Adam, Christ, and Justification, Part 5

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. 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.

Positively, the Work of Christ

We have devoted four messages to the positive side of this passage because that is the main point. The negative effects of Adam's sin are here mainly to help us see the positive effects of Christ's righteousness. Notice again the litany of positive statements about the work of Christ:

  • Romans 5:15b: "Much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many."
  • Romans 5:16b: "The free gift [of Christ's righteousness, verse 17] arose from many transgressions resulting in justification."
  • Romans 5:17b: "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 5:18b: "Even so through one act of righteousness [of Jesus] there resulted justification of life to all men."
  • Romans 5:19b: "Even so through the obedience of the One [Jesus] the many will be made righteous."
  • Romans 5:21b: "So grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

But now we need to stop and ponder the negative situation behind all these positive statements. We need to try to understand how Adam's sin affects the human race. I hope to point out six practical benefits from doing this besides the main one of seeing the nature of justification more clearly, which is what we have been stressing in these last four messages.

What we have said is that just as the sin of Adam brings condemnation to all who are in him, so the righteousness of Jesus brings justification to all who are in him. We have stressed that our justification is not based on "deeds which we have done in righteousness" (Titus 3:5), but on the deeds that Christ has done in righteousness. And we have seen that the reason God saves us this way is because it corresponds to what happened to us in relation to Adam. Our original condemnation is not based on individual deeds done by us in sin, but on the first sinful deed of Adam. Since condemnation came to us through Adam's sin, justification comes to us through Christ's righteousness.

Negatively, Our Relationship to Adam

Now we need to pause and ponder our relationship to Adam and the effect that it has on us and the world. Be aware that what we are about to consider is a massive question about what it means to be human and about why the world is the way it is. How you think about this issue will have a pervasive effect on the way you think and act about almost everything, from childrearing to evangelism to education to the nature of civil law and government.

Let's put the negative parts of the text before us and then make some observations and draw out some practical benefits for our lives.

  • Romans 5:12a: "Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin."
  • Romans 5:14: "Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam."

This is very important to see. Paul is saying that the consequence of Adam's sin, death, was experienced by those who had not done what Adam did. In other words, Paul is stressing here that it is not our own individual sins that bring our first condemnation on us. People die who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam. The point is that Adam's sin is the most fundamental problem, not our sins – just as Christ's righteousness is the fundamental solution, not our righteousness.

  • Romans 5:15a: "By the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died."
  • Romans 5:16a: "The judgment arose from one transgression [Adam's] resulting in condemnation."
  • Romans 5:17a: "By the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one."
  • Romans 5:18a: "Through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men."
  • Romans 5:19a: "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners."

Paul teaches two things here about our condition in relation to Adam: 1) the power of sin enters into human life and corrupts or depraves our human nature, and 2) nevertheless our condemnation is owing first to Adam's sin, not our individual acts of sinning. Let me point each of these out one at a time, starting with the second.

We Sinned in Adam's Sinning

1) We sinned in Adam's sinning. That is what Romans 5:12 says in the words, "for all sinned" (see the previous sermons on this verse). How do we explain this? Without getting specific, we can say that God ordains that that there be a union of some kind that makes Adam's sin to be our sin so that our condemnation is just. Verse 16 talks about the basis of our condemnation. It says, "The judgment arose from one transgression [Adam's] resulting in condemnation." Notice three steps: 1) one transgression, 2) a consequent judgment, 3) resulting in condemnation. What is the "judgment" that condemnation results from?

You could try to answer: The judgment that results in condemnation is our fallen nature and our individual sins. But that would not fit well with verse 14 where Paul says that this condemnation, death, reigned "even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." In other words, Paul wants to stress it was Adam's act, not our independent acts, that brings condemnation. He makes it explicit in verse 18: "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men."

What is this judgment in verse 16 that "results in condemnation"? I answer that it is the counting of Adam's sin as our sin, on the basis of the union God has established between us and Adam. God established a just and fitting union between Adam and his posterity, and on that basis, when Adam sinned, the judgment that leads to condemnation was the reckoning of Adam's sin as our sin and guilt. That judgment, Paul says, resulted in condemnation. So our condemnation does have a basis in our sin. But it is not ours the way all our individual sins are ours; this sin is ours on the basis of our union with Adam. It is through "one transgression" – Adam's transgression – that condemnation resulted to all (verse 18).

That's the first thing that the passage teaches about our relation to Adam.

All Humanity Becomes Corrupt and Sinful

2) The other thing we see in this passage is that through Adam's sin all humanity really does become corrupt in their hearts and sinful in their behavior. This is not the main point of Romans 5. In fact, it seems to me that Paul is trying explicitly to keep this from being the main point, lest we base our condemnation first on our individual sins, and then base our justification on our individual righteousness. He is trying to avoid that mistaken view of justification. Which is why he says 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." That is, death came to all, but it was not owing first to their individual sinful acts. For example, infants died.

But, even though it is a subordinate point in this passage, it is here. Notice Romans 5:13, "Until the Law [that is, in the time from Adam to Moses] sin was in the world." So it is clear that Paul views ongoing sin in the hearts of men as part of what entered the world through Adam – "sin was in the world." All people become sinful in their nature and in their behavior.

