Adam, Christ, and Justification, Part 4

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. 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.

Two Pages in Yesterday's Newspaper

It may be helpful to connect the message of Romans 5:12-19 with yesterday's newspaper. Killing and dying are common – far too common in our world and in our city. Sometimes murders multiply so fast you feel overwhelmed by the evil of it all. That was the effect of yesterday's Metro section of the StarTribune on me.

  • There was the ongoing saga of Katie Poirer's murder.
  • There was the possible murder of 24-year-old Kinsey Otto in relation to the drug Ecstasy.
  • There was seventeen-year-old Steve Temple, who was killed Wednesday in Lakeville, and the three men who are being held in custody.
  • There was the sentencing of Ezekiel Caliguiri because of a murder in May.
  • There was another unnamed man who died Friday after being pushed off a bus downtown earlier this week.
  • There was Kimberly Harmon who was stabbed to death Wednesday morning.

And those are just the ones that make the paper – two pages of one day's news.

What these tragic and real-life stories make painfully real to us is that there is sin in the world and there is death. Murder is the outworking of sin in the human heart. And the result is death. One kills, another dies.

It stares us in the face from the newspaper or from television every day: death and sin, death and sin. It reminds me of one of the Proverbs that struck me on vacation: "Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square" (Proverbs 1:20). Wisdom shouts in the street. What does she say? How does she say it? She says, "Number your days, O people and the Twin Cities, and get a heart of wisdom. You are going to die someday, and it will be unplanned. Will you be ready? Get ready. Stay ready." She says, "Turn away from hate and bitterness and greed and killing. Turn away from sin and fear God. Vengeance is mine; I will repay. Trust me, follow my teachings. O do not be a fool any longer." That's what Wisdom says.

How does she shout this in the street? Just read the newspaper. Listen to the news. And think. Trace it all out. Follow anger to its end and see where it leads. Follow greed and addiction to the end and see where it leads. Peer into the ashen faces of dead teenagers and follow the soul to heaven or to hell. Wisdom is shouting in the street – from the papers and the televisions. "How long will you be foolish? How long will you cover your eyes and say, Sin is better. Sin is better!"? Wisdom is shouting in the streets. Are you listening?

What Does This Have to Do With Romans?

So what's the connection with Romans 5:12-19? Much in every way! To mention two:

First, when a person kills, and knows in the depth of his heart that he is under the condemnation of God (even if he is never caught on earth; see Romans 1:32), what can he do to silence his damning conscience and get right with God, so that he is spared hell and given everlasting joy? Is such a thing even thinkable – for a murderer to be acquitted by the highest court of the universe, where God sits as judge, and be counted righteous and even loved with everlasting life? That's what this text is about.

Second, when a person is killed, when a person dies, what becomes of him? Is there just nothingness? Is there unconsciousness and non-existence forever? Is a human being, created in God's image with a will and conscience and reason, like a leaf or a stick? Do we just die and decay and turn to dust, and that's it? Or is there a reckoning? Is there condemnation and salvation to reckon with? Is there a meeting with our Maker and the Judge of all? Is there the possibility of eternal life after a horrible death? If you were murdered tonight, would you be alive and happy in the presence of Jesus Christ tomorrow? That's what this text is about – that wonderful phrase in verse 18: "justification of life."

This pulpit is not the street. But this text is the voice of Wisdom. Divine Wisdom. And it is shouting to all who hear: Come all you killers and thieves and liars and fornicators and adulterers and coveters and blasphemers – come and hear how you may be put right with God – how your guilt may be removed and your conscience made clean. Come all you who will die, come and hear how you may be ready, come learn to meet your Judge and Maker unafraid. There is a great hymn with that line. We will sing it at the end.

Picking Up After Six Weeks – Summary

It's been six Sundays since we left off at the end of Romans 5:17. So it would be good to say some summary words about what we have seen so far in this passage, and then deal today simply with verses 18 and 19.

The main point of this passage is that what Christ has done for all who are in him by faith is far greater than what Adam did for all who are in him by nature. The disobedience of Adam brought all those who were in him (1 Corinthians 15:22, "in Adam all die") into condemnation and death. And the obedience of Christ brought all who are in him (2 Corinthians 5:2) to justification and life.

For five chapters Paul has been laboring to make clear and compelling for us the truth that sinners are put right with God not on the basis of any inherent righteousness in us but on the basis of the righteousness of Christ received by faith alone. Now in this passage Paul takes us to the deep cause for why God saves us this way.

God saves us this way through Christ because it corresponds to the way we were condemned through Adam. Justification unto life corresponds with condemnation unto death. And our condemnation, at its deepest root, comes not from what we did individually but from what Adam did as our representative. And so our justification, at its deepest root, comes not from what we do but from what Christ did. The reason for developing this comparison between Adam and Christ is to make clear that the root cause of our justification is the righteousness of Christ – the obedience of Christ – in the same way that the root cause of our condemnation was the sin of Adam – the disobedience of Adam.

And I think the reason God was willing to push the limits of our reason in revealing this hard doctrine of original sin to us is that we are so prone to think that we can and must get right with God by performing deeds of righteousness, instead of casting ourselves as helpless sinners on his mercy and depending on the righteousness of Christ alone as the basis of getting right with God. And so he says in this passage: No – it is "not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness" (Titus 3:5), rather . . .

Now, let's pick up the text where we left off six weeks ago, at verse 18:

So then [here is the summary] as through one transgression [Adam's first sin] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [Christ's] there resulted justification of life to all men. (19) For as through the one man's disobedience [Adam's] the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One [Christ] the many will be made righteous.

