still reigned over them. This doesn’t mean that sin wasn’t still in the world. No, it was. Adam had a revealed law – don’t eat of the tree. The Ten Commandments as revealed law didn’t come until Moses, which very clearly spelled out what to do or not to do. But people still had the law written on their hearts during that interim period between Adam and Moses. But Paul’s point here is that they died even though they didn’t sin themselves the same way Adam did. This could refer the fact that they didn’t have the same kind of special revelation to break like would come through Moses or what Adam himself had. Certainly blatantly breaking such an explicit command is heinous. This could also have in mind people like infants who died in infancy. They didn’t committ the same kind of meditated, blatant, sin like Adam did. But the fact that such infants have died, shows Pauls’ point too. Death nonetheless reigned. And Paul gives the reason throughout this passage. It was because of Adam’s first sin. His sin is accounted against each human. It makes us all guilty and under death. That’s Pauls’ point in this passage.

This is surely something we in our Western thinking and postmodern mindset have difficulty with. We can think it not fair. We like to think of ourselves as individuals. That we should not have any negative effect because of something Adam did. Now, this passage doesn’t tell us the justice behind it. We know Scripture puts limits on this. Jeremiah 31:30 talks about each man dying for their own sins, not for the sins of their parents. On the other hand, we know that the sins of parents can have ramifications on the coming generations. And we know specifically with Adam, that Scripture teaches what we see here. Adam’s sin and it’s guilt is imputed on all mankind. Scripture sees Adam as our representative head. We fell and died together in Adam. We have a solidarity with Adam. Ironically, western, postmodern thinking says they don’t like such solidarity; they want individualism; that is until it comes to social benefits. Then how inconsistent can so many people be who then want everyone else to take care of them. They want solidarity when it benefits them, but not when it does not benefit them. But I digress. The point is that our connection with Adam is that he is our representantive head. His sin is imputed to us. The condemnation for that sin is imputed to us. I trust God’s justice in this. I imagine that if any of us were in Adam’s shoes, we would have done the same thing. And so that is our natural condition. That is what Adam means for us. We are sinful, fallen, and dead, in Adam.

This then is how Adam both looks forward to Christ, and does not look forward to Christ. Let’s now turn to see how this passage contrasts Adam to Christ. In other words, let’s flush out the contrast between Adam and Jesus. Keep in mind our connection with Adam as we talk through these contrasts. Notice first the repeated statements of Adam’s first sin. The passage uses several different words to describe it. Verses 12 and 16 calls it sin. Verse 14 calls it a transgression. Verses 15 through 18 repeatedly call it an offense. Verse 19 calls is disobedience. All of these different words highlight the same thing. Adam’s breaking of God’s command in the garden to not eat of the one tree. Each of these different words help describe the nature of his sin with their subtle nuances. This is like all the major words to describe a sin, all used here about Adam’s first sin. Paul doesn’t want you to miss it. Again, the emphasis is on how this one sin of Adam plunged us all into sin.

The result of Adam’s one sin is also very clear here. Paul also uses different words to describe it. He calls it death multiple times. He calls it condemnation multiple times. He shows that the state we are not in, is one of righteousness or justification. That’s what we don’t have. Specificialy with regard to death, he says multiple times that death was reigning over us. Death controlled us. It was inescapble in its reign. This is the ”benefit” of having Adam as our head.

In contrast, look at Christ. Look at how Paul contrasts’ Adam’s sin and it’s outcome with Christ. Adam’s sin in verse 15 is contrasted with a gift. The gift is different than Adam’s sin. God gave us a gift by giving us Jesus to be a new head for us. That in him we can have a different outcome than in Adam. Verse 18 brings out the difference. Adam sinned. Christ acted in righteousness. Adam’s one transgression is compared to Christ’s righteousness, verse 18. It’s the righteousness of Christ compared with the sinfulness of Adam that makes all the difference.

Then look at the contrast to the outcome. If Adam’s sin resulted in death and condemnation, Christ’s righteousness results in life and justification. Verse 16, Christ brings justification. Verse 17, Christ brings abundance of grace and righteousness. Verse 18, in Christ we get justification of life. Verse 19, we are made righteous. Verse 21 sums it up wonderfully. Grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus. Grace reigns in Christ, not death. Verse 17 even says that in Christ, we will reign in life. Not death reigning over us, but us reigning in life.

The point here is clear. Adam’s sin was imputed to us. Being in Adam means you are dead and condemned. But praise God there is an alternative. You can be in Christ. And if you are in Christ, if he is your head, then you receive justification. His righteousness is imputed to you. Not Adam’s sin. His righteousness. This is why we can be made righteous by faith. This is the climax of Paul’s discussion on justification by faith. This is its legal grounds. If you are in Adam, you have imputed sin and are guilty. If you are in Christ, you have imputed righteousness and are thus justified.

