Romans 5:18-21 “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. 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. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul has been contrasting two men, Adam and Christ. He has just been pointing out how unlike Adam is the Lord Jesus. How much more righteous and blessed is Christ and all who are joined to him, what blessing they receive from being in him, and so on. Now in our text today he changes his emphasis from contrasting the two men to comparing them. “Just as the consequences of Adam’s life and sin were to affect all who are joined to him, so also the result of Jesus’ life has had the most breathtaking consequences for those who are united to Christ.” You can clearly see the contrast in our text. The two pairs of words ‘just as’ and ‘so also’ are repeated three times in verses 18, 19 and 21. If you are in Adam there are consequences of that relationship; if you are in Christ then you have something else entirely. We are going to look at four couplets, one and two, three and four, five and six, seven and eight. Let’s begin with verse 18 . . .
THERE WAS ONE GREAT ACT OF DEFIANCE IN ADAM.
God had gestured to all the trees in the Garden of Eden, many hundreds of fruit trees, beautiful to see and their fruit delicious to taste. He said to Adam and Eve, “Help yourselves to any of them and every one of them – except that one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don’t take and eat from that tree. You’ll die if you do so.” It was a simple instruction and a clear test. Was our father Adam going to spend his life in honouring and pleasing and glorifying God or his own self? Encouraged by the temptation of the serpent our first parents took from that tree and ate the fruit. They sinned, and death remorselessly came upon them. And death has passed on all men for all have sinned in Adam and in their own sinning. The moment we’re born and cry our first cry we begin to die; we are heading for death. It is utterly unavoidable because “in Adam’s fall we sinned all.” Paul says in our text, “as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (v.18).
Let me compare Adam to the American, the late Jim Jones. That evil man led a thousand people out to Guyana on the north coast of South America, to a place he called ‘Jonestown’ and a commune called the ‘People’s Temple.’ Those men and women were all joined to him; they would have walked through fire for him; they were all under his control, and then on one evil day, November 18, 1978, 913 of them (including hundreds of children) killed themselves as he persuaded them all to drink a mixture of cyanide and fruit squash. One liar was responsible, in one climactic action of selfish defiance of all that is wise and good, and it resulted in all who were under him – this wretched Jim Jones – all who were joined to him did what he told them to do and were condemned to an inevitable death. None escaped; all died. It was very similar to what Adam our federal head and representative did; the condemnation of his initiative came upon all who were united to him. Now the first comparison to Adam’s great act of defiance . . .
THERE WAS ONE GREAT ACT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN CHRIST.
Paul proceeds, “so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (v.18). How different was the actions of Jesus, the last Adam, and he didn’t live his life in paradise. Nor did he take a group of followers to set up a commune near the Dead Sea separated from contact with ordinary people. All the time they mingled with the common herd. He lived in a groaning world, in a family with his half brothers and sisters, working for decades in a carpenter’s shop, and in his little town he was surrounded by sinners who hated God. There were even demons who possessed many people during Jesus’ days who cam right up to Jesus; it was a time of unique satanic activity, and yet in our valley of darkness our brave Saviour pitched his tent and constantly he loved God with all his heart and he loved sinners as himself. He went about doing good – to the elderly and to children, to rich and poor, to Gentile and Jew. He kept the moral law, the ceremonial law and the civil law. He had no sins of imagination and no sins of emotion and no sins of omission, and yet he was no two-dimensional cardboard cut-out saint. He suffered and grew weary; he breathed affection and self-denial and loving concern. He was God’s great definition of what is a real man. He fulfilled all righteousness as a true human being and as the incarnate God. His righteousness was beautiful and also infinite and eternal, but it was also a human righteousness. And all who were joined to his life in Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem, and joined to him in Gethsemane and Golgotha were justified through the gift of his imputed righteousness. They received the life of heaven. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – “justification that brings life for all men” – that is for all men who “receive God’s abundant provision” (v.17) and it comes from God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you received this righteousness? Have you ever realized that you don’t have to do a single thing to be condemned? That condemnation for being what you are is the inheritance you’ve received from Adam, but to believe in Christ for eternal life, personally and consciously and submissively – of course helped by the Holy Spirit – you receive the provision that God is offering you in order to enjoy this life and this justification. Why don’t you take this gift today as God is offering it to you now? Don’t wait until you feel better, or feel more religious. Don’t be snared by the tingle factor, that you have to have feelings running up and down your spine and that physical experience confirms to you that you have left Adam’s headship and are coming under the Lordship of Christ. Hear me! Jesus says, “Come as you are to me, and I will give you rest.” Entrust yourself to me.
