o Romans Chapter Five, Verses 12-21




Premise: My life in the flesh can be in Christ. Romans 5:12 -6:23. I am sinful by nature. Through Adam's disobedience the many were made sinners. We have inherited from our natural father, Adam, the propensity to sin. But I am made righteous by Christ. Through Christ's obedience the many were made righteous. Christ has extended to us the possibility to be righteous in spite of our sinful nature. Romans 5:12-21.

Now at verse 12 of chapter 5 Paul indicates a division in the structure of the message of his Roman letter. In the prior chapter's and verses Paul showed how we broke God's laws and sinned, sin after sin, many of them enumerated in chapters 1 and 2. Then he showed how we were justified from those sins by the blood of Christ. Up to verse 11 of chapter 5 the discussion has centered on our sins, plural sins, specific sins, enumerated and listed sins which we have committed.

But with verse 12, he abruptly began to discuss sin, singular sin, the principle of sin, the problem at the root of our many sins. Why? He began a discussion of the principle of sin because he knew that our "justification" from the guilt of our sins did not cure us from sinning. He knew that we all have another problem to be solved before we can "draw near to God" and "bear fruit" for Him. Even though we have been justified from our sins, we continue to sin throughout life. John reminded us of that flaw in ourselves when he said, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (I John 1:8). Later in the Roman letter Paul said that there is a "principle that evil is present in us." (Romans 7:21). So Paul began with verse 12 to show how Christ has solved also the problem at the root of our sins and has made it possible for us to serve God.

As we read the Roman letter today, Paul takes us "by the hand" and leads us "step by step" until we stand on a firm, sound basis. Many people just do not realize that there is much else in addition to "justification" that we need, and that God through Christ has done for us. In order to acquire the gift of "justification" that Christ offered to us we have responded in "obedience of faith;" that is we have believed, repented, confessed His name, and been baptized for the remission of our sins. Then we were "justified." But with "justification" and nothing else, we were not any more useful to God than we were before we were "justified." "Justification" brought us to the point where we might be useful. But there was still the fact of this "principle that evil is present in us." Paul related later in Romans 7 how his realization of this fact brought him to the despairing question, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of th is death?" (Romans 7: 24) .

Paul taught in chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the Roman letter that God did not stop after justifying us and then abandon us to the evil which is present in us. He justified us for the purpose of leading us on into paths of usefulness in His Kingdom. But before we understand fully the rest of God's purpose for us, it is easy for our human pride to get in God's way. If we think that all we needed was justification from our past sins, and now we are ready to strike out on our own initiative for Jesus, how wrong we are! Paul leads us to understand that we must continue in a life whose initiative is always limited to "obedience of faith". Even after our justification from sins we have committed, we can "bear fruit" for God only through a continuation of "obedience of faith."

So the rest of the Roman letter was written to lead us into paths of usefulness in this life. It will take us nearer and nearer to the life that we will live with God in eternity after we have "fallen asleep " from this life. Perhaps our usefulness to God in eternity may depend on how much usefulness we let Him develop in us in this life.

"(12) Therefore. just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- (13) for until the Law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (14) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." (Romans 5:12-14. NASV.)

Paul started this part of the Roman letter (Romans 5:12) with another "therefore," progressively leading the reader from what he said before to the next important thing he wanted to say. "Therefore," or because of all he had written before, something else logically followed. In verses 10 and 11 Paul had concluded that we "were reconciled" to God through the death of His Son and that we "shall be saved" by His life. Then in verse 12 came the "therefore." What was the conclusion that followed after this "therefore?" It was not given clearly until verse 21 of the fifth chapter. "Therefore ... grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

But in leading up to this conclusion that "grace reigns," in verses 12 through 20, Paul reminded his readers of some important truths. He contrasted Adam and Christ, pointing out that mankind received something from each. People cannot fully understand and appreciate what they received from Christ until they fully understand what they received from Adam. On account of Adam, mankind is in a certain condition. It is crucially important for people to know what problems they have received through Adam before they can understand what they have received in Christ. People must first know who they are before they can begin to realize who they can become. People must first understand what Adam did to them before they can recognize and take advantage of what Christ did for them.

