Text: Romans 5:12-21.
There are many different kinds of people in the world: big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, tall ones, shorts ones, bright ones, dull ones, happy ones, sad ones, rich ones, poor ones, old ones, young ones, black ones, white ones, Jewish ones, Gentile ones. And so we could go. But for the apostle Paul, it comes down in the end to just two kinds. There are two humanities.
At the head of each of these two humanities stands a representative. Their names are Adam and Christ. Adam stands at the head of the old humanity; Christ at the head of a new humanity. And each one of us, and each person who has ever lived, belongs with one or the other.
‘In God’s sight,’ says the Puritan Thomas Goodwin, ‘there are two men – Adam and Jesus Christ – and these two men have all other men hanging at their belts.’
V12 takes us back to Genesis 3, to the story of Adam in the garden and his eating of 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. This is not a “oops!” moment, merely the unwise choice to eat the wrong kind of fruit. It is a deliberately defiant act. It has something of the symbolism of a woman taking off her wedding ring and hurling it across the room at her husband. It is an act of treason, a unilateral declaration of independence, it is 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. Adam’s sin brought down the entire human race. He rebelled against God, was expelled from the garden, and took everyone else with him. Adam’s one act of disobedience has polluted the river at its source. It isn’t just that we commit individual sins, some worse than others, but that we are members of a fallen race. When Adam sinned, we sinned. That’s one act of disobedience for a man, one giant catastrophe for mankind.
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.
There are some seriously big numbers there, but the outcome is the same in every case.
Sin entered by one man, and then spread to all; and as a result death entered and spread to 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. As F.F. Bruce says, ‘Because we live in separate bodies we tend to think that all other aspects of our personality are equally separate and self-contained, but they are not.’ 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.
And Paul would have us understand that when Adam sinned, we sinned. Whether our personal sins are few or many, relatively trivial or deeply heinous, we are by nature members of Adam’s fallen race. In Adam we are shipwrecked, we are mortally wounded, we are ‘without hope and without God in the world.’
This is serious stuff. But it is not the only thing taught in this passage. It is 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 was put up in its place. The notice 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.
Paul tells us, in v14, that Adam was ‘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. And in each case, one act has massive consequences.
But that’s where the similarity between Adam and Christ ends. Everything else is dissimilarity; contrast.
V15 ‘the gift is not like the trespass’
One contrast is, of course, that whereas Adam’s act was one of disobedience, Christ’s was an act of obedience . As Paul puts it in Phil 2:8, ‘he became obedient to death—even death on a cross!’
Another contrast is that whereas Adam led all who follow him into condemnation and death, Christ leads all who follow him into acquittal and life. Verse 18 – ‘the result of his one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.’
Again, the penalty for Adam’s sin was deserved; the gift of God in Christ is unmerited. Four times in this passage Paul insists that God’s gift of life comes from his overflowing grace; his unmerited favour.
But there is not only a contrast in nature, but also in scale. The gift is not only unlike the trespass, is it also much more than the trespass.
Notice what Paul says in v15 – ‘How much more..’
Bishop 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.’
Let me suggest to you that what we have gained in Christ is more numerous, more certain, and more victorious that what we lost in Adam.
(a) The sins that have been forgiven in Christ are more numerous than those that were condemned in Adam. Condemnation and death entered the world because of the one sin of the one man. But God’s gift of justification and life covers innumerable sins committed by untold multitudes of people.
‘That one single misdeed should be answered by judgment, this is perfectly understandable: that the accumulated sins and guilt of all the ages should be answered by God’s free gift, this is the miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.’ (Cranfield)
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) The life that we have inherited in Christ is more certain than the death that we inherited was in Adam. This passage hints at God’s cosmic purpose in the scheme of redemption, and in permitting sin, evil and suffering. The entrance of sin did not catch God out. The coming of Christ was not an afterthought. This was God’s plan all along. Rev 13:8 – ‘The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.’ God is determined to have a people for his praise. Jesus, according to the last verse of Ephesians 1, fills all things in all ways, and yet he does not consider himself complete unless he has his bride, his church, his new humanity, with him.
(c) The reign in life that we have in Christ is more victorious than the reign of death that was ours in Adam. It is 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 in fact 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 you hear of from time to time, who lived and died in absolute poverty and destitution, even though they had a fortune in the bank.
More numerous, more certain, more victorious. No wonder the hymn-writer Isaac Watts teaches us to sing:-In him the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost.
So, to which humanity to we belong? Do we line up with Adam, and follow him through the wide gate and down the broad road that leads to destruction?
Or have we received God’s free gift of acquittal and life in Christ? This is truly a message for all people, in all places, at all times. No sins too numerous or too great that Jesus Christ, the last Adam, cannot put right the damage caused by the first Adam. And all for the princely sum of – well, the invoice has already been stamped, ‘paid in full’, hasn’t it? It is, as verse 17 puts it, simply a gift to be received.
Sin conquered, death defeated. ‘Ah, yes,’ you say. ‘But hasn’t Paul forgotten something? Doesn’t he know that I still sin daily, and that one day I must die?’ No, he hasn’t forgotten. It is to these very problems that he will now turn in the next three chapters. See you in chapter 8.