You have probably known some people in life who are insistent upon being called by some title that they have. I’ve known some pastors like this who insist upon everyone using that title (something I’ve never really liked or been very comfortable with). And then I have known some people who have honorary doctorates who desire to have that title used when being addressed. All of this strikes me as a human effort to be seen as a big deal.
But what is really a big deal is to be a saint, a holy one of the most high God. And that is an identification of all who have found salvation in Jesus. So how does a justified sinner get to have such an esteemed designation? The answer is here in the second half of Romans 5, where we get several contrasts and similarities between Adam and Christ.
This is not the easiest passage to handle. It is one of those times where Paul is all over the map in the laying out of his thoughts … jumping off onto a couple of rabbit trails. He begins a main thought, but then jumps off onto an excurses or two, then later finishing his earlier idea.
Perhaps to help us through the passage, I can print it out in thematic order, rather than the consecutive verses as in the text. Beginning with Romans 5:12 …
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
5:18 – Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
5:13 – To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. … 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.
5:15 – But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
5:20 – But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us consider a pair of similarities and a pair of contrasts relative to Adam and Christ.
Similarity #1 – It was the work of one man who brought both death and life.
Adam >> committed a sinful act >> led to condemnation and death (a legal decree of judgment)
Jesus >> with a righteous act >> brought justification (a legal act of acquittal – the opposite of condemnation)
Contrast #1 – The work of Adam was disobedience; the work of Christ was obedience.
God said to Adam to stay away from one tree and don’t climb it and eat the fruit, or he would die; and he disobeyed.
God said to Jesus to steadfastly walk toward a “tree” that he would be nailed upon, and that he would die, though his work of sacrifice would bring life; and he obeyed!
All mankind was “in” each … with Adam, you had no choice; but you can choose to be identified with Christ and be “in” him in his obedience upon the tree and gain life thereby. That is AWESOME.
Similarity #2 – Sin abounded in the world both before and after the Law.
Picking up on the thought in verse 12 that sin was in the world from Adam onward, with mankind participating in Adam and henceforth, Paul says that even without the written Law there was sin in the world – lots of it! It could be argued that though there could not be a condemnation of a person for a law that is not stated, there is no doubt that mankind sinned against God’s verbal commands long before a written Law. Some primary illustrations from the Old Testament record …
– Cain killed his brother Abel.
– Noah’s pre-flood world was characterized by pervasive evil.
– Noah himself sinned grievously after the flood.
– Abraham was called out of a world and culture characterized by idolatry.
– Jacob’s family of sons was infamous for their dysfunction.
– The horrors of the Pharaohs of Egypt led to Moses’ ascension and exodus to the promised land.
Finally, the written law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. That might seem like an odd statement, but it tells us that the purpose of the law was to reveal sin and demonstrate God’s perfect, righteous standard. This would have the benefit of driving man toward God’s mercy.
Contrast #2 – There is no comparison of size or scope between the trespass of sin and the gift of God’s grace through the obedient righteous act of the righteous One who brought righteousness.
Yes, the arguments here are a bit complicated, but in the big picture it is all saying one thing. Yes, sin is really, really big, but grace is so much bigger by comparison. It is like when you think about the massive size of the solar system, but then compare it to our galaxy, and beyond that to realize this is one galaxy of countless thousands in God’s universe.
Indeed, it is a wonderful work of God’s mercy in Christ’s provision to provide for us a new identity in Jesus – that of being a saint through the legal decree of our imputed sins being judged and forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness being applied to our account. It’s a big deal.