Life Wins

Chatswood Baptist Church

Romans 5:12-21

More certain than death and taxes

There is a saying that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. It’s a pretty pessimistic saying, but it’s hard to argue with. So much in life is uncertain. Nothing is really guaranteed. Except that the government will want to take some of your money, and that at the end of it all… you die. History speaks for itself. Everyone dies. It’s not a lucky dip. It’s a certainty. And although some societies have been determined to get rid of taxes, creating tax-havens like the Cayman Islands and Monaco… no society has managed to deal with death. 

Not that people aren’t trying! For decades leaders within the science and technology industries have been dreaming and theorising and working very seriously towards the goal of immortality. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, believes immortality is on the horizon, and there are many others who seem very confident that it’s merely a matter of time before science and technology overcomes the natural causes of death. Tad Friend, a writer for The New Yorker wrote a fascinating article in 2017 called ‘Silicon Valley’s quest to live forever’. In it he describes the two main groups: those we think we can fix our biology and live forever in our bodies, and those (like Kurzweil at Google) who think we’ll eventually merge our bodies, or at least our minds, with robots and/or the cloud. And the leaders of both groups have made plans for their bodies to be frozen if they haven’t found a solution in time, confident that science will get there in the end.

Tad, the author of the article, seems a little dubious however, explaining that so far every advance has uncovered more complexity to the problem. And personally, I think the super-rich tech giants throwing billions of personal dollars into the quest for immortality are going to be disappointed. Just like biological life is greater than the sum of its parts, I suspect that death is greater than the sum of the individual biological problems that seem to lead to it. 

At the same time, I amconvinced I willlive forever. Not as a virtual ‘mind’ inside a global internet ‘cloud’ of information and thoughts, and not by fixing my biological cells with technology. I am convinced that I will live forever in a world characterised by peace and righteousness and goodness forever as a human being – as me, but transformed. And I believe that this hope, this expectation, is just as certain – even morecertain! – than the fact that in this life, in this world, I will experience sin, frustration and ultimately death. Even more certain than death and taxes in this world, and so much more significant, is eternal life through Jesus Christ. That’s the message of our passage in the second half of Romans chapter 5 today. Does it sound too good to be true? Yes, kind of. And that’s why Paul wrote this passage for us. To help us understand that the hope of salvation, the hope of eternal life and glory through Christ, simply on the basis of faith in him, is as certain as death itself. He’s writing to celebrate and reassure us of the fact that in the end, through Christ, life wins.


Now our passage starts in verse 12 with the word ‘therefore’. And as good Bible readers we should ask what the ‘therefore’ is there… for. We’ve just taken a break from Romans for 3 weeks, but at the end of term 2 we looked at the first half of chapter 5. And in this section, Paul is outlining the great hope we have, the great cause for rejoicing even in the midst of suffering, because we are justified, or declared innocent before God, through faith in Jesus. It’s really the culmination of his argument in Chapters 1-4. Simply through faith in Jesus, we hopeless sinners are declared righteous, and thus we have peace with God – we are reconciled to him. And so, Paul agues, if God has shown such great love and done so much for us when we were alienated from him by our sin – when we were enemieswith him – how much more, now, as people who have been reconciled to God… how much more shall we rejoice confidently in the hope of salvation and eternal life!

The implications of the gospel

That’s the basic message of verses 1-11 in Chapter 5, and now Paul writes, because of this, because of the confident hope of life in Christ through our justification by faith in him, we can say the following… and what Paul basically goes on to do is to explain how the actions of the one man Jesus, and the grace of God made available in him, overflows and affects many, many people, just like the sin of the one man Adam has affected many people. So in one sense, Paul is simply saying, “Look! Isn’t it amazing! The righteousness and life of one man is overflowing and bringing life and immortality to so many! It’s overwhelming even the universal and terrible consequences of the sin of Adam! Just like we have all been affected by Adam and his sin, so all of us who trust in Christ are affected by him and his righteousness!”

In this sense it’s a celebration of the grace of God in Jesus – it’s explaining the consequences of justification by faith from another perspective.

The basis for the gospel

But at the same time, as Paul does this, he actually explains to us how and why we canin fact be justified in Christ and how we can and should be confident of our salvation simply by being associated with Jesus. In this passage, Paul explains something quite profound about the nature of our salvation in Christ – the basis of our acceptance with God and our hope for eternity. Here Paul explains that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has created a new humanity, a new ‘Adam’, and that just like we have all shared in the first humanity, the sinful, condemned humanity of Adam, which is enslaved to death, so too we can belong to this new humanity in Christ – a humanity characterised by righteousness, declared innocent and destined for life.