Paul stated in Romans 5:12 that "through one man sin entered into the world". Chapters 1 through 4 stressed the fact that all people have sinned. Sin has been, and is, in the world. How did sin get into the world? Through one man! Paul went back behind the fact that all have sinned. He went back to the root cause of sin. Sin came into the world through Adam's disobedience of God's law. The "offense of Adam" was his breaking of God's law.

As "sin entered into the world," so "death through sin" entered into the world. The consequence of Adam's sinful "offense" was death. What was the meaning of "death?"

First, Adam was expelled from his fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. Losing his relationship with God, he lost eternal spiritual life with God, the One who is Spirit. Separation from God, from His Spirit and the spiritual realm of God, was the first and foremost meaning of death. "Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life." (Genesis 3:23-24).

Apparently, the "garden of Eden" was a realm in which mankind and God's Spirit could commune, and a realm which transcended the world in that Adam had to be "sent out" from it to the world when he was separated from that communion. That separation from God was surely the first and foremost meaning of the "death" which Adam received as a result of his sinful "offense."

"And so death spread to all men, because all sinned." Adam was the "father" of all mankind. But because Adam was driven out of the presence of God into the world, all mankind whom Adam has fathered have been born into that world outside the garden of Eden. As Adam was created with a free will, so mankind as Adam's offspring also are created with free wills. Adam exercised his free will to sin by violating God's law. Each individual descended from Adam has also exercised his free will to sin by violating God's law. And, as Paul pointed out in chapters 1, 2 and 3, "all have sinned;" that is, all have violated God's law. So the death (eternal separation from God) brought into the world by Adam has spread to all men, because all sinned. Note that descendants of Adam have not died (been separated from God) because God has held them responsible for Adam's sin. They have been separated from God because they have committed sin on their own.

Then, since Adam was removed from his communion with the eternal Spirit of God, he lost his eternal spiritual life which the Spirit of God had made possible. Banned to the material world, his physical, fleshly body began to die. God had told Adam of this consequence of the life he would have to lead outside Eden. "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19). But this fleshly death which Adam had then to experience was secondary to, and a consequence of, his spiritual death; that is, his fleshly death was the consequence of his separation from God.

Because of Adam's sin all his descendants have been born into the world subject to fleshly death. All mankind has inherited this consequence of Adam's sin. All die fleshly deaths. This is not because people inherit the guilt of Adam and must be punished for Adam's sin. Nor is fleshly death a punishment for anyone's own sin. Even the fleshly bodies of innocent babies die and return to dust. But people experience fleshly death because they are descended from the first man, Adam, who was driven out of the garden of Eden into a world in which God has ordained that the flesh must naturally return to dust.

Apparently then, the primary meaning of the "death" spoken of by Paul in Romans 5:12 was not fleshly death, but spiritual death, the separation from God which came as a result of sin. This was borne out finally in Romans 5:21 where Paul contrasted "death" with the "eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" where communion with God was restored. The meaningful contrast which Paul discussed was the contrast of the separation from God with the reunion with God. In verse 13 Paul said, "for until the Law sin was in the world." The "Law" referred to here was the Law of Moses which God gave to the Jewish nation. The time period designated by the phrase "for until the Law" was identified in verse 14 as the time between Adam and Moses when there was no Jewish nation. During this time, Paul said, "sin was in the world." This word "sin" (Greek, HAMARTIA) meant "error" or "offense." During this time, then, error and offense was in the world. The singular form of the word indicates that Paul referred to the sin principle or the endemic practice of sin by mankind.

Paul wrote at length in chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the plural form of sins (errors or offenses) on the part of all individuals since the creation of the world. He said that all were "without excuse" for not accepting what God had "made evident" to them. (Romans 1: 19-20). He finally stated, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23). But, beginning in Romans 5:12, Paul wrote about Christ's solutions to additional problems caused by the fact that sin was entrenched as a principle. "I find then the principle that evil is present in me." (Romans 7: 21) .

In this study your writer has stated that "sin" may be defined as "breaking of God's law." In this definition the word "law" refers to any truths of God requiring belief and obedient response from mankind, such as the things God "made evident" (Romans 1:19) and the "law written in the hearts" (Romans 2: 14-15) of Gentiles. The "error" of not believing and not responding in obedience to the demands of God's truths constituted "sin." The fact that every individual of mankind had made that kind of error "since the creation of the world," prompted Paul to say that, until the Law of Moses the endemic practice of sin (as a principle) was in the world.

