ROMANS LIVE: INSTALLMENT 28

 

With Dale Ratzlaff

 

We continue our study in Romans 5:15-21

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 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 justification. 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. 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. 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. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Commentary

Paul now gives a most insightful comparison—usually by contrast—between Adam and Christ. This is another key section in Romans. His points are as follows:

“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.”

As we noted before, it was Adam’s sin that (1) made us all guilty, (2) caused us to have sinful natures, (3) so that we all sin. This does not seem fair, and it is not. Therefore, God in His infinite justice took care of the problem. Note the repetition of grace/gift: “grace of God and the gift by the grace…”. All of this good favor is centered in the “one man”, Jesus Christ. “The many” can mean a number of things. In Mark 6:2 “the many” refers to those who were listening to Christ’s teaching in the Synagogue. In 1 Cor. 10:33 Paul uses “the many” as referring to people other than himself. It can also mean “the majority” or “a great multitude”. As used in this section it seems clear that Paul uses “the many” to refer to the totality of humanity. This immediately raises a question: Is Paul teaching universalism? Is Paul saying that all mankind will be saved? Paul will answer this in a later section.

“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 justification.”

Here we find a four-fold contrast: (1) the gift vs. the one who sinned; (2) Judgment vs. the gift; (3) one sin vs. many transgressions, and (4) condemnation vs. justification. In analyzing these contrasts and similarities, we must not think that Adam’s sin resulted in—was the cause of—God’s gracious gift of justification. Rather the occasion of Adam’s sin and its universal results allows us to see and experience the great mercy and grace of God in Christ Jesus, the man who saves sinners while they are still sinning.

“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.”

Paul is not saying that death reigned over us all because we all sinned. Rather, death reigned over all mankind because Adam sinned. We also notice the “much more”, a favorite expression of Paul.1 The grace of God cannot be measured by the sin it erases. It can take care of all sin, but there is “much more” it can do if needed. Here we see that Paul is not teaching universal salvation. Salvation is only for those “who receive” the abundant grace of the gift of righteousness. It is my conclusion, however, that the atonement of Christ is not limited; it is available to whosoever will “receive” the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. We might want to ask Paul what he means by “will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” He has just stated how “death reigned”, now by contrast, Christians—those who receive the abundant grace—will reign. Picture slaves of sin now reigning as kings! “Will reign” is future, something we can claim now but fully experience later. Lest we think that our reigning with Christ will be a combination of God’s grace and our best purposes, desires and efforts, note that the text says we “will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

“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. 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.”

This powerful statement speaks for itself. It seems unjust that all of us are under condemnation based only upon Adam’s sin. Likewise one could argue that it is not right for God to justify condemned sinners by the obedience of another. But, as we have pointed out in Romans 3:22-26 through redemption and propitiation God has shown Himself to be just in the way He justifies sinners. Adam’s one transgression was his disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit. Christ’s “one act of righteousness” must be seen in broad terms. The whole life of Christ here on earth demonstrated continual obedience to His Father. Yet that one life culminated in the one act of going to the cross, experiencing death and resurrection.

“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Here Paul comes back to a quick look at the law. In Romans 2-3:20 he has shown no one keeps the law. All continue to sin. The purpose of the law is to show sin—make it stand out in bold relief. Many of us grew up thinking that the law was like a ladder. By keeping the commandments we took a step closer to God. Not so, says Paul; true Christianity is built on grace and faith in our One perfect Substitute and His “one act of righteousness.”

 

Application

Romans 5:12-21 is pure doctrine. In this section there is nothing we are told to do or experience. Rather it points us away from ourselves to the One who did it all for us. It lays down foundational teachings for the Christian church—teachings which can move condemned sinners like you and me into a relationship of grace based upon Christ’s one act of righteousness.

 

Prayer

Father, thank you for showing me my sin, and teaching me how I can receive your grace by placing my faith in Christ’s righteousness.

 

References

1See Rom. 5:9, 10, 15,17; Col. 3:9; 7:13; Heb. 9:14.

 

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DaleRatzlaff
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