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. 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.
Christ Is Like Adam
We ended last week with the words at the end of verse 14, "Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." That is, Adam, the first man, is a type or pattern or foreshadowing of Christ, who would come much later in history. We asked, Why did Paul insert those words just where he did? Why say that Adam is a pattern of Christ right after saying, "Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam"? That is, right after saying that the personal sins of Adam's descendants were not the root cause that brought their death; it was their union with Adam in his sin.
Why say right here, Adam is a pattern of Christ? And I answered: because this is precisely the point Paul wants to make about Christ and how we are justified in him. Just as those who are in Adam die because of his sin imputed to them, so also those who are in Christ live because of his righteousness imputed to them. Just as it is not at root the personal sinning of those in Adam that brought their condemnation, so it is not at root the personal goodness of those who are in Christ that brings their justification. The point of saying right here that Adam is a pattern of Christ is to signal that justification comes to us not on the ground of our obedience, but on the ground of Christ's obedience and our union with him by faith alone.
Christ Is Not Like Adam
That's where we ended last week in the text. Today we will take up verses 15-17. Why these three verses? Because they form a very distinct unit with a distinct purpose. You can see the purpose in the first words of verse 15 and the first words of verse 16. He has just said at the end of verse 14 that Adam is a type or pattern of Christ. But now he says in verse 15: "But the free gift is not like the transgression," and then in verse 16, "The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned." Notice the two phrases, "not like."
The point of verses 15-17 is to show how Christ is not like Adam. Yes, there is a similarity and a correspondence. But we will miss the point entirely if we don't realize that the similarity and correspondence are meant to highlight the difference and the superiority of Christ and his work. The point is not simply that Adam / sin / condemnation / death are different from Christ / righteousness / justification / life. That is so obvious, you don't need to take three verses to say that righteousness is not sin and justification is not condemnation and life is not death.
Rather here's the point. Someone might say that Adam / sin / condemnation / death equal negative ten (-10), and Christ / righteousness / justification / life are the counterpart that equal positive ten (+10). That would make clear that they correspond but are different. But that is not what Paul is doing here. He is saying that, yes, correspondence is there, but the positive side is much more than an equalizer of the negative side. It doesn't just balance the number, leaving us at zero, so to speak. Christ and his righteousness and justification and life are much more than Adam and his sin and condemnation and death. They are not a positive ten, they are positive ten thousand.
You will see this plainly as we take each verse one at a time and ask, How are Christ and his work not like Adam and his work? How is Christ far superior?
So let's start with verse 15. "But [Notice this! Yes, Adam is a pattern of Christ, but] the free gift [What is this? Verse 17, near the end: "gift of righteousness"] is not like the transgression [that is, the transgression of Adam]. 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."
I want to make a minor point and a major point on each of these three verses (15-17). The minor point here is this: Notice the words "the one" and "the many." Verse 15b: "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." This is the real parallel throughout this passage. Many are in Adam and many die because of one man's transgression. Many are in Christ and many experience grace because of the one man's grace. The minor point is simply this: judgment came because of one man; salvation comes because of one man. There was one way for all men to fall – in Adam. There is one way for all to be saved – in Christ. It's the singularity of Christ and his grace and righteousness that Paul wants us to see and savor. See the uniqueness and singularity and greatness of Christ in this text and worship him and love him and trust him.
Now for the major point in verse 15. What is the contrast that Paul wants us to see? What is it in verse 15 that is not parallel between Adam and Christ?
Verse 15 begins, "But the free gift is not like the transgression." Now this seems too obvious to need repeating. The free gift refers to the gift of righteousness, according to verse 17, and, of course, the gift of righteousness is not like the transgression. Righteousness and transgression are opposites. Is that all Paul wants to say? I don't think so. What he wants to say is that when transgression and righteousness are contrasted, righteousness – the grace that gives it – is far more certain and far more preeminent than transgression.
You can see this in the next half of verse 15 that begins with "for." "For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more [note this crucial phrase!] did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many." So in view of this supporting clause, I would paraphrase verse 15a like this: "But we should not merely say, 'As the transgression of one, so the gift of one.' No, no. What we should say is, 'As the transgression of one, much more grace and gift of one.'"
What does "much more" mean? "If many died . . . much more will grace abound to many." Look at verse 10 to see the answer. Verse 10: "If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." "Much more" in Paul's mind is a "much more" of certainty, not a much more of quantity. "Much more [certainly], having been reconciled, shall we be saved."
Ultimate Purpose – The Praise of the Glory of God's Grace
So it is here in verse 15. "For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more [certainly] did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many." Now here we have almost arrived at the major point of verse 15: Why is it more certain that the grace of God abounds than that the judgment of death follows transgression?