I was reading this week the testimony of a man from Poland named David Koziol who had been stirred – after years of dead religious activity – through hearing a sermon preached on line, a message which greatly convicted him. He wrote, “I started to read the Scriptures and to listen to sermons. God gave me a knowledge of sin and I saw sin in my own life; I saw its ugliness. Before that I thought that my life was good, but in the face of truths I was coming to understand, I saw that I was spiritually dead, and in fact I’d never known God. I saw clearly that to live a more moral life didn’t make me any more acceptable before God. There was no middle way; you are either with the Lord or against him, in Adam or in Christ. The words that I heard and read convinced me that to receive Christ meant receiving him into every part of my life, not just into one or selected parts, but every part. It became clear to me that I couldn’t confess Christ as Lord and go on living carelessly and defiantly. Will I have more falls into sin? Yes, while I am in the body in a fallen world, but am I willing to sin deliberately and then shrug, after knowing my Saviour and Lord, aware of what he did for me.
“I came to learn that my salvation was not based on my personal efforts. Salvation is apart from me. If salvation depended on me and my works, that would be the straight road to hell. But the beauty of the Gospel and its truth is that Christ accomplished everything for my salvation. ‘He loved me e’er I knew him,’ when I was deep in my sins and unconscious of his person and work even then he’d loved me, before the foundation of the world he loved me. I was a religious person, but as a Catholic I didn’t know the grace of God and that Christ’s salvation was free. I came to know these things from clear verses in the Bible and it all became increasingly clear to me after years of struggling to meet God’s standards, after striving for some extra spiritual status. It was God who had put me in Christ; God justified me; God clothed me with the righteousness of his Son; God did it all, and he gives it all utterly freely to sinners who will receive him as an act of his grace. The Lord Jesus paid the price of it all, there on Calvary’s cross; and he calls every sinner to come to him and have life by his death. He became the Lamb of God and shed his blood for a sinner like me. Then may that love motivate all I do to live for him. To him be the glory!” So that is the first pair. Now let’s look at the second pair.
THERE WAS ONE CLIMACTIC ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE IN ADAM.
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (v.19). Under the covenant of works in Eden, or today as men hear the gospel, they are all confronted with one issue, the issue of obedience to God. To Adam the Lord said, “Don’t take the fruit.” To people today the same Lord says, “Turn from your unbelief and be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” The response is not one that depends on the amount of evidence, or the strength of feelings, or that you have to search every other religion first of all, but this, that you have been confronted by divine truth, and so the issue is are you obeying God or disobeying him?
Paul tells us in the words before us that our father Adam’s sin resulted in the whole human race being “made sinners”. We are all in that status of guilt before God. Think about it. This unique man Adam in his office as our federal head committed this one sin and through him enormous trouble and shame came to the entire world. You protest, “Why didn’t God give Adam another chance? Why didn’t God say, ‘Maybe you didn’t understand what I’ve just said. Let’s try it again.’ Wasn’t God’s response a harsh punishment for one simple mistake?” That’s surely what we would have done, I think. We’d have given Adam a second or a third or even a fourth chance. Why didn’t God do that? I think there are two answers to that question. Firstly, it didn’t matter how many chances God gave Adam, he’d have sinned anyway. Adam had become a serial rebel with a spirit of defiance in his heart. If God had given him a hundred chances, he’d have sinned a hundred times. Secondly, by judging him after one sin, God was able to pay for that one sin (and its terrible results in history) through the single act of righteousness provided by the death of his Son Jesus Christ.
So these are the two options set before us all, either we are “made sinners” (which is our universal lot as sons and daughters of Adam) or we are “made righteous” through Jesus Christ. To make it more personal, every single person here is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” So then Paul goes on with the contrasting statement
THERE WAS ONE CLIMACTIC ACT OF OBEDIENCE IN CHRIST.
So Paul puts it like this “so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (v.19). Was this fair? Was it fair for King David the adulterer and murderer to be fully pardoned and clothed in the righteousness of Christ? Was it fair that in a moment all his sins were forgiven? Complete pardon and total exoneration as a gift of God? Was that fair? Jesus the sinless King of glory was punished all day nailed to a cross that we creeps and hypocrites might be forgiven? Was that fair? It’s not fair, but it is true and it is glorious. He was obedient even to the death of the cross and thus we are clothed in that beautiful righteousness of the Son of God.
