Scripture References – Romans 5:15-21
Verses 15–21 contain six comparisons between Adam and the result of his sin and Jesus and the result of His redemptive work. Each of these verses individually follow a simple pattern.
The paragraph opens with the assertion that “the gift is not like the trespass.” God’s act of grace was out of all proportion to the offense of Adam. The conditional premise (accepted as true) is that “many died by the trespass of the one man.” The term translated “the many” should be taken in the inclusive sense to mean “all” (who are, in fact, many). Adam’s sin led to the death of the entire human race. Since that is so, what should be said about the gift of God given freely in Jesus Christ? “How much more” indicates that its effect is vastly greater for all humans. “God’s grace is infinitely greater for good than Adam’s sin is for evil.” Although sin extends to all who are in Adam (and all are by birth), the grace of God transforms for eternity the life and destiny of all who are in Christ (and all who turn to Him in faith are in Him).
While verse 15 shows that “the gift is not like the trespass,” verse 16 proceeds to teach that the result of “the gift most certainly can not be compared to the result of the trespass.” Adam’s one sin was followed by judgment and brought condemnation. The many trespasses (of all who come from Adam) was followed by the gift that brought justification. The one is the story of divine reconciliation through the obedience of the second man, Christ Jesus. The second is the story of humankind’s fall from God’s favor through the disobedience of the first man, Adam. What mankind did was to rebel; what God did was to restore.
Verse 17 supplies the next comparison. This verse sets the premise (accepted as true) that the reign of death was set into motion by the sin of the one man. Sin, with death as its consequence, entered the world through Adam (see Romans 5:12). Since that is true, how much more will those receiving the abundant grace of God and His gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. The future tense of the verb is probably assumed to point to a time yet to come when believers will join with Jesus Christ in His reign (for example 2 Timothy 2:12 and Revelation 22:5). It is most likely, however, to understand the reign as the present experience of believers who have already passed from death unto life (see John 5:24). If the sin of one man caused death to reign, the obedience of one man brings triumph over death to all who believe.
Paul returned to the comparison he began in verse 12 but only began to finish in our reference verses. The contrasting elements are clearly established with one another:
- “One trespass”—“One act of righteousness”
- “All men [in Adam]”—“All men [in Christ]”
Just as the one sin of Adam brought condemnation, so also did the one righteous act of Christ bring justification. Just as condemnation spread to all, so also is the divine acquittal offered to all. We need to understand that Paul did not intend to imply that the result of Christ’s atoning work automatically provided justification for all regardless of their willingness to accept it. The Apostle is not teaching universal salvation in this text. Context indicates that Paul was comparing the fate of those who are in Adam (the position of all due to their birth into the human race) and the blessings of those who are in Christ (the position of all who have responded in faith).
Paul’s final contrast was between the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ as seen in verse 19. By the disobedience of the first man the entire race was constituted sinners. But by the obedience of the second man “the many will be made righteous.” Again, as in verse 15 we are to understand “the many” in terms of all who are in Adam (everyone born into the human family) and all who are in Christ (everyone born spiritually into the family of God by faith in Christ). The righteousness Paul is speaking about is a right standing before God (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). It is assigned by God as a result of faith. Growth in holiness is the proof that righteousness by faith has truly been imputed. By definition, life is growth. Where there is no growth, there is no life.
Since righteousness is by faith, it is reasonable to ask where law fits into the picture since it takes up so much of the first part of the Scriptures. The answer is that law was brought in so that the offense might increase. Law actually makes wrongdoing all the worse. Later Paul would write that apart from the law we would not have known the nature of sin (Romans 7:7; Galatians 3:19). The law was never intended to provide salvation but to convince people of their need for it. The Law actually increased sin. That is the sad story of humanity estranged from God. Verse 20 states, “but where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” God lavished His grace upon us beyond all measure. His grace exceeded beyond comprehension the extent of human sin. Only by understanding the depths of human degradation can we hope to grasp, even in part, the surpassing wonder of divine forgiveness.
Grace “superabounded” in that as the reign of sin brought death, the reign of grace brings a righteousness that results in life eternal. Death is the fate of all who follow sin as master. Eternal life is the destiny of those whose allegiance is to Christ. A right standing before God is a gift offered freely by God to all who will respond in faith. It is life eternal. Death—eternal separation from God—is the self-inflicted penalty for pursuing sin rather than accepting salvation.
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