So Paul is describing for us here both the amazing implicationsof the hope of the gospel, and also the profound basisfor the hope of the gospel.

The Assumed Point, theMain Point, and the Side Point

Now in terms of understanding the flow of ideas in this passage and the overall message to us, it’s important to grasp that there is an assumed point, a main point, and a side point. Because if we don’t, we may well missthe point altogether!

Many years ago I was at a church camp were the speaker was taking us through a crash course in the book of Romans. Over the weekend we moved quickly through the argument and application of the whole letter. It was pretty intense!

Now a lot of the content was great – really helpful. But when it came to Romans 5:12, the speaker explained, “Now at this point, for some reason, Paul decides to give us an explanation of original sin…” And then he went on to explain the doctrine of original sin and not too much else and then we moved on to chapter 6.

But that’s not the main point. No, the idea of ‘original sin’ – that the sin of Adam and Eve has had universal and devastating implications for all of humanity, and that somehow, all of humanity is considered to have sinned in and with Adam – this idea is simply assumed by Paul in this passage. What he says helps us understand the idea to some extent, or at least the fact of it, but he’s not setting out to explain or defend it. The fact of original sin is the assumedpoint. It’s true that Paul seems to discuss the sin of Adam and the relationship of Adam and his sin to the rest of humanity in basically every single verse. But that doesn’t mean it’s the main point. Paul constantly refers to the sin of Adam and its consequences for ‘the many’ as the accepted truth, the self-evident truth almost!, for the sake of making his real point.

The main point is what I’ve begun to explain above – that just asthe sin of one man, Adam, can and has affected all of us, so toocan and will the righteousness and life of one man, Jesus, affect all who belong to him. The core idea of the passage is that one representative person can affect the lives and futures of others associated with them, and that this is the basis of our hope as Christians. Just as death has come to all through Adam, so life comes to all people through Jesus.

The side point then, which is by no means trivial or unimportant, but more a subset of his main point, is the focus of verses 15-17, and is also reflected in the final verses, 20-21. The side point is how the gift of God, and the affect of the one man Jesus on the many, is actually NOT like the affect of the one man Adam and his one sin on the many. As much as Paul wants to say Jesus is ‘just like Adam’ and affects us ‘just like’ Adam does, he also wants to say that there’s no real comparison. Jesus and his righteousness blows Adam and his sin out of the water. In these verses we see lots of ‘not like’ statements, and ‘can’t be compared with’ and ‘how much more’… and the point is that the grace of God that comes through the one man Jesus to the many overwhelms and surpasses the sin and condemnation of Adam in every sense.

So as we read this passage we need pay attention to the flow of Paul’s argument and take note of the fact that he has an assumed point, a main point, and a side point. And now we’re going to dig a little deeper into these points and think about the significance for ourselves.

The Assumed Point: Death reigned through the sin of one man

Just like Paul does in verse 12, we’re going to start with the assumed point, that sin and death have come to all people through one man, Adam. Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”

This sentence reflects the basic teaching of the Bible about what is fundamentally wrong with this world. Whilst Google and the rest of Silicon Valley search for the biological causes of death so they can overcome them with technology, the Bible declares that we all experience death because of sin– because wesin, and ultimately because Adamsinned. It is our rejection of God’s wisdom and authority over us, our distrust of God and exaltation of ourselves in his place, that has brought about the curse of death. Genesis 3, which we read out earlier, describes this tragic turning against God, the breaking of his command, and the consequences which flowed from it. 

Adam Sinned, All Sinned

And here in Romans 5, Paul builds off this explanation of the presence of sin and death in the world and emphasises the corporate consequences of Adam’s actions.

You see, whilst the Bible (and Paul himself!) is very clear that we do all personally sin and are held accountable for our own sin… the emphasis here is on the consequence of Adam’s sinas one man on the rest of humanity. You can see it through the whole passage: ‘just as sin entered the world through one man…’ (v12), ‘the many died by the trespass of the one man’ (v15), ‘judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation’ (v16), ‘by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man’ (v17), ‘the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men [people]’ (v18), ‘through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners’ (v19). It’s quite clear, and all along, Paul presents this fact as something his readers would have assumed and accepted. This is the assumed point. 