Here’s where the one and the many language come in. The one Adam is contrasted with the one Christ. Verse 19 says it well, ”For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” It’s this one and many language that brings out again the solidarity connection. One man representing for many. Either Adam or Christ will be your one man. Your head. Verse 18 uses similar language but instead of talking about the one and the many, it talks about the one versus all men. Clearly, by the way, he doesn’t mean that every single person is saved in Christ. Rather, all men who have Christ as their head, are saved, versus all who are still in Adam as their head, are not saved. This passage doesn’t spell that out, but that’s clearly what he means, based on the rest of Romans and the rest of Paul’s writings. 1 Corinthians 15:22, for example, ”In Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” The next verse in 1 Corinthians 15 then spells it out even further; you have to belong to Christ to have this life. Either Adam or Christ will be your head. In Adam, you have death. In Christ, you have life.

Now, even though we are talking about all this solidarity we have naturally with Adam, i find it surprising but helpful what Paul says in verse 16. He says that the free gift arose from many transgressions, resulting in justification. All this time he’s talked about one transgression for the most part. Yet, here he mentions many transgressions. It seems this is a helpful reminder that in addition to original sin, there is also our heap of actual personal sins that we committ. The grace that comes in Christ’s as our head, covers not just Adam’s sin. It covers all the host of our own personal sins. In fact, if Christ’s sacrifice only covered Adam’s sin, then we would still be condemened because of our many personal trangressions. And so what a wonderful balance we have here. Fallen in sin through Adam’s headship. But we’ve also continued to sin ourselves. Once sin was in the world it’s been reigning over us. And so the free gift of Christ is able to overcome many transgressions.

And so to sum this all up. Adam was the head of humanity, in him we see how desparate our situation is. But in Christ, we see how wonderful God’s grace is.
Adam was a type of Christ in both the positive and the negative. He was like Christ in that he was a representative head of humans. But he brought such humans to ruin by his sin. He was not like Christ in that his perfect rightouensess made us right with God. And so that’s how types in the Bible work. Something about the type is like Christ, but something about the type is not like Christ. There is correspondence and difference. The types point to how much better Christ is and the things of God are. That is certainly the case here. And so, if we are tempted to complain about the fairness of Adam’s sin being imputed to us, we are silenced when we find Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. And yet not really silenced. For we can’t help but worship and praise God in light of this. We have an amazing salvation. And this passage so gloriously exalts Christ. It’s a humblying passage if you are Adam. But this passage exalts Jesus. And how right that he be exalted.

And so as we’ve said, this gospel is not a gospel of universal salvation. You will only have this eternal life and this justification if Christ is your head. If you are in Christ. That happens through faith, the Bible says. Confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved. Call upon the name of the Lord in faith and be saved!

Brothers and sisters, if this is your story, then I hope you live out what it means for you. I point you again in closing to verse 17. We’ve been given the gift of righteousness to reign in life through Jesus Christ. To reign in life. When we were in Adam, our perspective was so different. We were under the reign of death. And yet that is no longer the case. Let us then live as such. I mention this, because sometimes I hear otherwise from Christians. I’m talking about in our struggles with sin. Sometimes I hear people say things like, well I want to stop doing this particular sin, but I guess I’ll have to wait until God grows me. It’s almost like a sort of calvinistic way to blame God. But that’s not real calvinism. That’s hyper-calvinism at best. The biblical thing to say when we are struggling with a sin is, ”I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” The biblical thing to say is that sin and death no longer reigns over me, but I in Christ reign in life! We take heart because in all things we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus!

This then surely is how God would have you to live this passage out. Inform your mind that part of God’s abundant grace in your life is something that starts here and now. Something for this life too. Yes, we talk so much about glory. Yes, we talk about heaven will solve our problems for eternity. Yes, until that day, we will have struggles with our sin. But see the far reaching ramifications of Christ’s righteousness in your life. His righteousness is the foundation for your justification. But it’s also the foundation for how you will live now. You’ve been set free from the death you’ve had in Adam. You’ve been made alive in the grace you’ve received in Christ. Let us then not approach our sanctification with a defeatist attitude. Let us see how our sanctification is founded upon the work of Christ. And let us see how Christ’s work includes having us reign right now in life. This is a subject next week’s passage will start to address more as well – our sanctification in light of this amazing justification. But be encouraged that we reign in life even now. Praise be to God who gives us victory in our Lord Jesus’ Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.