Romans 5:15-17 “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! 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. 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.”
From now on, this fifth chapter gathers momentum, it’s more lucid and fascinating. You have noticed how the apostle Paul has made this curious statement that “Adam . . . was a pattern of the one to come” (v.14). In other words, he is claiming that Adam was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. A rebel sinner was a pattern of the holiest man. And some of you have asked me how this can be. You’ve long understood how Noah’s ark was a pattern of the Messiah, and the scapegoat was a pattern of the one to come, and the burnt offering, and the cities of refuge, and the Passover lamb, and the tabernacle, and the boy Isaac being offered on the altar, and Jonah being spewed up the third day out of seeming death in the belly of the great fish, and David destroying Goliath, and even Rahab’s red thread in the window in Jericho – that all these are patterns of Christ in his sacrifice or his victory. But Adam? How is he the type or the prototype of Christ? It is certainly true that both were federal heads of a great company of people. Those who are in Adam die because Adam’s sin is imputed to them. Those who are in Christ live because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them. Just as it is not at root the personal sinning of those in Adam that brought upon them their condemnation, so it is at root it is not the personal goodness of those who are in Christ that accomplishes their justification. The point of saying right here that Adam is a pattern of Christ is to proclaim the total contrast between these two heads, that justification comes to us not on the ground of our obedience but on the ground of Christ’s obedient life and death and that we were in him our head, throughout his life and in his death and resurrection. That is the parallel between the two. I was interested in some of John Stott’s comments on the link between Adam and Christ.
Paul has called Adam the type or prototype of Christ (v.14), but he’s no sooner made this statement than he feels embarrassed by the anomaly, the impropriety of what he’s said. To be sure, there is a superficial similarity between Adam and Christ in that each is a man through whose one action enormous numbers of people have been affected. Two men; two deeds; two frozen moments in time with two far-reaching results flowing across the generations, affecting us to this day. People are always asking for something ‘relevant’ in the preaching, but what could be more relevant than this, that at this very moment every one of you is either in Adam or you are in Christ. There is no third man to follow. Each of those two men lit the touch paper and set off a chain of events that affect us all today.
But there – indubitably – the likeness between them ends. How can the Lord of glory be likened to the man of shame, the Saviour to the sinner, the giver of life to the broker of death? The correspondence between the two men is not a parallel; the correspondence between them is an antithesis. How utterly different is the first Adam from the last Adam. So before returning to that one solitary similarity between them (vv.18-21), Paul sets about elaborating their dissimilarities in the three verses of our text (cp. John Stott. The Letter to the Romans, IVP, 1994, p. 154). Now this is what it’s all about, the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ’s federal headship, to Adam’s headship. It’s as if Paul were thinking, “I’d better make this clear, and explain to them ways in which Adam is different from Christ.”
The two men, Adam and Christ, are being set before us as the respective heads of two ‘ages’. Adam is the head of the old aeon, the age of death; Christ is the head of the new aeon, the age of life. But Paul tells us that there are three ways in which Adam is not like Christ, three ways where Christ is far, far greater than Adam, where the covenant of grace stands much more gloriously and enduringly than the covenant of works. So the structure of these three verses, 15, 16 and 17 in the text before us today is quite simple. The apostle is saying that Christ’s gift is either unlike Adam’s trespass, or that it is much more powerful and effective than Adam’s trespass. The differences are about, firstly, the totally contrary nature of the two actions of Adam and Christ (v.15), secondly, the immediate results of their two actions (v.16), and the ultimate effects of the two actions (v.17). That will be the outline of where we are going. So firstly there is the totally contrary nature of the men’s different actions.
1. THEIR NATURE: CHRIST’S ACTS OF GRACE OVERFLOWED TO MANY.
Paul writes, “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” (v.15). He is so simple isn’t he? He is thinking of the illiterate slaves and women and children in the Roman congregation and so he says to them, “The gift is not like the trespass.” Your birthday is not like the day you appeared in court to hear your sentence for stealing. On your birthday you get gifts; the day you appear in court as a convicted thief you get justice, a sentence in prison. There couldn’t be a greater contrast than between those two days!