And so, coming back to verse 12, it seems that when Paul says ‘death come to all men, because all sinned’, he’s not primarily saying that all died, because all followed in Adam’s footsteps and also sinned, perhaps even as a consequence of Adam’s sin. No, he’s assuming that this one trespass has brought condemnation and death to all, because as Adam sinned, ‘all sinned’. AND Paul’s comments in verses 13 and 14, I think, are designed to reinforce this basic conclusion by pointing out that sin and death reigned over all people from Adam to Moses, even without the Law there to formally ‘charge’ sin and deliver the penalty of death. We are guilty and condemned through Adam’s sin as the head of humanity – the humanity we belong to from birth. 

It’s kind of like how a whole country might find themselves at war with another country because their leader, the prime minister or president, declares that they are at war. This person represents us and affects us. Adam is our head – we are inescapably ‘in Adam’, and so we necessarily share in the consequences of his decision to disobey God. As the story of Genesis 3 explains, as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, they are banished from the garden and prevented from eating from the tree of life, and this is the situation their children are born into. The alienation of Adam and Eve from God is shared by all people since them. It’s my situation and it’s yours.

Corrupted and Cursed

It’s certainly true that we are not merely suffering because of the stupid decision of a bad leader. We are not like frustrated citizens, just wanting to love everyone, and secretly protecting enemies because we don’t believe in the war our leaders have foolishly thrown us into. No, the fall of humanity described in Genesis 3 has brought about a corruption in the minds and souls of all people. We war against God because we ourselves are sinners, and not just because we are declared to be sinners through association with Adam. We are justly condemned because each of us wilfully sin and put ourselves first. And yet, even this reality is described here as a consequence of the one man’s sin. Through the sin of Adam, sin as a power of rebellion and corruption has been released into this world and has affected everything and every one of us, whether we like it or not. All of humanity in Adam is, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2, ‘by nature, deserving of wrath.’

The Main Point: So also grace and life reigns through the one man, Jesus Christ

But as I’ve explained, the main reason Paul is talking about the universal effects of Adam’s sin is to show how Jesus is like a ‘second Adam’, who likewise affects the lives and futures of the many who belong to him. At the end of verse 14, Paul even describes Adam as a ‘pattern’ or a ‘type’ of the one to come, not because he sinned like Adam, but because his actions have determined the fate of many.

Paul actually begins to make this key point right up front in verse 12 with the first half of the comparison.. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…” But then, before he can actually make the point, he pauses to further explain and qualify what he’s saying, before finally starting all over again in verse 18: “Consequently,just asthe result of one trespass was condemnation for all people,” (and now he finally finishes the comparison!) “so alsothe result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all people.” 

Two Heads of two Humanities

Paul’s main point then is that Adam and Christ are like two heads of two humanities, and the fate of all who are associated with them are determined by their actions. Douglas Moo writes in his commentary: “All people, Paul teaches, stand in relationship to one of two men, whose actions determine the eternal destiny of all who belong to them. Either one “belongs to” Adam and is under sentence of death because of his sin, or disobedience, or one belongs to Christ and is assured of eternal life because of his “righteous” act, or obedience.”

Just like we are reckoned by God to have sinned in and with Adam because we are his descendants, just as we are condemned and banished and subject to the reign of death along with Adam because of his actions… so we benefit from the righteousness and the life-giving resurrection of Jesus if we belong to him. As certain as death is for the children of Adam, so is life for those who belong to Christ. The actions of the one can and do affect the many, and whilst it’s bad news with Adam, it’s incredibly good news with Jesus. 

One righteous act that brings life and justification for many

And what has Jesus done to affect us? Adam disobeyed God and ate from the tree and got us all banished from the garden. What did Jesus do? Paul says it is ‘one righteous act’ that has resulted in justification and life for all people, and ‘through the obedience of the one man’ that many will be made righteous. Some argue that Paul’s talking about Jesus’ obedience and ‘righteous act’ in willingly sacrificing himself on the cross for us. It makes perfect sense of the wider teaching of Romans and the Bible – our free justification is made possible through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. 

But I don’t think that’s what Paul’s saying here. He’s already made that point. What he’s actually talking about is the perfect and righteous humanity of Jesus himself, which is ultimately vindicated and established in his resurrection from the dead. Paul’s saying that Jesus’ obedience, vindicated in his resurrection from the dead is what makes characterises the new humanity established in him. Because a new humanity has been created in Christ – an innocent and immortal humanity – because of this, a different story is possible for all of us who so far have been trapped in Adam’s story.