Being Put Right With God

So you can see what the main point is here. The main point is not merely to teach the doctrine of original sin – that in Adam we all fell and sinned and became sinners. That is true. But the reason for revealing that to us – and pushing the limits of human reason – is what it shows about how we are put right with God. That is the point. So before you stumble over that doctrine of original sin, be sure to hear why God reveals it to us. Let it have that effect first. Before you begin to judge God's method of condemnation, be sure to see the glory of God's method of justification.

We will come back next week to talk more fully about the doctrine of original sin, but today let's be sure we emphasize what is the main point, namely, how we are put right with God – how murderers and thieves and liars and fornicators and adulterers and coveters and blasphemers can be acquitted and put right with God and escape condemnation and be given eternal life.

Look carefully now at each of these verses, 18 and 19. Verse 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." I will say something about the word "all" in just a moment, but for now, notice the main point about justification. Justification happens to all who are connected to Christ the same way condemnation happened to those who are connected to Adam. How is that? Adam acted sinfully and, because we were connected to him, we were condemned in him. Christ acted righteously and because we are connected to Christ we are justified in Christ. Adam's sin is counted as ours. Christ's righteousness is counted as ours.

One Act of Righteousness

I think when Paul says that it was "one act of righteousness" that resulted in our justification, he is probably treating the entire life and ministry of Jesus as a single whole – as one great act of righteousness, rather than any one act he did in life. What act would you pick? If you said his death, would you mean the obedience of Gethsemane, or the obedience when the mob took him away, or the obedience when he was interrogated, or the obedience when he was crowned with thorns, or the obedience when he was flogged, or the obedience when he was nailed to the cross, or the obedience when he spoke words of love to his enemies, or the obedience when he offered up his spirit to his Father? So you see, even if you say the "act of righteousness" is his death, you mean a whole cluster of acts of righteousness. You are treating many acts as one great whole – the death.

I think the same thing should be done with his whole life, because any act of unrighteousness would have disqualified him from being our righteousness, and because in Matthew 3:15, at his baptism, Jesus said to John the Baptist, "In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" – not "many acts of righteousness," but "all righteousness," as if all were one whole. So from beginning to end in his ministry, Jesus was fulfilling one great "requirement of righteousness" (which is what dikaioma means in Romans 5:18).

That righteousness, Paul says in verse 18, "resulted in justification of life to all men." That righteousness of Jesus became the basis of our acceptance with our Maker and our Judge. Christ's righteousness is counted as our righteousness because we are connected to him. We are in him (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). That's what justification means.

Verse 19 supports this by saying it another way to make sure we get the main point: "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." The difference here from verse 18 is that the word "obedience" is used instead of the word "righteous act." This is to show that the nature of the righteousness we are talking about in verse 18 is compliance with the will of God. Adam did not comply and we were counted or appointed sinners in him. Christ did comply with his Father's will and we are counted righteous (obedient) in him.

So you see the point: Our righteousness before God, our justification, is not based on what we have done, but on what Christ did. His righteous act, his obedience is counted as ours. We are made or counted or appointed as righteous in him. It is a real righteousness, and it is really ours, but it is ours only by imputation – or to use Paul's language from earlier in the letter: We are "reckoned righteous."

Who Is This "We?"

Now a concluding word on who this "we" is. And here you should ask: Am I included in this justification? In verse 19 those who are "made righteous" are called "the many": "so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." In verse 18 those who have "justification of life" are "all men." "Through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Who are these "all men"? Does it mean that every human being who is in Adam will also be justified so that no one will be lost and there is no such thing as eternal punishment for anyone? This is called universalism.

I don't think so, for several reasons.

1) Verse 17 speaks of "receiving" the gift of righteousness as though some do and some don't. 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." That does not sound like everybody does receive it.

2) "Justification of life to all men" in Romans 5:18 does not mean all humans are justified, because Paul teaches clearly in this very book and elsewhere (2 Thessalonians 1:9) that there is eternal punishment and all humans are not justified. For example, in Romans 2:5 he says, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," and then in verses 7 and 8 he contrasts this wrath with "eternal life" and so shows that it is eternal wrath, not temporary wrath. So there will be some who are not justified but come under the wrath of God forever and others who have eternal life.

3) "Justification of life to all men" in Romans 5:18 does not mean all humans are justified, because in all of Romans up until now justification is not automatic as if every human receives it, but it is "by faith." Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith . . ." Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

So here is the message for us this morning: Killers and thieves and liars and fornicators and adulterers and coveters and blasphemers, that is, all human beings, whatever you have done, may be put right with God, not on the basis of your own righteous acts, but on the basis of Christ's righteous act, not on the basis of your own obedience, but on the basis of Christ's obedience, and not because you are human, but because you believe.

So I urge you, I plead with you, while there is still time in this very uncertain world of killing and dying: Trust Christ for all that God is for you in him; trust him for your righteousness. And if you wonder if you can trust him for a lifetime, trust him now for that. And then, no matter what you have done, you will be able "to face your Judge and Maker unafraid."

Those are the words of verse 2 of "We Come O Christ to You," and I would like us to make it our closing song of faith. If you are trusting him now, sing this as your testimony, then tell others of your faith this week.

You are the Way to God, your blood our ransom paid;
In you we face our Judge and Maker unafraid.
Before the throne absolved we stand,
Your love has met your law's demand.

E. Margaret Clarkson

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org