Here are another two days; on the day in Bethlehem all the angels of heaven came to greet the gift of God, the birth of the God-man Jesus Christ. But on another day the same angels had come with flaming swords which flashed every way to confirm the sentence passed on Adam, “Get out of the garden! I will not allow you to come back to the tree of life again.” Jesus, the gift of God, is not like Adam the defiant rebel. There was one way for many to fall and that was in Adam. There is one way for many to be saved – in Christ. There is the ‘trespass;’ that word means to go beyond the border. You trespass when you enter someone else’s property illegally. It’s what happens when you break a rule deliberately. A referee sprays a white line on the turf when a free kick is being taken and the defenders may not cross that line. To cross it is to trespass. If you try to cheat and go forward a few feet then you get a yellow card. God drew a line around the tree in Eden; “Don’t cross it!” “O yeah?” said Adam. “You just watch me.” Adam deliberately crossed the line. His trespass was done out of sheer selfishness and pride, but when Jesus died on the cross he gave himself for others. It was totally for others because Jesus had no sin of his own to make sacrifice for. It was God’s gift to us; it was his grace.
That the pardon of God should come to all joined to Jesus Christ is amazing. Consider the sheer number of those receiving the pardon, how utterly extravagant it was. They are an innumerable multitude, like the sands on the seashore and all of them pardoned, healed, restored, forgiven. All of them washed whiter than snow. All of them clothed in the righteousness of God. All of them adopted into the family of God. All of them joined to Jesus Christ. That is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of grace overflowing to many. The flow is not like a tap that drips one drop of water every minute. This is a gushing hydrent that pours out a flow of fresh sparkling water second after second. It overflows to many all over the world and down through the centuries. We could understand if God had told them that as sinners they must now work hard, and live righteous lives, and then he would allocate to them a suitable place in heaven, or that he would tell them that they had to spend a thousand or ten thousand years in purgatory until they were sorted out. All the world could understand that religion. That is works religion. That is getting what we deserve. But the gift of God is not like that. It couldn’t be more different from that. Here is a day of full, free pardon; it is a reserved place in heaven; it is the reality of no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus.
In other words, what Paul is saying is that the judgment of the whole of mankind is not a surprising event. All the world – the three Paris assassins, and the poisoner, the rapist, the torturer – without exception are going to be judged by God, and that is not a shock. God’s universal judgment is in fact warranted by his character, and by the deeds of evil done in time and history on this planet of ours. There’s absolutely nothing unusual about the bad news of judgment to come. There is no one here today and no one in the world who, if his secret thoughts were fully exposed, wouldn’t deserve hanging . . . ten times in his lifetime – a hundred times! There is nothing surprising about the condemnation in hell of men and women who’ve done such evils – consider what we have seen in Paris this past week of merciless cruelty. Not an eyebrow is raised about Jesus’ teaching that all have to stand before the great Shepherd as he divides the sheep from the goats. This is just and fair; it’s deserved. It’s warranted. We live in a moral universe. But salvation, even the redemption of one single, solitary sinner has to be a gratuitous event; it’s an undeserved event, it’s unearned, it’s surprising, it’s amazing grace, and when we’re told the fact that it’s not a few lucky people who profit from it but billions, and not because of their deserving but all through the grace of God in Christ, then that realization takes your breath away.
Now, men and women, very frankly, that’s totally opposite to the way the man in the street thinks in our day and age. They think of God’s forgiveness as their entitlement. That is what God does, and they are offended to think he might not pardon them! They think that a single person, separated from God and kept apart for eternity, calls into question God’s justice, love and goodness. But the apostle Paul begs to differ. Paul sees it the other way around. Paul says that because of Adam’s transgression, many deservedly died. But, because of Christ dying, everyone in him became the undeserving recipient of God’s amazing grace.
Paul isn’t just saying that what was lost through Adam was regained in Christ. No, he is saying more than that. He is saying that there is no comparison between the righteous condemnation which resulted from Adam’s sin and the blessings that believers have in Christ. Here is an escalating contrast. Many receive the just sentence of death because of their union with Adam. Then all who’ve received the super abundance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ are going to be amazed at what God has given them. Their breath will be taken away with the wonder of it all. They were prodigal sons who’d taken everything from their father and wasted it in fleshly living, and yet their father took him back, kissed him and made him his son and heir. How amazing what God does to those who trust in his Son! It’s overflowing grace that does it! It’s much more powerful than the pathetic defiance of God that Adam showed. It is sovereign grace. It is triumphant over everything it meets, over principalities and powers, over things present and things to come, over height, depth and every other creature. It conquers the lot. Grace is the power of omnipotence to redeem. It is active, reigning, transforming grace. When the trespass of the one man Adam and the grace of the one man Jesus Christ meet, then Adam and his trespass lose, Christ and grace win, and that is the greatest news for all who belong to Adam. Hear it, fallen sons of Adam! Come from the losing side.