Let me illustrate it in this story. There was a criminal who had been on death row in an American jail for many years but finally every one of his lawyer’s appeals was exhausted and the date of his execution was announced. The man had become wiser during his incarceration and he volunteered to donate the cornea from one of his eyes so that a blind person could see. The doctors in charge of the surgery went ahead and chose a recipient and this person actually came to the prison to meet the condemned man. There was a lot of human interest in the event and the newspapers spread the story far and near. The transplant doctors emphasized it to encourage other people to sign donor cards.
Eventually the day came for the execution and then his cornea was removed and successfully transplanted into the eye of the man who’d been blind. It was very successful, and he could see as he had been unable to do for decades. My little poser is this; could a policeman arrest this man and hope for a “guilty of murder” verdict because he had in his body the cornea of a murderer? What would happen should the case be heard? Of course it would be thrown out of court. Why? Because the cornea – which once had been in the body of a murderer – was now in the body of a non-murderer. His eyes had the properties and status of the one his cornea was grafted into. That man was blameless of that offence; each part of his body was blameless.
Something like that happens at the moment of justification. Though you were born in Adam, and corrupted through Adam, and made a sinner through Adam, the very moment you put your trust in Jesus Christ you were transplanted from Adam into Jesus Christ. Whereas once you were as guilty as old Adam, now you are as righteous as holy Jesus Christ. That is why you can stand before God uncondemned. Whatever is true of Jesus is now true of you. Through the obedience of the Lord Christ many are made righteous. Now let’s look at the next couple . . .
THE LAW WAS ADDED THAT THE TRESPASS MIGHT INCREASE.
Paul says at the beginning of this third comparison, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase” (v.20). Realise that Paul is giving you here just one of the reasons for God giving the ten commandments. He’s not saying more right now, elsewhere he does, but here Paul is telling you this one reason for God giving the law. It was to convict and to convince us of our status, that we are sinners in his sight. Paul is saying this because it was vital that the Romans understood it, and it’s vital that you and I understand it, that the Ten Commandments is not our Saviour. Indeed, the very presence of the law exacerbates our predicament. God’s great solution to Adam’s sin was Christ and grace, not Moses. And so Paul wants you to understand that the law was never given to be your Saviour.
The purpose of the law, not exclusively, but as Paul explains it here, was to increase sin. Now aren’t you perplexed, asking, “What in the world are you talking about, Paul? Are you saying that God gave the law so that sin would increase? Are you saying that God caused the increase of sin? Are you saying that God wanted sin to increase, and so he gave the law to Moses? Are you saying that he gave the law to Moses because he desired for us to sin more?” Well, the answers of course are ‘No!’ But if the answer is no, you’ve still got to ask, what in the world are you saying, that the law came in that transgression might increase. I have made this section alliterative with the letter ‘P’ and I got it from my friend Dr. Ligon Duncan.
i] Paul’s first answer is polemic. In other words, it is argumentative. The first thing I want you to see is that this phrase, “the law came in that sin would increase,” this phrase is deliberately designed by the apostle Paul to promote the maximal offense in his hearers. He wants everyone listening to prick up their ears and furrow their brows and shake their heads. Look, Paul is addressing some people whose forefathers were sent into exile in Babylon because they constantly disobeyed the law of God. Now their descendants were very serious and boastful about the law. They knew that the one thing that set them apart from everything else in the Roman Empire was that they had the law of God. So the apostle says here, “Why? Why did God give the law? To make you special amongst all the nations?” No. Rather so that your sin and guilt would increase. You couldn’t have said something more offensive to these people if you had thought for a million years. Paul deliberately says this to shake them out of their Mosaic tree. Paul wants them to be shocked. Paul wants them recalibrate. He wants them to reframe. He wants them to look at themselves and at Jehovah in a different way than they’d been looking. The law was not their instrument of salvation. No. In fact, he says, “The law came in that the trespass might increase.” That’s the first thing that I want you to see and understand in this phrase. Paul is deliberately shocking them. He’s succeeded. We’re all ears. “Tell us more, Paul.”
ii] What Paul says about the law here is partial. This is also important, that this is a selected comment. In other words Paul has not exhausted the subject of the law in what he says here. In fact, Paul is going to take up this very subject again in Romans, chapter 7, and he’s going to have more to say about it in some of his other letters than he says here. So it’s important for you to understand that this is not all that Paul has to explain about the law, and its function, and about its purpose, about how it relates to Christians. What Paul is saying here about the law is still important. It’s essential to understanding one of the uses of the law of God. So, let’s move on, what Paul is saying about the law is polemic and it’s also partial.