Even though this is not clear and dominant here, it is clear elsewhere in Paul and in the rest of the Bible (Psalm 51:6; 58:3; Job 15:14; Jeremiah 13:23; Ezekiel 11:19). Or for example, Ephesians 2:3, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." The key phrase is "by nature" we are children of wrath. In other words, something happened to us in the sin of Adam that altered our human nature. We do not just do sins; we are by nature sinners, corrupt, depraved, bent, rebellious. Here in Romans, Paul said it like this: "Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin" (3:9). The point of verses 9-18 is that there is "none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). We don't just do sins; we are under the power of sin. We are by nature unrighteous. And in Romans 6:6,17,20, we are called not just sinners but "slaves of sin." That is the condition of all human beings since the first man sinned.

Two Things That Need a Remedy

So we have seen two things that need a remedy. One is our sinful nature that enslaves us to sin, and the other is our original guilt and condemnation that is rooted not first in our individual sinning but in our connection with Adam in his sin. The book of Romans – indeed the whole Bible is the story of how God has worked in history to remedy these two problems. The problem of our condemnation in Adam God remedies through justification in Christ. The problem of our corruption and depravity he remedies through sanctification by the Spirit. Or to put it another way: The problem of our legal guilt and condemnation before God is solved by his reckoning to us the righteousness Christ; and the problem of our moral defilement and habitual sinning is solved by his purifying us by the work of Spirit. The first remedy, justification, comes by imputed righteousness. The other, sanctification, comes by imparted righteousness. Justification is instantaneous; sanctification is progressive – and we will deal extensively with it in Romans 6-8, just we have dealt with justification in Romans 3-5.

They are not identical, and they are not separable. Justification comes first by faith prior to any deeds done by us in righteousness. By this we are forgiven and put right with God legally. We are acquitted and counted righteous with Christ's righteousness. Then on the basis of this secure and reconciled standing with God, we are gradually transformed into the likeness of his Son by the Spirit. Justification and sanctification are inseparable because both are by faith. The faith that unites us to Christ for justification also breaks the power of sin in our lives. Woe to us if we try to get right with God by faith alone, and then try to become good people by some other means. Trusting Christ for all that God is for us in him is the link to God's justifying grace, and trusting Christ for all that God is for us in him is the link to God's sanctifying grace. We are pardoned and we are purified – by the same kind of faith.

Well, I meant to focus on the negative half of this text, but I keep slipping into the positive part. That's because God's plan of salvation is so perfectly suited to our fallen condition, that it is hard, as a Christian, to look at the condition and not immediately exult in the remedy we have experienced.

Benefits of Pondering Our Depravity

But let me try to close by pointing out several practical benefits from pondering the condition of the human race as depraved by nature and legally condemned in Adam.

1) First, it humbles us morally and intellectually. Morally, because I must admit I not only do bad things, but I am bad. I not only need natural training, I need supernatural rebirth. Something about me needs to die and something new needs to be created. I am deeply in need for something beyond what I can produce. And I am humbled because this doctrine of original sin (which is what we have been discussing) pushes the ability of my reason to the limit of its powers and leaves me behind. Most of us will have to settle for a large dose of mystery here. How are we connected to Adam such that it is just for his sin to be counted as our sin, and just for us to be condemned? Paul does not make that explicit. We do not doubt the justice of God; we doubt our own ability to explain it. The doctrine of original sin is therefore a morally and intellectually humbling truth.

2) It deepens our gratitude for salvation. The more we know about our fallen condition, the more grateful we should feel that we are saved. This is why Paul erupts with thanksgiving in Romans 6:17, "But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart." Knowing that we are not just sinners but "slaves of sin" will make us sing for joy to be justified from sin's guilt and delivered from sin's power.

3) It helps us explain the world we live in. The ironic thing about the doctrine of original sin is that, while being one of the hardest doctrines to accept, it helps explain most of what we see in the world: namely, the universality of evil. People who believe what the Bible teaches about this doctrine are not baffled about why history is strewn with corpses and why every society that has ever been has had to deal with the evil of its people.

4) It therefore gives insight into how governments should best be established. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis said that the doctrine of original sin is the basis of a democratic form of government – where power is spread out over the people – because it is the only reason we can give for not absolutely trusting a ruling elite. In other words, the best argument of democracy is not that men are good enough to govern themselves, but that men are so bad none can be trusted with absolute power.

5) It should produce compassion for others. Here is the way Jonathan Edwards put it:

This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others, than of ourselves: it teaches us that we are all, as we are by nature, companions in a miserable helpless condition: which under a revelation of the divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion. And nothing has a greater tendency to promote those amiable dispositions of mercy, forbearance, longsuffering, gentleness and forgiveness, than a sense of our own extreme unworthiness and misery, and the infinite need we have of the divine pity, forbearance and forgiveness, together with a hope of obtaining mercy (Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 3 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970], p. 424).

It is very hard to treat other sinners with contempt and lovelessness when we have a deep grasp of our own fallen condition.

6) This doctrine will help motivate us in evangelism and world missions. It teaches us that there are no exceptions to human sinfulness. All who come from Adam are in need of the second Adam. There is only one, Jesus Christ. There is no other way for us to get right with God but through God's one remedy: the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the power of his Spirit through faith. No other religion teaches this remedy besides biblical Christianity. God has revealed to us the diagnosis and God has revealed the remedy. He has shown it to us. He has made us love it and rejoice in it. It is plain what we should do. Tell this good news to all the world and delight in the spread of Christ-exalting joy.

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