You see the contrast? One sin brought about the consequence of universal death, and that death was justified. The righteous obedience and loving sacrifice of the Lamb of God led to torrents of grace, super-abounding grace, grace falling on this barren world. It was undeserved, unearned, unwarranted by anything in us. Adam’s sin was to think he knew better than God, and could defy him and believe the Serpent’s lies and be like God. Jesus’ righteousness was that he always did what was pleasing to God. We are now righteous in that spotless righteousness of Christ. You know what that righteousness was? It consisted in a trillion thoughts and feelings and words and actions of obedience of the loving and God-glorifying God-man, the last Adam.
As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, it is quite understandable that people are judged in hell by a righteous God for their defiant sin. Perhaps you have run into someone who thinks it’s unfair that God would send anyone to hell . . . “Well, I call into question any God that would say, ‘Depart from me ye wicked.’” And the apostle Paul comes back to them, and he basically says, “Look, if you’re going to complain about something being unfair, you’re going to have to complain about ‘God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many’ so that they receive the forgiveness of all their sins in the past, the present and the future, living in God’s presence in fulness of joy for evermore.” That is what is unfair that such sinners with such little faith should be there in that city bright whose doors are closed to sin! That’s unearned. That is unjustifiable, the full, free pardon that God gives to those who simply entrust themselves to Jesus Christ. There’s no ‘fairness’ in that. There’s absolutely no warrant for God to give us such comprehensive mercy, but that’s what he’s done in the life and death of the last Adam Jesus Christ. There’s nothing in you that can say to yourself, “I am someone great and special and I can receive everlasting life and complete pardon from the almighty God.” And yet God has pardoned you when you trusted in the Lord Jesus. So if you’re going to complain about something being unfair, then I can give you a perfect example, it’s you or me being in heaven because of his grace. That is something that you might have to complain about. You’re going to have to whinge that . . . “God let somebody like me into the glory beyond.” If you’re looking for the lack of a human warrant to get into heaven, that’s the only place that you can complain against God. That’s how great God’s salvation is. That’s how great God’s grace is. “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!” (v.15). The next verse speaks of the result of what Christ has done
2. THE RESULTS: THE GIFT OF GOD BROUGHT JUSTIFICATION TO MANY.
“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” (v.16). You might think, “Well, Paul has said it all,” but Paul’s not finished yet. Look at verse 16. How many sins did Adam have to commit in order to bring condemnation to the world? Just one. That’s all it took. One sin of defiance, and the light of righteousness went out all over the creation. One man, one sin, and darkness and death spread through the whole world. But on the other side of the ledger, how many sins were forgiven by the death of Christ? Paul says, “Many trespasses.” In other words, many versus one. Here are two very different things; first he speaks of God’s gift. God so loved the world that he gave Jesus his Son. The gift is eternal life. The gift is the grace of God. What a gift! Paul says, “It is totally unlike the result of Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin was death and condemnation.” That is not like the gift of God at all. God’s judgment is righteous. It is something we deserve. God’s grace is utterly free and loving. G.R.A.C.E. – ‘Great Riches At Christ’s Expense.’
What the Lord Jesus did made him a far greater federal head than Adam’s action. Jesus’ acts of righteousness were provoked by many sins having to be dealt with, Sin had become a great wall separating God from us. What Adam did was his own choice and his own fault and it affected the whole world. What the one God-man Jesus did broke down the wall so that God could come to man in love and mercy. Christ paid the price for a groaning cosmos, from Eden until the end of the world. There is far greater power in the blood of Christ than in all the consequences of the one sad defiance of Adam.
You see how this is quite uncomplicated, isn’t it? This is lucid, that Paul is arguing very simply, addressing the ordinary folk in the congregation that was in Rome. He’s been contrasting God’s justice and God’s grace. When we feel ourselves condemned by God then that conviction makes us admit, “I deserve God’s justice. I am glad that it is straight and fair.” But when we receive God’s grace then that is never deserved! Mercy is what we get when we’ve run out of every other argument and plea. Oh that God would find me not guilty! You cry for a suspension of the ‘Guilty’ verdict. Then all we can plead is for the mercy of God. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The covetous tax collector who prayed like that had no other argument. As men say, “He was as guilty as hell.” I am saying that we’ve not contributed a thing to getting forgiveness, and enjoying eternal pleasures at God’s right hand for evermore. It’s all God’s gift.