The reason is that God's ultimate purpose is not judgment but the display of the glory of his grace. I could show you this from Ephesians 1:3-6, where Paul says that the aim of all history is "the praise of the glory of God's grace." I could show it to you from Romans 9:22-23, where Paul says that God endures vessels of wrath in order to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy. Or I could show you from Romans 8:20-21, where Paul says that judgment came upon creation with a view to a greater hope than judgment: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
So here is the major point in Romans 5:15: If judgment followed Adam's transgression, it is "much more" certain that God's grace abounded and will abound, because judgment is not God's ultimate purpose in the universe. Rather – and this is the major point – the ultimate purpose of God in creating and governing the world the way he does is the display of abounding grace – not to the exclusion of the display of justice and judgment and wrath, but against the backdrop of judgment and wrath. The display of the glory of his grace is God's ultimate purpose in the world – and here the stress falls on the fact that all of this comes through "the one Man, Jesus Christ." The glory of God's grace is the glory of Christ applied to all who are in him. All of history – all of its sin and redemption – is about the glory of the grace of God in the one man Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of history. That is the main point of verse 15.
Now verse 16. Here is another statement about how Adam and Christ are not alike. "The gift [of righteousness, verse 17b] 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 [of righteousness] arose from many transgressions resulting in justification."
First the minor point: Notice, in the last half of the verse, that the "free gift," which is the "gift of righteousness," according to verse 17, "results in justification." "The free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification." This is crucial because it shows that there is a foundation for justification, namely, "the gift of the righteousness" of Christ, or, as verse 18 calls it, "the one act of righteousness," or, as verse 19 calls it, "the obedience of the One." Justification is not merely a new relationship with God, or a new status before God, hanging in the air. It is a new legal standing on the basis of Christ's righteousness, or Christ's obedience. That is the minor point in verse 16 – a huge minor point – "the free gift results in justification." "The free gift" is not itself justification; it is the foundation of justification. We are declared righteous on the basis of the free gift of righteousness – Christ's "righteousness" (verse 18), Christ's "obedience" (verse 19).
When you read the gospels and you see your Lord living out a perfect life of righteousness, rejoice that he not only is giving you an example of how to live, but he is also laying the foundation for your acceptance with God by grace through faith alone.
God's Grace Triumphs Over Many Transgressions, Not Just One
Now what is the major point of verse 16? What is the contrast that Paul sees between the work of Christ and the sin of Adam? He says, "The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned." So we know he is still talking about how Adam and Christ are not alike. The next clause gives us the explanation: "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's the contrast: One transgression (of Adam) leading to condemnation versus many transgressions (of all of us) leading to justification. What's the point? The point is again to display the greatness of grace far outstripping the display of judgment. How?
Well, condemnation is a natural and fitting response to transgression. But justification is not a natural or fitting response to a transgression, let alone many transgressions. So there are at least two things that grace has to overcome for justification to exist: One is that transgression calls for condemnation; and the other is that many transgressions call for great condemnation. What makes God's grace shine in this verse is that it triumphs over both obstacles. How? By providing a substitute righteousness. Because Christ was righteous for us, God can now justify us in spite of many transgressions.
So be mightily encouraged here. Paul is trying to strengthen your faith here. He is not just talking. You are to think something here and feel something here. Think the truth about the greatness of the grace of God and the free gift of righteousness that Christ provides for all who trust him. Then feel the sweetness of God himself reminding us in these words that the great number of our past sins is no obstacle for God to justify us. Because there is a "free gift" that "results in justification" – the gift of Christ's righteousness.
That's the major point of verse 16: God's grace triumphs over many transgressions – not just one – because he provides a substitute righteousness for us in Christ.
Kings and Queens in the Age to Come
Finally, the minor and major points in verse 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."
First the minor point: When Paul says "those who receive the abundance of grace" in verse 17b, he implies, I think, that there are those who do not receive it. In other words, Paul shows us here that "the many" in verse 15 who die because of Adam's sin and the many who experience God's grace are not the same group, for all humans are in Adam, but not all are in Christ. Some receive the grace and some do not. So some are among "the many" (verses 15, 19) or the "all" (verse 18) that are in Christ.
Now, finally, in verse 17, what's the major point? Look carefully and you will see it. He does not say, "If death reigned through one [Adam], much more will life reign through Christ." He does not say that we exchange rulers over us: Death for life. He says more. He says that some day through Jesus Christ, we will move from being ruled by death to becoming ourselves rulers in life. Verse 17b: "Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (see 2 Timothy 2:12).
So the final declaration of the supremacy and glory of God's grace in this text is that it takes sinners like us who receive his grace and makes us kings and queens in the age to come. It is almost too good to be true. And if you believe it, if you humbly rest in it, this glorious truth will change your life – not just marriage (as I hinted last week), but everything.
Dwell on this, little Christian – and we are all little Christians – dwell on this. Your inheritance is to reign like a king or a queen in the presence of God (see Revelation 3:21). Let this sustain you in the frustrations and the heartaches and the pain of this present life.
Major point of verse 15: God's ultimate aim is to display the preeminence and glory of his grace over the judgment.
Major point of verse 16: God's grace triumphs not just over one transgression, but over many transgressions and justifies us on the basis of the substitute righteousness of Christ.
Major point of verse 17: The triumph of God's grace will not simply replace life with death, but will make us reign in life like kings in the presence of our Father forever and ever.
Lay hold on these great truths about grace. Trust Christ. Trust him. He will be your righteousness and your life and your joy.