iii] What Paul says about the law is also pedagogical. He’s telling us that the law is given to teach us something. It’s a pedagogue. What exactly is the law going to teach us? Paul is telling us on this verse that the law served to teach us what sin was. It serves to expose sin. We might even put it this way. It serves to expose sin in our hearts and consciences and affections. Paul is telling us that the law serves a function of teaching us our need for grace. This is what the old Reformed theologians referred to as ‘the second use of the law.’ It drives us to Christ by showing us our sin. As James speaks of the law, do you remember what he calls the law? He says, “The law is a mirror.” You look at the law and what do you see? You see the real you. And it’s not a pretty picture. It’s early in the morning; your hair is all over the place; you don’t like to see yourself so raw and unprepared. The law shows you yourself, it shows you your need of grace. It shows you your sin, and so by showing your sin and your need for grace, it leads you to the Saviour. The Greek word ‘pedagogue’ (for which we often use the word ‘teacher’) actually referred to the slave who was a member of the household that took the children to school. So the pedagogue took you to the schoolteacher. He’s the one who led you to the one who was going to give you what you needed. Jesus Christ is the one we all need; every one of us need the Son of God. So it’s the law that leads you to him. Paul is saying that the revelation of the law was designed to show us our sin, not to be the instrument of salvation. It is not our Saviour; but if it’s properly understood, it leads us to run to the Saviour. The law apart from the Saviour simply exacerbates our predicament. But the law rightly and spiritually understood leads us to our Saviour.
There is a scene in the classic book of Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo is with this beautiful woman that he’s captured, and she’s crying. Quasimodo says to her, “Why are you crying?” And she replies to him, “Well, you’re crying.” And he agrees, “Yes, I am crying.” And she says, “Then, let me ask you why you’re crying?” And he says to her, “Because I never knew how ugly I was until I saw how beautiful you were.” And men and women, that’s the law. You Christians never knew how ugly you were, until you saw how beautiful your God was. The law shows you the beauty and the glory and the honour and the uprightness and the holiness of God, and it humbles you. You never knew you were in such a mess before you saw the law.
Furthermore, Paul is saying that the law had a distinctive role in God’s purposes and mankind. He said, “Remember, even before the law, at that time people knew the difference between right and wrong. This wasn’t a relativistic moral universe until Sinai. From the time of Adam, and his fall, men knew the difference between good and evil actions. All the scores of brothers and sisters of Cain knew that when he murdered his own brother he was doing wrong. If you had been around when Abram went down to Egypt, and told the leaders of Egypt that his wife was his sister, and sure, you can have her, you would have known that the seventh Commandment had been violated. You didn’t need a copy of the Ten Commandments up on a church wall to know that
But, when Genesis is succeeded by Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you better believe you know about sin now. If you knew about sin before Sinai, after you’ve read through Leviticus, men and women, do you know about sin. After you’ve read through Exodus 20 (and not only the summarization of God’s ten moral commands, but the exposition of it from the Exodus 20 to 24, and the discussion of worship that runs from 25 to 40) then you know about sin. And when you pick up Deuteronomy, and you see this gigantic farewell sermon by Moses about what is the righteousness of God revealed in his law, you better believe you know about sin. That’s the third thing that Paul is saying when he says, “The law came in that transgression would increase.”
iv] What Paul says about the law is that it is provocative. Paul may be indicating that the law provokes sin. You know how this works. The minute the boundaries are laid down, somebody wants to cross them. But that’s why you can say to your young children, “Don’t you eat the broccoli .” And eighty-seven percent of the time it provokes the immediate response of eating the broccole. Why? Because in a fallen world, once the righteous boundaries of God are laid down, there is an inclination in the wicked, human heart to find those boundaries and transgress them. We resent the law. We don’t like the law. We want to find every place that it can be bent, find every place that it can be aggravated. You see, once you’ve seen your sin and been convicted by it, and once you understand that the law is not an instrument of salvation, then you have to look somewhere else for deliverance. That’s why Paul is explaining to you this use of the law. The reason you can’t be saved by the Mosaic Law is that’s not what it was made for. It wasn’t the instrument of salvation. So what is the contrast in Christ coming? The law came by Moses but grace by Jesus.
WHERE SIN INCREASED, GRACE INCREASED ALL THE MORE.
“Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (v.20). This translation could be better, I read, because it uses the word “increased” twice, but they’re not the same words in the Greek. When Paul says, “Where sin increased,” it is suggested that he uses a word that refers to addition. But when he says “Grace increased,” it is suggested he uses a word that more frequently refers to multiplication. On the one hand, our sins increased one by one by one. On the other hand, God’s grace in Christ Jesus was multiplied over and over and over again. Where sins were added one by one, God’s grace was multiplied a thousand times. Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded. Corrie Ten Boom said: “There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.” Here, then, is the blessed principle that in Jesus Christ we have gained much more than we ever lost in Adam. Here is good news indeed: you can’t out-sin the grace of God. Some of you have been trying. You’ve been making an enthusiastic attempt. But no. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve been doing. God’s grace was greater than the sin of the prodigal son, and greater than the sins of Saul of Tarsus, and greater than the sins of John Newton, and greater than your sin and greater than the sins of the greatest sinner in this congregation today, and maybe that sinner is me, or maybe it is you, but God’s grace is greater than all our sins. Never doubt that when you have gone to God and asked him to forgive your sins in the name of the Lord Christ that God will ever turn you away.
I am saying, “Don’t run to your obedience – to the good things you have done – for salvation, because it’s your obedience that is the problem. Don’t run to your heart for salvation; your heart is your problem. Don’t run to your deeds for salvation; your deeds are the problem. Don’t run to making a new start in life by religion and new resolutions. That’s the problem, your will is the problem, your heart is the problem. You are the problem. Don’t run to you, run to him, run to Christ. Run to his grace. He is the solution. That’s what Paul is saying. Grace is greater than all our sin.”
Men and women, that is so comforting, not only because it teaches us why salvation is by grace alone, but it also teaches us that no sin can exceed God’s grace. Now you hang around some dedicated Christians for a little while. You scratch around a bit, and you chat. There’s going to be a church member somewhere who is struggling with something that they just can’t let go of because they think that their sin is special; it’s a unique sin; it’s just beyond the reach of God’s grace. Paul is answering that feeling, “No, it’s not. You’ve got it back to front. God’s grace is greater than all your sins.” “But Paul, you don’t know what I’ve done.” “No, I don’t, but I do know some of the things that I did, and I’m the chief of sinners, and you’ve got quite a way to go before you catch up with me.” Paul says, “I can assure you that the grace of God is greater than all your sins.” That’s what Paul is saying here. That’s why you don’t run to yourself, you run to grace, you run to Christ, and you will find that grace will triumph over sin. Grace always trumps guilt. Now for the final pair of comparisons . . .
SIN REIGNED IN DEATH.
That is what Paul says (v.21). What does that mean? Consider the state of denial in which you have lived your life. You would never admit you were a sinner. Not you. You had escaped from the domination of sin, but then you grew sick and you died. No one has ever escaped from sin. Sin always gets its man. Every life ends. All people in Adam spend their entire lives in the kingdom of darkness and in that kingdom everyone dies. The prince of darkness ensures that this will always happen, and that after physical death there is always the second death, with all the fearful images that the Lord Jesus used to describe it, outer darkness, the worm that does not die, the fires that are not quenched, wailing and gnashing of teeth, the lake of fire, the bottomless pit, and so on. Images, yes, but the reality is always worse than the image. Beyond the grave the sin that dominated your life dominates it still and it always will, world without end. Think of it, an eternity facing you in which you can’t do what you want, where you are subject to sin.
GRACE REIGNS THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS AND BRINGS LIFE.
That is Paul’s conclusion to this extraordinary chapter; “so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v.21). Whatever sin is grace is higher, grace is greater, grace dwarfs our sin. Imagine two mountains, Mount Adam and Mount Christ. Mount Adam is polluted by lead mining and fly tipping, every valley is barren, no fish swim in the waters, every nook and cranny and lay-by is filled with piles of garbage stretching toward the sky. The very air stinks. No birds sing overhead. The plants are stunted. That is where those who are in Adam exist. That is where you exist with all the evil, rotten things you’ve ever done or ever dreamed of doing surrounding you. Mount Adam is the accumulation of the rubbish of your life. Every day the mountain grows as another load of refuse is added. See it. It stands before you so high you can’t get over it, so deep you can’t dig under it, so wide you can’t walk around it. Mount Eden stands between you and God. You are all heading for the cosmic incinerator.
But there is another mountain just beyond the first one. This one is pure and clean and inviting. It towers so high above the first mountain that you can’t see its peak. It reigns above every mountain in the world. It’s so much greater than Mount Adam that when you compare the two, that pile of garbage seems a molehill. This second mountain is Mount Christ. It stretches from earth up to heaven. It towers so high above the garbage of your life that the surrounding rubbish seems to disappear. What living streams of pure crystal water tumble down its sides, all springing from eternal love, supplying and refreshing all who are in Christ! There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. That’s the message of this whole passage. Christ so great, greater than the prophets, greater than the angels, great in comparison to the universe, great even when set alongside God. Christ’s grace reigns through righteousness and eternal life to all who receive him.
25th January 2015 GEOFF THOMAS