Now in this verse Paul focuses on what Adam’s sin has done; one man’s sin led to death for all, whereas in God’s covenant of grace, many sins have been covered by one man’s righteousness. In other words, Paul says that Adam’s sin had race-wide implications. Everybody in the human race was involved, was implicated, was corrupted and deserved justice because of Adam’s sin, whereas, in contrast many, many, many iniquities (and by the way that’s an understatement, not a hyperbole), were covered by Jesus Christ.
Because of Adam’s transgression, because of one sin, all were judged and condemned and this is what Paul argues in verse 16. But in spite of such an Everest range of mountainous sins Christ, the one man, came – in love – to seek and save many sinners, and he cleared them all, removed all those heights of guilt. Paul says in our text that God’s gift followed many trespasses and brought for them their justification. Justification means being declared righteous by God. So Paul’s second contrast in verse 16 is this, that the defiance of Adam, his transgression, his deliberately breaking God’s law, led to man’s just judgment and condemnation and alienation from the presence of God. But in contrast to this, the many trespasses of all who believe in Christ are forgiven. They are justified and acquitted and pardoned by free gift through the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think of this for a minute, it makes perfect sense to us to see how one iniquity can spread and ruin. Husbands, I know this has happened to you before. You walk into the house. There are some cross words with your wife, and suddenly you are looking at days of tension, because one thing leads to another, and that leads to another, which leads to another thing, which leads to another thing, and it all just breaks apart. We are familiar with how one sin disrupts a relationship. Paul says, there’s nothing surprising about that. There’s nothing surprising about judgment and condemnation flowing from the sin of Adam. But what is totally surprising is this picture of millions and millions and millions of sins, and a mountain of guilt, and suddenly, because of the superabundance of God’s grace, there is a river! And the foulness of sin is disrupted, and the pattern of condemnation is broken, and all these people are acquitted and justified. It is all because of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you have friends whose lives are in shambles because of sin. Maybe it’s because they have sinned themselves. Maybe it’s because they have been sinned against by someone else. And the apostle Paul says something like, “You think of Adam; everywhere he went, his children, grand-children, great grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, the most distant relative as nine centuries of his life went by, there was always somebody somewhere could point out Adam and say, “You know, this is all his fault. It’s all because of him. He messed up. He got us in this mess.” There was a big arrow over his head and ti followed him everywhere he went. And Paul says, “You know, that’s true, but think of the contrast. If a generation is 40 years then fifty generations of generational sin and corruption since the time of Christ have been reversed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. All their guilt and shame has been removed by Christ.” You see it’s not just that Jesus Christ has succeeded in putting the lid back on Pandora’s Box. It’s far more wonderful than that. He’s liquidated our debt. He’s wiped the slate clean. He’s absorbed our penalty. Our scarlet sins have become whiter than snow. He’s acquitted us before the courts of heaven. He’s transformed our hearts by grace. He has ended the lordship of sin over our lives, putting an end to the incessant and seemingly immutable patterns of our sin and fall, guilt and judgment. And Paul says that’s the real surprise. You want to find something to be surprised about, don’t be surprised about the terrible cruelties of Paris this last week and ISIS in the past months. There’s nothing surprising about that. What’s surprising is the grace of God that pardons everything in everyone, even the worst, who trusts in Christ and makes us children of God and his heirs.
3. THE EFFECTS: THE GIFT OF CHRIST WILL BRING THE REIGN OF LIFE TO MANY.
“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” (v.17). Now here’s another difference between what Christ has done in the covenant of grace, and what was done by Adam in the broken covenant of works. One man’s sin led to the reign of death. That’s what happened to Adam. He could have said to Death, “I am not going to die.” “You’d better reconsider,” said the grim reaper. Sin reigns over everyone in the world. We look back through history and we can see “death reigned through that one man.”
That’s our heritage from Adam. Death reigns on the earth because of Adam’s sin. That’s why the newspapers never have to reprint an obituary column. Why? Because new people die every day. Every day there is a new list because people are always dying. What keeps the crematorium in business? What keeps the undertakers going? Why has the Llanbadarn Road cemetery filled and a new cemetery on the hill is growing out and out? Why is it that they never run out of customers? The answer is simple: Death reigns. That’s our heritage from our spiritual father Adam. He sinned and as a result death now reigns on the earth.