Paul went on to say in verse 13, "but sin is not imputed when there is no law." If sin is defined as the "breaking of law," this statement certainly appears true and just. But, Paul has already made the point very strongly that "all have sinned" by doing things that were, in essence, law breaking. All people who have ever lived have had some kind of "law" imposed on them by God, and because of their breaking of that law, sin has been imputed to them. At first reading, this true statement, that "sin is not imputed when there is no law," seems superfluous or out of place. But what kind of "law" did Paul mean when he said, "where there is no law?" The word "law" in this statement must refer to a "law" like the "Law of Moses" for the thought was a continuation of the first part of verse 13 where Paul referred specifically to the Law of Moses. What kind of law was the Law of Moses?" It was a law very clearly enunciated in specific terms of language. The Law of Moses was written down and preserved without change for all to read. And God commanded on numerous occasions that the Law of Moses be read to everyone. But the Law of Moses differed in that respect from the law God "made evident" and "wrote in hearts" of non-Jews without the use of language. Perhaps Paul made this statement to further clarify to certain persons that "sin was in the world" among all people despite the fact that a law, so clearly enunciated as the Law of Moses, was not given to all people.

Paul went on to explain in verse 14, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." The phrase, "likeness of the offense of Adam," reminds us of the "law" which God gave to Adam. The law given to Adam in the Garden of Eden was somewhat like the Law of Moses in that it too was clearly and specifically enunciated to Adam and Eve. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die'" (Genesis 2:16-17). The implication of the Genesis record is that God's command to Adam and Eve was not just implied in the heart without the use of specific language. It was a law enunciated to Adam and Eve as clearly and as specifically as was the later Law of Moses to the Jews.

Despite the fact that there was no clearly enunciated verbal law in the world after the time of Adam up to the time of the Law of Moses, "nevertheless death reigned." Although all the sinners of the world after the time of Adam up to the time of the Law of Moses "had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam," "nevertheless death reigned." They had sinned and their sin had made them subject to spiritual "death." In fact, Paul said, "Death reigned."

Apparently Paul made this explanation for those of his readers who might have questioned the need of the Gentiles for salvation. Perhaps some had reasoned that since the Gentiles did not have a law from God similar to the Law of Moses, they did not have law at all. And if they were without law, it was reasonable to assume that the Gentiles could not have had sin imputed to them. And if no sin was imputed, they were not in danger of "death." There are people today who make that argument concerning the tribes of the earth still living in aboriginal conditions. They reason that these tribes do not have the Bible or any other word of God in any clearly enunciated form. Therefore, they argue, the members of these tribes are not sinners and do not need salvation. In fact, some people feel that it would be wrong to preach the gospel to these tribes for such preaching will only spoil their innocence and cause some to be lost in spiritual death. They argue that these tribes should be left alone in their aboriginal purity and innocence. But Paul warned against such reasoning, stating clearly that sin and death came into the world through Adam, and then "death spread to all men, because all sinned."

Paul added in verse 14 that "Adam ... is a type of Him who was to come." That is, Adam was a type of Christ. But Paul pointed out in the next few verses of chapter 5 that Adam was quite unlike Christ. Adam brought sin and death into the world. Christ was not like that. Christ brought forgiveness and life into the world. How could Paul say that Adam was a type of Christ? How was Adam like Christ?

Adam was just one man, the first man made in the image of God. Adam was the "prototype" of all men (except one) who lived after him. Adam's actions brought serious implications for the lives of all his offspring, for all mankind who lived after him. Christ also was just one man, the first man of His type. Christ was the second "prototype" man, portraying to all what God made possible for all men to be. Christ's actions brought serious implications for the lives of all those who lived, whether before or after Him. In these respects, Adam was a type of Christ. God created Adam, whose actions abounded to the "many" people of the world. Likewise God sent Christ, whose actions also abounded to the "many" people of the world.

"(15) But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (16) And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in purification." Romans 5:15-16. NASV.

