Am I Evil? (Romans 5:12-21)

“Am I evil? Yes I am. Am I evil? I am man.”

Sometimes when the rest of the world is silent, the rock stars cry out. The song “Am I evil?” was originally written by the band Diamond Head, though some readers might be more familiar with the later version from Metallica. There’s something to those lyrics, you know. To be man—that is, to be human—is to be evil.

Much as we’d like to insist that we’re born innocent, we’re all born bad. Forget the “better angels of our human nature;” we’re just plain selfish.

PROGNOSIS: NEGATIVE

Christian theology calls this “original sin,” a condition we’ve all inherited from our great, great, great-grandfather, Adam, who bit the fruit and wiped his chin clean—but could never quite erase the stain on his soul. Or ours, for that matter.

Paul writes:

5:12 – Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

This seems outrageous. After all, why should I be punished for Adam’s crime? It seems unfair until I recall—like Paul points out—that “all sinned.” The law, Paul observes, served as a measuring stick for human morality: the law served to “diagnose” our sinful state—though it was not enough to cure it.

Chuck Klosterman recently published an entire book about villains, finding these darker characters much more relatable than the usual heroes. Klosterman—who himself was inspired by Metallica’s song—writes that even when he tries to be good, he can’t possibly claim that his intentions are void of self-centeredness:

“If [a stranger] were suddenly in trouble and I had the ability to help, I absolutely would — but I suspect my motive for doing so might not be related to them. I think it would be the result of all the social obligations I’ve been ingrained to accept, or perhaps to protect my own self-identity, or maybe because I’d feel like a coward if I didn’t help a damaged person in public (or maybe because others might see me actively ignoring a person in need). …This realization makes me feel shame . . . yet not so ashamed that I suddenly (and authentically) care about random people on the street. I feel worse about myself, but I feel no differently about them.” (Chuck Klosterman, I Wear the Black Hat)

So as much as we’d like to think ourselves noble, or free from the kinds of religious insecurities foisted upon us by our upbringing, every single one of us is irredeemably selfish—at least so long as we seek redemption by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

THE CURE

Herein lies one of Christianity’s most beautiful and most misunderstood truths: If I am condemned in Adam, that means I did nothing to directly deserve my condemnation. But if I am condemned for what someone else did, can I be saved by what someone else did?

The answer to that question is foundational to the good news of the gospel. Paul writes:

5:15 – But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

5:18 – Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus is the true and better Adam. His obedience through the cross reverses the stain we’ve worn since the days of Adam, and restores us to righteous standing in Him.

The gospel literally turns the world upside down. Writing on this reversal, pastor and author Tim Keller writes:

“In the Garden, Adam was told, ‘Obey me about the tree—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.’… God said to Jesus, ‘Obey me about the tree’—only this time the tree was a cross—‘and you will die’ And Jesus did…What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes, when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: ‘This is my beloved child—you are my beloved child, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.’ (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 12-13)

In Adam we find only death. In Christ we find endless life.

Am I evil? Yes I am. But in Christ I am declared a saint.

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It’s a Big Deal to be a Saint (Romans 5:12-21)

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.

“Am I evil?” (Romans 5:12-21)

“Am I evil? Yes I am. Am I evil? I am man.”

Sometimes when the rest of the world is silent, the rock stars cry out. The song “Am I evil?” was originally written by the band Diamond Head, though some readers might be more familiar with the later version from Metallica. There’s something to those lyrics, you know. To be man—that is, to be human—is to be evil.

Much as we’d like to insist that we’re born innocent, we’re all born bad. Forget the “better angels of our human nature;” we’re just plain selfish.

PROGNOSIS: NEGATIVE

Christian theology calls this “original sin,” a condition we’ve all inherited from our great, great, great-grandfather, Adam, who bit the fruit and wiped his chin clean—but could never quite erase the stain on his soul. Or ours, for that matter.

Paul writes:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

This seems outrageous. After all, why should I be punished for Adam’s crime? It seems unfair until I recall—like Paul points out—that “all sinned.” The law, Paul observes, served as a measuring stick for human morality: the law served to “diagnose” our sinful state—though it was not enough to cure it.

Chuck Klosterman recently published an entire book about villains, finding these darker characters much more relatable than the usual heroes. Klosterman—who himself was inspired by Metallica’s song—writes that even when he tries to be good, he can’t possibly claim that his intentions are void of self-centeredness:

“If [a stranger] were suddenly in trouble and I had the ability to help, I absolutely would — but I suspect my motive for doing so might not be related to them. I think it would be the result of all the social obligations I’ve been ingrained to accept, or perhaps to protect my own self-identity, or maybe because I’d feel like a coward if I didn’t help a damaged person in public (or maybe because others might see me actively ignoring a person in need). …This realization makes me feel shame . . . yet not so ashamed that I suddenly (and authentically) care about random people on the street. I feel worse about myself, but I feel no differently about them.” (Chuck Klosterman, I Wear the Black Hat)

So as much as we’d like to think ourselves noble, or free from the kinds of religious insecurities foisted upon us by our upbringing, every single one of us is irredeemably selfish—at least so long as we seek redemption by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

THE CURE

Herein lies one of Christianity’s most beautiful and most misunderstood truths: if I am condemned in Adam, that means I did nothing to directly deserve my condemnation. But if I am condemned for what someone else did, can I be saved by what someone else did?

The answer to that question is foundational to the good news of the gospel. Paul writes:

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)

Jesus is the true and better Adam. His obedience through the cross reverses the stain we’ve worn since the days of Adam, and restores us to righteous standing in Him.

The gospel literally turns the world upside down. Writing on this reversal, pastor and author Tim Keller writes:

“In the Garden, Adam was told, ‘Obey me about the tree—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.’… God said to Jesus, ‘Obey me about the tree’—only this time the tree was a cross—‘and you will die’ And Jesus did…What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes, when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: ‘This is my beloved child—you are my beloved child, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.’ (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 12-13)

In Adam we find only death. In Christ we find endless life.

Am I evil? Yes I am. But in Christ I am declared a saint.