In verses 1 to 11 of chapter 5 Paul was outlining for us two of the benefits we receive from our having been justified through faith in Jesus Christ. So, since we’ve been justified through faith, we have peace with God. And since we’ve been justified through faith, we have the hope of God’s glory. Once God was our enemy and we were under his wrath, but now we’ve been reconciled to him. And once we fell short of God’s glory, but now we can look forward to being glorified in the presence of God. Those who have been justified through faith in the Saviour receive both of these good things.
And did you notice all the rejoicing in those verses? Verse 2: we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Verse 3: we rejoice in our sufferings because all the suffering of this troubled life makes us yearn all the more for the glory to come. And verse 11: we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation. So, we rejoice as we look forward to our future life in God’s presence. And we rejoice right now, in this life, because we have peace with God. The Christian life is one that is marked by joy, because we are moved to give thanks to God and to praise him for his good gifts to us.
Nothing is going to prevent us from entering God’s glory. And in the verses which we read a few minutes ago Paul is making clear that death will not stop us from entering God’s glory because, although we all die because of Adam who disobeyed God, nevertheless believers will live because of Christ who was perfectly obedient to his Father in heaven. So, let’s look at these verses together. And as we do so, you’ll notice that Paul contrasts Adam and the Lord Jesus. And whenever he refers to Adam, he uses words like sin and death and condemnation. And whenever he refers to the Lord Jesus, he uses words like obedience and grace and life.
I used the image of two giants before. One giant is Adam. And attached to Adam’s belt are all the people of the world who don’t yet believe in the Lord Jesus. And Adam is headed for a cliff. He’s headed for destruction. And so, as long as we remain attached to Adam, we too are headed for destruction. But the other giant is the Lord Jesus. And attached to his belt are all those who believe in him. And he’s headed for eternal life. When we’re born into the world, we belong to Adam and we’re headed for condemnation and death. But whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus, then we’re united to him, and we’re headed for life. And that picture might help us here as Paul contrasts Adam and the Lord Jesus and as he speaks about the life we receive because of Christ.
So turn with me now to verse 12 where Paul explains that sin entered the world through one man. And he’s referring to Adam, who disobeyed the Lord when he ate the forbidden fruit. So, sin entered the world through Adam. And whenever Adam sinned against the Lord, it was as if he opened a door, and he let death come into the world too.
Just think, for a moment, of what happened after Adam sinned. The Lord came into the Garden and confronted him. Adam, reluctantly, admitted what he had done. And God said to him in Genesis 3:
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Instead of being allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, Adam was told that his life on this earth would be a hard struggle; and then, at the end of this hard struggle, he would die and his body would become dust again. Instead of living for ever in the presence of the Lord, he was sent away to die.
So, sin and death came into the world through Adam.
I’ve said before that if I become rich, my children become rich. If I become poor, then my children become poor. What happens to me — the head of the Gamble family — affects the rest of the family. And what happened to Adam — the head of the human race — affects the rest of us. So, the sentence of death which was passed on Adam because of his sin was passed on us as well. That’s why Paul goes on in verse 12 to say that ‘in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned.’ Paul says we all sinned because Adam represented us in the Garden. Paul is putting all the emphasis on what Adam did as our representative because later he’ll want to put all the emphasis on what Christ has done as our representative. So, when Adam sinned, he was representing us and we sinned in him. And because he sinned and opened the door to death, death has entered the world. And not only did Adam die, but we’ll all die as a result of his sin.
Do you remember that genealogy in the book of Genesis? So and so lived so many years, and then he died. So and so lived so many years, and then he died. So and so lived so many years, and then he died. We all die. And we all die because Adam is our head and he was representing us in the Garden.
So, think about that first giant again. There he is, in the Garden of Eden. And first he takes the forbidden fruit. And then he stands before God to confess his sin. And then he has to pack up and leave the Garden and the Tree of Life. And as he walks away, we’re there too, attached to his belt, heading further and further away from the Tree of Life.
Verses 13 and 14
Now, before Paul goes on to talk about the Lord Jesus, and the life we find in him, he adds what is almost an aside in verses 13 and 14. The dash which the NIV puts at the end of verse 12 indicates that this is kind of a parenthesis, a break in the flow of Paul’s thought.
The details of these two verses are quite tricky, but I think Paul’s main point in these verses is clear. Think of Adam: he was given a command to obey. You know: Don’t eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Now, think of Moses and the people of Israel: they too were given a command to obey. In fact, they were given not just one command, but many commands. God gave them the Ten Commandments and all the rest of the Old Testament laws which set out what the people should do and what they shouldn’t do. And they were warned like Adam: if you break these commandments, then you can expect this punishment.