While Adam was a type of Christ, Adam brought death to the world through his transgression. But Christ brought salvation from death to the world through His gift. Adam was like Christ in a few respects, but he was primarily a "type" of Christ in contrast. Paul brought out the first point of contrast in the statement, "But the free gift is not like the transgression." Actually, Adam and Christ were as unlike as the "transgression" of Adam was unlike the "gift" of Christ. By the "transgression" of Adam, sin and death was brought into the world and "the many died" both fleshly and spiritual deaths. But, the "gift" through Christ brought the "grace of God ... to the many." The "death" which came upon mankind through Adam was contrasted here with the "grace of God" which became available to mankind through Christ.

Paul used the words "much more" in describing how the grace of God abounded to the many. What was the significance of the words "much more?" Perhaps the significance was in the fact that grace which mankind received through Christ "abounded" in a far more extensive way than the evil which mankind received through Adam. The evil effects for mankind that can be blamed solely on Adam were primarily fleshly effects - pain, suffering and fleshly death. Individuals cannot blame spiritual death on Adam because it comes only as a result of the individual's own sin. The "much more" that was gained in Christ included not only the offsetting of the fleshly losses (through each individual's resurrection to an incorruptible body), but also the overcoming of the spiritual consequences of the individual's own sin. Christ brought cancellation of the impact of Adam's sin and also the impact of each person's own sin. The gain through Christ far exceeds the loss through Adam.

In verse 16 Paul made the point that many evil consequences flowed from one crime of one man, Adam. There was but one act of guilt on the part of Adam which brought manifold evil consequences. The effects of Adam's sin, whatever they were, pertained to one sin, the sin of one man. Contrasted with that, God's favors through Christ had respect to many acts of guilt. The effects of the work of Christ pertained to many sins, or the sins of many.

"The judgment," that is the sentence, the declared penalty which God passed as the judge on Adam for one offense, involved both Adam and his posterity in ruin. The judgment resulted in condemnation to many. The effect of the sin of Adam was to involve all mankind in condemnation. It should be noted that Paul did not say that Adam's sin was imputed to his posterity, or that his posterity would inherit guilt because Adam sinned. But Paul did say that Adam's sin got all his posterity involved in sin until each one sinned himself and received condemnation.

The effects of the works of Chr5ist, the free gift, covers not just the one transgression of Adam, but covers the many transgressions of all Adam's posterity. That free gift was justification from the sins of the many.

"(17) For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One. Jesus Christ." Romans 5:17. NASV.

"Many died," in fact "all men" died as a result of Adam's sin. So Paul stated in verse 17 that "death reigned through the one." But through Christ, "those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life." The" reign in life" made possible by Christ was contrasted with the "reign of death" brought on by Adam. That the "life" to which Paul referred was "eternal life" was made clear in verse 21. In contrast, the "death" to which Paul referred included spiritual death. It was not just fleshly death.

Again Paul used the phrase "much more" to contrast the "reign in life" wi th the "death" that" reigned." There are probably many ways in which the phrase "much more" applied. The "reign in life" is eternal alongside the Lord Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God on His eternal Throne. But "death reigns" in worldly regions alongside Satan who is only a limited and temporary "king." The phrase "much more" refers to the contrast between very limited undesirable things and unlimited desirable things, as the contrast between "unrighteousness" and the "gift of righteousness," and as the contrast between "condemnation" and the "abundance of grace." In fact, on Christ's side of the contrast nothing could be better, everything is best, and everything is of superlative degree. The degree of the phrase "much more" seems almost too limited.

Paul's use of the phrase "much more" reminds us of the consideration that great men of old gave to the contrast between worldly and heavenly things. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward." (Hebrews 11:24-26). The sin of Adam brought about what the world considered "the reproach" of Christ. The sin of Adam also brought about the world conditions which made "the treasures of Egypt" appear desirable. But these are false appearances. "The abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness" came about through what the world calls "the reproach of Christ." And what appears to the world as "the treasures of Egypt" appears so only among those under the "reign of death." The things of heaven are almost always paradoxical to the things of the world.

"(18) So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Romans 5:18. NASV.

