I wonder how far back you can trace your family tree? Not many of us can rival the claim of Canadian furniture-maker Michael Ibsen, who is the nearest known relative of Richard III, who died at the battle of Bosworth in 1483.
But did you know that, in fact, each of us is a member of one or other of two very ancient families? These families are discussed by Paul in Romans 5.
At the head of each of these two families stands a representative. At the head of the old family stands Adam. At the head of a new family stands Christ. And each one of us, and every person who has ever lived, belongs to one family or the other.
V12 takes us back, long before Moses and the giving of the law, long before Abraham and the founding of the Jewish nation, right back the ancient story of Adam, and the garden, and the forbidden fruit.
Here is a man, created by God and like God and for God. And he rebels. This is a hugely significant act of disobedience. It is not a “oops!” moment, merely an unwise hoice of an apple when he should have picked an orange. It is an act of deliberate defiance. It has something of the symbolism of a woman taking off her wedding ring and hurling it across the room at her husband. It’s an act of treason, a unilateral declaration of independence, what Don Carson calls the ‘de-godding of God’.
Paul’s point is that Adam did not act merely as a private person, but as the head and representative of us all. We may feel uneasy at being lumped together in this way with Adam, whom we’ve never known or met. But then we live in a perversely individualistic age. But even we have some understanding of human solidarity and corporate responsibility. We can understand that when the captain of a cricket team decides to walk off the pitch in protest against dodgy umpiring, the whole team follows. We can understand that when the CE fouls up the finances, the whole company goes into receivership. We can understand when the president of a country declares war, the whole nation is at war. So it was that Adam’s sin brought down the entire human race. He rebelled, he was expelled from God’s presence, and took everyone else with him. That’s one act of disobedience for a man, one giant catastrophe for mankind.
Notice how v12 links sin and death. This recalls what God had said to Adam: ‘If you eat of the forbidden tree, you will surely die.’ And die he did.
- Genesis 5:5 Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:8 Seth lived 912 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:11 Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:14 Kenan lived 910 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:17 Mahalalel lived 895 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:20 Jared lived 962 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:27 Methuselah lived 969 years, and then he died.
- Genesis 5:31 Lamech lived 777 years, and then he died.
These are seriously big numbers, but the outcome is the same in every case.
Perhaps you doubt that these early chapters of Genesis are intended as literal truth. Does that bring Paul’s argument toppling down? Does that get us off the hook? Not at all: the logic still holds. Much of what we believe as Christians can only be known by divine revelation. But this doctrine of ‘original sin’ can be confirmed by personal observation and experience. Journey to the far corners of the earth and search out the most remote tribe. Travel back in time to the most ancient civilisation. Examine your own heart, and you will find no exception to the rule. Whether our misdeeds are few or many, relatively trivial or deeply heinous, we find ourselves by nature to be members of that same fallen and dying race. In Adam all are lost, shipwrecked, mortally wounded, ‘without hope and without God in the world.’
But that’s not the only thing taught in this passage. It’s not even the main thing.
There hangs in the Chapel of Kings College in Cambridge a celebrated painting by Rubens. It’s called ‘The Adoration of the Magi’. In 1974 vandals broke in and defaced it by daubing three letters on it, each 2 feet high – ‘IRA’. The following day, the painting was taken down, and a notice put up in its place. It said simply this: ‘It is believed that this painting can be restored to its original condition.’
‘O loving wisdom of our God
When all was sin and shame
A second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.’
(John Henry Newman)
Paul tells us, in v14, that Adam was a ‘pattern’, or type, of Christ. Just as Adam stands at the head of one section of humanity, as their representative, so Christ stands at the head of another vast section of the human race, as their representative.
But that’s where the similarity between Adam and Christ ends. Everything else is dissimilarity; contrast. V15 ‘the gift is not like the trespass’.
Adam’s trespass and Christ’s gift differ in nature. Adam’s trespass came out of disobedience and self-assertion, and led to condemnation and death. Christ’s gift comes out of obedience and self-sacrifice, and leads to acquittal and life.
But they differ not only in nature, but also in scale. The gift is not only different from the trespass, is it also more than the trespass.
See what Paul says in v15 – ‘How much more…’
Tom Wright invites us to imagine a statue that has been ruined by vandals but then re-built, stronger and more impressive than before. ‘The main point is that what God has done in the one man Jesus the Messiah is far, far more than simply putting the human race back where it was before the arrival of sin. The statue has been remade, and it is far more splendid than before. It isn’t a case of “what they knocked down, God will put back up”. Nor is it a case of “what they did wickedly, God will do graciously”. God has done far, far more.’
What we gain in Christ is more numerous, more certain, and more victorious than what we lost in Adam.
(a) The sins that have been forgiven in Christ are more numerous than those that were condemned in Adam. According to v15, condemnation and death entered the world because of the one sin of the one man. But God’s gift of acquittal and life covers innumerable sins committed by untold multitudes of people.
Think back to God’s promise to Abraham, as recorded in the first book of the Bible: he would become the father of many nations. Through him all nations of the earth would be blessed. His descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the sand on the seashore (Gen 22:17). Or think of the description of the redeemed in the last book of the Bible: Rev 7:9 ‘a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’. And every one a forgiven sinner.
(b) Christ’s hold on us is more powerful than Adam’s hold on us. Don’t get me wrong: Adam’s grip is very strong. Struggle as we may, we cannot wriggle free. But when we cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ, his promise stands (Jn 10:28), “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” And Paul will go on to declare his conviction (Rom 8:39) ‘that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.’
(c) The reign in life that we have in Christ is more victorious than the reign of death that was ours in Adam. V17 that talks about the reign of death through Adam, and we expect Paul to contrast this with the reign of life through Christ. But he goes further than that: what he says is not that life will reign, but that we shall reign. We who ‘receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness [will] reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.’ Paul will expand on this in chapter 8, where in v37 he declares that ‘we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’
We might well ask ourselves if we are living like those who are destined to reign in life. Or are we like those people we hear of from time to time, who lived and died in abject poverty and destitution, even though they had a fortune in the bank?
More numerous, more powerful, more victorious. Calvin: ‘Christ is much more powerful to save, than Adam was to destroy.’ Isaac Watts:-
In him the tribes of Adam boast
more blessings than their father lost.
And all for the princely sum of – well, the invoice has already been stamped, ‘paid in full’, hasn’t it? As verse 17 puts it, it is simply a gift to be received.
Sin conquered, death defeated. A cause for thanksgiving, for the super-abundance of God’s grace. A reason for unity, since we are all accepted by God on the same terms. A motive for evangelism, because this gospel is suitable to all needs and conditions.
‘Ah, yes,’ you say. ‘But hasn’t Paul forgotten something? Has it slipped his mind that I still sin daily, and that one day I must die?’ No, he hasn’t forgotten. It is to these very questions that he will turn in the next three chapters.