Last Thursday there was a full chapel of people here who do not normally attend church services. They were properly sober minded as the coffin was wheeled in. Did they think that that is where they will be ending their uncertain lives? Because it is appointed unto men once to die and death will make sure that we don’t miss that appointment. The hearse that came for that lady will come for you too. It doesn’t matter whether you are important or not. Someday you will die. Someday your family and friends will follow the hearse that will lead to your grave. It happens to all of us sooner or later. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or not. Some day you will die. It doesn’t matter whether you are a peasant or a potentate. Someday you will die. In this world, as a direct result of Adam’s sin, death reigns. Someday we’ll read in the paper the notice of your funeral. The next time you see a hearse, remember “Death reigns.” The next time you drive past the crematorium, remember “Death reigns.” The next time you see a cemetery, remember “Death reigns.”
Ah, but that’s just one part of the story. There’s a way out. There is a way to reverse what Adam did. There is a way to overcome the reign of death. It comes, Paul says, to those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the “gift of righteousness.” That, by the way, is the whole doctrine of justification in three words. Justification means that when we receive Christ by faith, we are receiving God’s “gift of righteousness.” It’s not earned in any way. It’s a free gift.
But notice the result of receiving the gift of righteousness. Those who receive this free gift now “reign in life” (v.17). On one hand, death reigns; on the other hand, those who know Jesus Christ as Saviour, prophet, priest and king, reign as kings right now, in this life and in the life to come. God can stop death reaching us until his appointed time. We live in a dying world, but even here we may through Jesus Christ reign as kings. All things are ours now. And in the life to come, we shall reign forever, rising from the dead, clothed with immortality. Only God could take a slave and transform him into a king. But that is what God has done through Jesus Christ. So what Jesus did is far greater than what Adam did. Greater in its nature. Greater in its power. Greater in its effect.
So here’s the bold contrast, the death of the man Christ Jesus led to all his people’s release from having to obey sin and unbelief. They are freed from worrying when they are going to die. It will be when God appoints the day, and whether they live or die they are the Lord’s. Their new loving King is in charge. Grace and life reigns over them through Jesus Christ. Adam’s transgression led to sin and to death’s dominion over them all, but through Christ death shall have no more dominion. Christ’s righteousness has led to all his people reigning in life. Paul is telling us that believers here and now, as well as then and there, reign in life in Christ. Paul’s third contrast compares the reign of death through Adam’s sin, with the reign of life with those who trust in Christ.
Paul’s point, however, in this passage is to show you that whereas sin and judgment and death are inevitable, the super abundance of God’s grace is the most surprising thing in the cosmos. We see the abundant grace of God when we look at the sinners who reign in this life by their trust in Jesus Christ. Think of the woman at the well. Here’s a woman with five former husbands who’s living with another man. And God’s timing is so perfect that she ends up standing next to the only sinless human being that ever lived. She is out at the well at a time of day when nobody would have been drawing water. Why is she there? Because she knows that if she were there with the other women, they wouldn’t have talked to her. They would have talked about her. Then suddenly she is standing there before the King of Kings, the water of life. And her whole life is changed. The mighty grace of Jesus Christ takes over. She came for water and she went away with the well! Henceforth she is there in her little home town and everybody is going, “What’s happened to her? She has changed. What has happened? She’s got religion.” Well, I’ll tell you what’s happened. Grace has brought her into God’s kingdom and is reigning over her. The reign of grace. It’s not like the sin of Adam. This is unbelievable. It reverses generational patterns of sin. It gives newness of life. Think of Paul, he was a Christian hunter. He loved to see Christians arrested, bound, imprisoned and killed. He held the cloaks while Stephen was stoned to death. And suddenly on the road to Damascus his life is changed. He’s made an emissary for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace changes things. It’s not like the sin of Adam. What happened there made perfect sense, the pernicious influence and corruption of sin brought death to Adam and his line, but grace is the most surprising thing in the world. It’s also the most unexpected thing in the world. Maybe you’re here today, and you’ve been blasé about grace, and you’ve forgotten about some initial excitement and the former freshness of God’s mercy to you in Jesus Christ. Maybe you need to be reminded just how amazing God’s grace is. And Paul is waiting for you. And he’s saying to you, ‘Christian, you need to sing the doxology for God’s grace.’
11th January 2015 GEOFF THOMAS