Paul summed up in verse 18 much of what he said in the previous verses. Adam's one transgression resulted in condemnation to all men. Adam's transgression was his disobedience of God's ordinance to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which grew in the Garden of Eden. For his one act of disobedience Adam and all his posterity were banished from the Garden of Eden to the world where both fleshly and spiritual death held sway.

But Christ's one act of righteousness resulted in "justification of life" to all men. His one act of righteousness consisted of all the things to which He submitted in His fleshly life including, especially, His temporary separation from God, His death, His burial, and His resurrection. For His one act of righteousness mankind was justified from the sinful state and Christ the Man was taken up as mankind's forerunner into heaven. It has been said that through Adam mankind lost Eden, but through Christ mankind regained a Heaven like Eden made better.

Paul used the phrase "justification to life" for the first time in verse 18. In the first part of his Roman letter (up to chapter 5 verse 11) Paul discussed "justification from sins," sins actually committed as in the past. His emphasis was on Christ's blood applied to free people from the guilt of their past sins. But in the second part of his Roman letter (after chapter 5 verse 12) Paul's emphasis was on the sin principle from which people needed to be freed in their Christian life after their initial conversion. Thus, Paul led his readers on to the thought that Christ's one act of righteousness resulted not only in justification from past sins but also in "justification to life," a "newness of life," which he discussed in detail in chapter 6.

"(19) For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." Romans 5:19. NASV.

In verse 19 Paul contrasted the result of Adam's "disobedience" of God with the result of Christ's "obedience" of God. Adam's "disobedience" of God was sinful. And, as was often characteristic of sin, it had bad consequences far beyond Adam himself. As a consequence "the many were made sinners." Paul had already pointed out that Adam's offspring became sinners "because all sinned" on their own (Romans 5: 12), not because they were judged guilty of Adam's sin. How then could Paul say that through Adam's disobedience "the many were made sinners?" Although Adam's offspring did not inherit Adam's guilt, apparently they did inherit Adam's propensity for disobedience. That mankind has a natural inclination to commit evil was borne out by Paul's later statement, "I find then the principle that evil is present in me". (Romans 7:21). In addition, Paul made it clear that because of Adam's disobedience, he and all his offspring were banished from the garden of Eden. Because of Adam's disobedience, his offspring had no natural opportunity for life in Eden where they could walk and talk directly with God as Adam once did. Perhaps it was because of mankind's inheritance of a propensity to sin, and because of mankind's inheritance of the sinful world as a home, that Paul said "the many were made sinners." Whatever the meaning of the phrase, the fact that the many were made sinners indicated nothing unjust in God's view of "the many" as "sinners." Paul said earlier in the Romans letter that "they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20) and "there is none righteous, not even one." (Romans 3: 10).

The many were made sinners as a result of the sin of Adam, but not before they sinned themselves. The many were not made sinners until they took some action on their own. They sinned. In a somewhat similar way "the many will be made righteous," but not before they take some action on their own. They must exercise faith in the grace of God. Just as the sinful were not condemned until they did something sinful, neither are they saved until they render some obedience of faith.

"(20) And the Law came in that the transgression might increase. but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (21) that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:20-21. NASV.

Perhaps Paul made the statement of verse 20, "the Law came in that the transgression might increase1," to counter the objections of Jews who thought that the Law of Moses was given to them to meet the evils of sin brought in by Adam. Many Jews felt that the scheme of redemption preached by Paul was unnecessary. They felt that they were saved through their keeping of the Law of Moses. But Paul said that the effect of the Law of Moses was to increase rather than diminish their sins.

Paul gave here a specific purpose for God's giving of the Law of Moses to the Jews. "The Law came in that the transgression might increase." Paul had already given God's purpose for imposing law in general on mankind in Romans 3:19-20. He said, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through law comes the knowledge of sin." The descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (Israel), who became known as the Jews, had already transgressed against God before the giving of the Law of Moses. The Israelites had already become transgressors through their breaking of God's law written in their hearts. Why did God find it necessary to impose additional law, the Law of Moses, on them?" Paul answered, "The Law (of Moses) came in that the transgression might increase!"

This statement illuminated Paul's previous statement of Romans 5:13, "for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law." It became clear that Paul had not spoken in verse 13 of a time when no sin at all was imputed to the Jews because they had not yet received the Law of Moses. Rather, the Jews were already "transgressors" and "the Law (of Moses) came in that the transgression might increase!" As we study the Roman letter today our question becomes, why did God find it necessary to do anything that would make the transgressions of the Jews increase?