So I think the ‘one righteous action’ is really the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the head of this new humanity, because ofhis obedience and righteousness. You see the word translated as ‘righteous act’ in verse 18 is actually the exact same word translated as ‘justification’ at the end of verse 16, and there is good reason to assume Paul means the same thing here. And what helps it all make sense is when we remember what Paul says in his gospel summary at the end of chapter 4; that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus’ resurrection is his justification to life. As God raises him to life, he declares that he is innocent of sin – that he didn’t deserve to die. And this resurrection, this personal justification, is not just for him, it’s for us – it’s for our justification, because it establishes a new, innocent, righteous, eternal humanity we can share in as surely as we share in the old humanity in Adam. This is the good news of Jesus that is the foundation of our hope and which we have to share with the world.

For those ‘in Christ’

Now you might have noticed that Paul doesn’t seem to say much about howwe share in this new humanity in Christ. And that’s important to appreciate – that Paul is not really concerned here with howwe come to belong to Christ, but rather the fact that when we do, his righteousness and life absolutely and completely determines our future. But there isclearly a condition for being included in Christ, and Paul’s just spent four chapters explaining it – faithin him. Repentance and faith in Jesus is the necessary and sufficient condition for being included in Christ. Nothing more and nothing less. 

He hints at this by explaining in verse 17 that it is ‘those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace… in Jesus’ that will reign in life. But having established faith as the condition, Paul is more concerned here to expand on the theological implications of being associated with Jesus by faith. It’s not joining a club, and it’s not something to make you a better person. It’s not even just a declaration of forgiveness, as huge as that is. It’s a profound and eternal change in who you are as a human being that dramatically changes your destiny and your relationship to God as someone who is now ‘in Christ’ rather than ‘in Adam’.

The side point (which is kind of the real point): but there’s no real comparison!

The last thing then we need to appreciate from this passage today is the sidepoint – what Paul says when he interrupts himself from his main point to qualify what he’s saying. As he’s beginning to explain how Jesus affects the many just like Adam, how (at the end of verse 14) Adam was in fact a patternof Christ, Paul can’t help but immediately say how completely inappropriate and insufficient the comparison is. “But the gift is not like the trespass!” Paul exclaims, and follows up with “Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin!”

It’s like trying to explain what a canoe is by pointing to a speed boat or a cruise ship. Yes, they both float in the water, but that’s about it. The differences are almost more profound than the similarities.

And Paul has two main contrasts he wants to make in verses 15-17 between the trespass of Adam and its effects on the many with the grace of God in Christ and its effects on the many. The contrast of verse 16 is between the nature and the consequences of the actions of God in Christ with Adam and his actions. Whereas one sin of one man brought condemnation, the gracious gift of God followed many, many trespasses and brought justification. One is a consequence of justice. The other is a gracious act of redemption in the face of the accumulated sins of humanity over the ages. How can we really compare them??

But the main contrast is one of degree. Not that more people are effected by Christ than Adam, but the effect itself overwhelms the effect of Adam in those who now belong to Christ. “How much more did God’s grace and gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” And in verse 17, if death reigned through the sin of Adam, “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!” If you thought the devastating consequences of Adam’s sin where big, just wait till you get your head around the way Jesus has already and is going to change this world!

And it’s this super-abundance of grace which overwhelms the consequences of Adam that ends up being the final focus of this passage – that’s why I say it’s the kind of side point that’s actually the real point. In verses 20 and 21, Paul explains that whilst the law in some sense increased the presence and consequences of sin in this world, where sin increased, grace increased all the more! So that just as sin reined in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Death does not overcome grace, but rather, grace overcomes death. Life wins. Just as we all know the universal and relentless power of sin and death over all of us, so those of us who trust in Christ can be assured that grace will instead reign through the righteousness of Christ and overwhelm and completely undo the sin of Adam and its consequences in our lives. This is the power of God’s redemption in Christ – the certainty and the enormity of it.

Hearing the point: Life Wins

So as we finish I want to encourage you to hearthese points – the assumed point, the main point, and the side (but kind of real) point. Let them affect you. Understand that through faith in Christ you belong to him and you share in his new humanity. Just like you have shared in the condemned humanity of Adam, just like you’ve experienced the power of sin and faced the inevitable reality of your death…

 know that the hope of glory and life for those in Christ is just as certain, no – more certain!, than the expectation of death ‘in this age’. In fact, let the tragedy of sin and death in this wold, the relentless certainty and power of it, actually remind you and reinforce how much more grace and life belongs to you and those in Christ – glory and revel in the grace of God revealed in Christ! 

We don’t have to put our hope in technology. We don’t need to despair. Fight sin, work against death, but remember, in Christ, in the end, life wins.“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!”