So, Adam had a command to keep; Moses and the Israelites had commands to keep. What about the people who lived during the intervening period? Well, in the time between Adam and Moses, God did not give the people of the world any laws or commandments to keep. Abraham, for instance, didn’t have a copy of the Ten Commandments to read. And so, someone could argue: ‘If there’s no law, there’s no sin. And if there’s no sin, there should be no death.’
However, says Paul, even though God didn’t reveal his law in those days, people still died. Do you see that in verse 14?
death still reigned over them.
Why was this? The reason they died, and the reason death reigned over them, is because of Adam. Because of Adam’s sin in the beginning, sin entered the world and it reigned over everyone. And because sin reigned over everyone, death also reigned over everyone.
At the end of verse 14 Paul says that Adam was a pattern of the one to come. He’s referring to the Lord Jesus. And by saying that Adam is a pattern of the Lord Jesus, he’s saying that just as what Adam did had a massive impact on all who belong to him, so what the Lord Jesus did has a massive impact on all who belong to him. They’re similar in that they both have a massive impact on other people. But, of course, what they did, and the result of what they did, is very, very different. And in the verses which follow, Paul draws out the difference between them.
Verses 15 to 17
So take a look at verse 15. Many died as a result of Adam’s sin. In fact, by ‘many’ Paul means ‘all’. However, look at the other side of the contrast: there’s God’s grace which his kindness towards us and there’s the gift that comes by the grace of Jesus Christ which is the gift of righteousness; and it overflows to many. So, there’s death on one side; and there’s righteousness and life on the other. To those who belong to Adam, there’s death. To those who belong to Christ, there’s life.
Then look at verse 16. On the one side, there’s sin and judgment and condemnation. On the other side, there’s a gift again — righteousness — which leads to justification. To those who belong to Adam, there’s condemnation. To those who belong to Christ, there’s pardon and acceptance with God.
Then look at verse 17. By the trespass of the one man, Adam, there’s death. But there’s God’s abundant provision of grace, and there’s the gift of righteousness, and there’s eternal life through Jesus Christ. And notice that he says death reigned over us; but now, it’s not so much that life rules over us, but that we reign in life. Once death was a tyrant who ruled over us; now we reign with Christ in life.
And then look at verses 18 and 19 which sum it all up: The result of Adam’s one sin was condemnation for all men, but the result of Christ’s one act of righteousness — and Paul is referring to the Lord’s death on the cross for sinners — the result of Christ’s one act of righteousness is justification that brings life for all men. And by ‘all men’ Paul means something like all who are united to Christ through faith. Christ’s one act of righteousness on the cross leads to our justification.
And look at verse 19. Through Adam’s disobedience, many became sinners. But through Christ’s obedience, many will be made righteous.
Why does Paul refer to Christ’s obedience? Well, do you remember in the Garden of Gethsemane? Remember how he prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from him? And he said:
Yet not my will, but yours be done.
He submitted himself to his Father’s will and he obeyed his Father who sent him into the world to suffer and to die for his people. And so, in Philippians Paul tells us that he humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross. Adam’s disobedience caused sin and suffering and death to come into the world. But the Lord’s obedience brought forgiveness and joy and life to the world.
So, think about those two giants again. The whole human race is attached to Adam, and is headed for condemnation and death. But then the Lord Jesus appears, and he picks off this person, and this person, and this person, from Adam’s belt and he attaches them to his own belt. And whoever is attached to Christ, whoever is united to him through faith, experiences God’s grace, and they receive justification so that their sins are pardoned and they’re accepted by God, and they’re headed for everlasting life in the presence of God.
Verses 20 and 21
In verse 20 Paul includes a note about the law. You see, the Jews thought that by keeping the law they could win God’s favour. But, says Paul, the law only makes our situation worse: it increases the trespass. But the good news is that where sin increased, God’s grace towards us or his kindness towards sinners, increased all the more. Think of two children, competing with one another.
Look what I can do!
But I can do more!
Look what I can do now!
But I can still do more.
Bet you can’t do this?
I can. And I can do more.
God’s grace towards us in Christ Jesus is always, always greater than the power of the law to condemn us.
So, there are these two sides: the side of Adam; and the side of the Lord Jesus. One side leads to condemnation and death. The other side leads to justification and life. Once we belonged to Adam, but now, through faith and by grace, we belong to Christ. We therefore have peace with God; and we have the hope of glory. And nothing will stop us from entering that glory because Christ’s obedient sacrifice is powerful enough to overcome the sin and condemnation and death which Adam brought into the world.