The answer is found in the fact that God formed and chose the Jewish people fort a special task. Down through the years of God' s covenant with them, they were chosen to bring into the fleshly world the incarnated Son of God and, following His sacrifice, to introduce the New Covenant of Christianity into the entire world. Although the people of the world from the time of Adam to the time of Moses were able to find and receive salvation from their sins through faith in God (as did Abel, Job, Abram, and others), they were not equipped, because of the sin principle operating within them, to carry out the special tasks of God's eternal purpose to be brought about in the Christ. The Jews needed special guidance from God in order to accomplish the special task given to them. God gave them the Law of Moses which provided the special guidance they needed to carry out the purposes of God.

A first step in God's guidance was to bring them, the Jews, to a knowledge of their sins so that they might repent and become eligible and available to serve God. The "law written in the heart" to which they had been subject up to their receipt of the Law of Moses, had not resulted in bringing them to a condition of being able to handle the "sin principle" which they had inherited from Adam. They needed further guidance. God gave it to them in the form of a more specific and comprehensive Law, written in their own language, enabling them to communicate it to each other and integrate it into their thinking. The first result of additional Law in a people with inherent propensity to sin was to increase their transgression through law breaking. Thus, it was stated by Paul that "the Law came in that the transgression might increase." Al though the "increase of transgression" was not the only reason for God's bringing in the Law of Moses, it appears that it was a necessary result which God used as a first step in preparing Jews to serve His special purposes.

To this point in the Roman letter Paul has mentioned only the results and purposes of God's laws which might be considered negative, such as, "that every mouth may be closed," that "all the world may become accountable to God," that "the knowledge of sin might come," and that "the transgression might increase." But these so-called negative results were necessary as a first step in order that God's purpose might be brought about through the so-called positive guidance features of God's laws. And, of course, these more positive features of God's laws are the ones which should come to domination in our lives. Paul referred to these when he spoke of the "obedience of faith" through which we serve God in a most positive manner.

The modern day secular meaning of the word "law" is an authoritarian body of rules bearing penalties which in justice must be imposed on those who break the rules. This is but a small part of the meaning of "God's laws" which are spoken of in the Bible. Although all of God's Old Testament laws carried penalties to be expressed in "the wrath of God," the full meaning of the Old Testament word "TORAH" (the Hebrew word for "law") was instruction, guidance, or direction. In the Old Testament the law of God was something which God, out of His deep love for man, desired to give man to guide him to as full and complete a life as possible. So the laws of God presented in the Bible were God's guidelines for His people to a full and useful life in His service.

The first step in the application of God's laws was always the bringing of people to the knowledge of their sin (law-breaking) and a call for their repentance. And, although the statutes themselves offered no remedy for the guilt of the lawbreaker, they always pointed people to the remedy for their sins, the grace of the Law-giver who would forgive the guilt of those who approached Him in faith. All of this could be found in the Law of Moses which called for blood sacrifices of animals to foreshadow and point to the perfect blood sacrifice of Christ.

Paul went on to say in verse 20, after saying that the Law of Moses made the transgressions of the Jews increase, "but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Although it may have seemed to worldly minds that it was counter-productive for God to "make transgressions increase," the grace of God was fully sufficient to abound to the need of those Jews who would come to their senses through the added guidance offered by the special Law of Moses. It appears that God intended the Law of Moses first to all to become a "stumbling block" which would bring the Jews to clear understanding of their need as sinners for repentance. As Christ expressed in the eternal principles of His Sermon on the Mount, a first step for anyone to become useful in God's service is to become aware that he is "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3). It appears that God designed the Law of Moses to accomplish the same thing in the Jews that His word will accomplish in any people, to pierce as a sword as far as the division of soul and spirit, to cut away the proud, independent and spiritually stifling elements of the soul to expose the "poor spirit" beneath which yearns for fellowship with God's Spirit where grace always abounds. (Hebrews 4:12).

