Sin versus Righteousness
There are people who find this section of Romans difficult to understand. It isn’t that what is being said that is all that difficult, but the fact that it conflicts with preconceived notions. Rather than approaching to learn what Paul said, people wrestle with it trying to make it fit their beliefs.
Literary Style: Compare and Contrast
To understand a topic better, it is good to see both how two ideas are both similar and different. Paul uses Adam as a representative of the side sin and Christ as a representative of the side of righteousness. Giving a person and his life as illustrations gives us pegs upon which to hang the new ideas we learn.
Sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12-14)
The “therefore” that begins this verse is not the Greek word oun which indicates a conclusion to a line of reasoning but dia which indicates the a continuation or next step in reasoning. Paul is continuing to explain how God justifies sinners through Christ. It answers the question of how one man’s death could pave the way for salvation of all.
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Yes, technically it was Eve who first sinned, but Adam is held responsible as the head of his family. Adam completed what Eve started. Where Eve was deceived into sinning, Adam sinned knowingly (I Timothy 2:14). As a direct result he spiritually died (Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:16-17). Among the punishments God gave as a result of Adam and Eve's sin was physical death (Genesis 3:19). In addition, men were denied access to the tree of life because of their knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Spiritual death continues to spread to all men because we all eventually sin. Physical death remains in this world because the problem of sin remains, so the curse has not been lifted (Revelation 22:3). But Paul is talking about the justification of men in Romans, so in this context we are talking about the spiritual death that results from sin. It is not because sin was inheritable but because sin is communicable – everyone sins (Ezekiel 18:20). One man created a universal problem.
This brings up a digression. How can there be sin if the law wasn’t given until Moses? Paul answers the question in reverse. Sin existed before Moses. After all, it was the reason God destroyed the world in a flood, so therefore there was law because people aren’t held responsible for what they could not know (I John 3:4; John 15:22).
Death reigned over all people in the world from Adam to Moses, even without the written law. (Note that death is being personified as a king.) It did not require people to sin in exactly the same way as Adam to be held accountable. This is another indication that sin isn’t inherited from Adam because people are being held accountable for a variety of sins – sins which were not like Adam’s sins.
Christ, the one who was to come, became a type (the inverse) of Adam. When a die is used it makes an imprint that is both like the die and the opposite at the same time. So it is between Christ and Adam.
1. People who believe in inherited sins read the end of Romans 5:12 as “because all sin in Adam,” in the sense of the human race was in Adam’s genes (like the Jews tithing to Melchizedek through Abraham – Hebrews 7:9-10). What is wrong with this argument?
2. People who believe in inherited sins see the death spoken in this section to be physical death. Thus, infants die because they inherit Adam’s sin even though they didn’t commit sin like Adam. Romans 5:14 is used to make this point. What is wrong with this argument?
The differences between the gift and the transgression (Romans 5:15-17)
They are different by cause. By Adam’s sin spiritual death spread to everyone, though it is doubtful anyone wanted death. In contrast God, through Jesus, offered a gift to everyone that was desirable (Isaiah 53:11; Matthew 20:28; 26;28; Hebrews 2:9; II Corinthians 5:14-15; I John 2:2). The free gift was greater than the trespass. Please note that the offer of the gift does not imply that it was accepted by all (Matthew 11:29-29; John 7:37; Mark 16:15; Revelation 22:17).
They are different by effect. Adam’s one sin brought the world into condemnation. But God’s gift came as a result of many sins to bring the possibility of justification. Christ didn’t free us from one sin but from all sin (Isaiah 1:18; 43:25; 44:22; John 3:16-17; Acts 13:38-39; I Timothy 1:13-16)..
They are different by results. One man’s sin resulted in spiritual death for all. Those who accept the gift of one man’s righteousness will have reign in life through Jesus (II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 1:6; 3:21; 20:4; 22:5).
The similarities of the gift and the transgression (Romans 5:18-21)
In both Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness, the effect was global. Sin with the result of condemnation was made available to all and sadly all partake of the offering (Romans 3:23). Christ’s offer of eternal life through justification is also offered to all, but sadly few partake (John 12:32; Matthew 7:13-14).
Fascinatingly, John Calvin saw this when he wrote his commentary on Romans. He said concerning Romans 5:18, Paul “makes the grace common to all, because it is offered to all, not because it is in fact applied to all. For although Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and it is offered to all without distinction, yet all do not embrace it.” Where Calvin went wrong is assuming that people can’t embrace salvation unless God gives them the ability.
Paul states that by Adam’s disobedience many were made sinners. He did not say “all” were made sinners. While all sin (Romans 3:23; 5:12), it is because of choice. One in particular did not follow the crowd and that was Jesus Christ. In the same way by Jesus’ obedience many are made righteous, but again it is not all.
We have been speaking of Adam and Christ, so where does the law fit into all of this? It entered to make the difference between right and wrong more distinct. Where the law condemned more firmly those under sin (Galatians 3:19), the gift of Christ exceeded it to bring justification (I Timothy 1:14). The point Paul is driving home is that the law did not save men (Romans 3:20; 5:13; 7:7-8).
Sin brought about death and God’s grace brought about righteousness that leads to eternal life (John 1:17).