Finally in verse 21 of chapter 5 Paul finally completed the thought that he started in verse 12. In verse 12 Paul said, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men ..." In verse 21 Paul concluded, "... that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The ultimate contrast was that "sin reigned in death" through Adam, but "grace reigned through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Looking back at Romans 5:12-21 let us enumerate the things which we inherited from Adam:

Our conclusion must be that we live in a world where sin reigns and we have been set up to become sinners. We have been convinced by the first five chapters of the Roman letter that we have broken God's law and have sinned. We have been convinced that we are without excuse and the wrath of God has been revealed to us as the just wage of our sin. But the first five chapters have also revealed that we were justified from the guilt of our sins by the blood of Christ and through the reconciliation of Christ we can escape the wrath of God. We can be forgiven when we yield to our propensity to sin. But, even after being forgiven for our past sins, we still live in a world where sin reigns and we still have a propensity to sin over and over again. We became Christians and our past sins were forgiven. But we are not and will not be free from sinning while we live on this earth because " ... through Adam's disobedience we were made sinners."

Romans 5:12-21 does not call us guilty of Adam's sin. Adam's sin was not one of the sins from which the blood of Christ justified us. Romans 5:12-21 does not speak about the sins we have committed. The subject of the sins we have committed was dealt with in the portion of the Roman letter up to chapter 5 verse 11. After Romans 5:11 the subject changed. After Romans 5:11 the subject is the sin principle which still holds sway in our lives because sin reigns in this world and we have inherited a propensity to sin. The subject after Romans 5:11 is not what we have done, but who we are because of our family line in Adam. We are sinners.

Who is a sinner? A quick answer might be, one who sins. But Paul said there is a much more basic and important answer than that. A sinner is one who was made so in Adam. Romans 5:19 says, in the past tense, "the many were made sinners" through the disobedience of Adam. That's who we are, sinners! That's who we were even before we were born, sinners! That's why we haven't stopped sinning even though God has forgiven us for our past sins.

As Christians we've got to come to knowledge of this. In order to become useful as Christian servants of Christ, we first must realize that we have been constituted sinners through our relationship with Adam. When we realize this we can, in faith, seize on the provision that God has made through Christ to rescue us from the sin principle that dwells in our bodies. Just as the non-Christian cannot turn in faith and be justified from his past sins until he knows that he has sinned, so the Christian cannot act in faith to become a useful servant of Christ until he knows and accepts who he is and why he keeps on sinning.

If we stop and think, we are aware that we Christians are sinners. We are quick to distinguish between the needed actions of the alien sinner and the Christian sinner. The alien sinner needs to render obedience of faith to Christ's commands that he repent and be baptized. The Christian sinner needs to render obedience of faith to Christ's admonitions that he repent and pray for forgiveness. We know that Christians all continue in some respect to sin throughout life. John reminded us that "if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (I John 1: 8). But we often just conclude that we may "grow" in this life to the point that we will not sin anymore. But Paul said that we were constituted sinners in Adam. We do not often stop and ask ourselves why we keep on sinning. We must learn that in our flesh, in our mortal bodies, in our earthly man descended from Adam, even we Christians are sinners!

After we have learned of our justification by the grace of God through the blood of Christ, must we be still doomed to a life of sin? How can we be useful to Christ in this world if we are going to keep on sinning? In Romans 5: 12-21, by calling to our attention the contrasts between the first Adam, and Christ, the second Adam, Paul has begun to teach us the answer to the question concerning our usefulness to Christ. There is an answer. We can be useful servants of Christ during our Christian lives on earth. Christ is the answer. In every way that Adam bequeathed some bad consequence to us, Christ bequeathed a boundless remedy! Let us look back at Romans 5:12-21 and enumerate the things that we receive in Christ.

Note especially verse 19. The remedy for the fact that we were made sinners (past tense) in Adam has already been put in effect through Christ. "Even so, through the obedience of the one the many were made righteous (past tense)." Christ is the answer. The grace of God through Christ has taken carte of all the problems which we have inherited from Adam.

But there are steps of obedience of faith which we must take in order to avail ourselves of the sanctification which Christ has provided to enable us to serve as His holy vessels on earth. What shall we do? Paul gave us that answer in chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the Roman letter.

(This was taken from the book "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on the Roman Letter by F. M. Perry.)

© 2002 F. M. Perry