The Fatal Disobedience of Adam and the Triumphant Obedience of Christ
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus Is Supreme
One of the aims of this series is to impress on our minds the fact that Jesus Christ is the most important person in the universe—not more important than God the Father or God the Spirit. With them, he is equal in worth and beauty and wisdom and justice and love and power. But he is more important than all other persons—whether angels or demons or kings or commanders or scientists or artists or philosophers or athletes or musicians or actors—the ones who live now, or have ever lived, or ever will live. Jesus Christ is supreme.
All Things for Jesus—Even Evil
This series is also meant to show that everything that exists—including evil—is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly. Some of us just read this week in our Bible reading plan Proverbs 16:4: “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” God has done this in his own mysterious way that preserves the responsibility of the wicked and the sinlessness of his own heart. We saw two weeks ago that all things were made through Christ and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). And that includes, Paul says, the “thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities” who were defeated by Christ at the cross. They were made “for the day of trouble.” And on that day the power and justice and wrath and love of Christ were displayed. Sooner or later, every rebellion against him comes to ruin.
The God Who Is There
This series also aims to solidify the conviction that Christianity is not merely a set of ideas and practices and feelings designed for our psychological well-being—whether designed by God or man. That’s not what Christianity is. Christianity begins with the conviction that God is an objective reality outside ourselves. We do not make him what he is by thinking a certain way about him. As Francis Schaefer said, he is the God who is there. We don’t make him. He makes us. We don’t decide what he is going to be like. He decides what we are going to be like. He created the universe, and it has the meaning he gives it, not the meaning we give it. If we give it a meaning different from his, we are fools. And our lives will be tragic in the end. Christianity is not a game; it’s not a therapy. All of its doctrines flow from what God is and what he has done in history. They correspond to hard facts. Christianity is more than facts. There is faith and hope and love. But these don’t float in the air. They grow like great cedar trees in the rock of God’s truth.
And the reason I make this one of our aims in this series is because I am deeply convinced from the Bible that your eternal joy and strength and holiness depend on the solidity of this worldview putting strong fiber into the spine of your faith. Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. And wimpy Christians won’t survive the days ahead. Rootless emotionalism that treats Christianity like a therapeutic option will be swept away in the Last Days. Those who will be left standing will be those who have built their house on the rock of great, objective truth with Jesus Christ as the origin, center, and goal of it all.
Jesus’ Glory Planned in Adam’s Sin
The focus today is on the spectacular sin of the first man, Adam, and how it set the stage for the more spectacular counter-thrust of Jesus Christ. Let’s turn to Romans 5:12-21. In the summer of 2000, we spent five weeks on these verses. Today the focus is different from anything we looked at in those weeks.
I want us to focus on the glory of Christ as the main purpose that God had in mind when he planned for and permitted Adam’s sin, and with him the fall of all humanity into sin. Remember what I said last week: Whatever God permits, he permits for a reason. And his reasons are always infinitely wise and purposeful. He did not have to let the Fall happen. He could have stopped it, just like he could have stopped the fall of Satan (as we saw last week). The fact that he did not stop it means he has a reason, a purpose for it. And he doesn’t make up his plans as he goes along. What he knows to be wise, he has always known to be wise. Therefore, Adam’s sin and the fall of the human race with him into sin and misery did not take God off guard and is part of his overarching plan to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ.
One of the clearest ways to show this from the Bible—and we won’t go into it in detail here—is to look at those places where the sin-defeating sacrifice of Christ is shown to be in God’s mind before the creation of the world. (For more detail, see the message "The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God.") For example, in Revelation 13:8, John writes about “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” So there was a book before the foundation of the world called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” Before the world was created, God had already planned that his Son would be slain like a Lamb to save all those who are written in the book. We could go to numerous other texts like this (Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:20) to see the biblical view that the sufferings and death of Christ for sin are not planned after the sin of Adam but before. Therefore, when the sin of Adam happens, God is not surprised by it, but has already made it part of his plan—namely, a plan to display his amazing patience and grace and justice and wrath in the history of redemption, and then, climactically, to reveal the greatness of his Son as the second Adam superior in every way to the first Adam.
So we look at Romans 5:12-21, this time keeping in mind that Adam’s spectacular sin did not frustrate God’s Christ-exalting purposes, but instead served them. Here’s the way we will look at these verses. There are five explicit references to Christ. One of them sets up the way Paul is thinking about Christ and Adam. And the rest show how Christ is greater than Adam. Two of those are so similar we will lump them together. Which means we will look at three aspects of Christ’s superiority.
Jesus, “The Coming One”
So first let’s look at the way Christ is referred to in verse 14 and read verses 12-13 for the context: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” There’s the reference to Christ: “the one who was to come.”
Verse 14 sets up the way Paul is thinking in the rest of the passage. Adam is called a “type” of the one who was to come, that is, a type of Christ. Notice the most obvious thing first: Christ “was to come.” From the beginning, Christ was “the coming one.” Paul shows that Christ is not an afterthought. Paul does not say that Christ was conceived as a copy of Adam. He says that Adam was a type of Christ. God dealt with Adam in a way that would make him a type of the way he planned to glorify his Son. A type is a foreshadowing of something that will come later and will be like the type—only greater. So God dealt with Adam in a way that would make him a type of Christ.
Now notice more closely just where, in the flow of his thought, Paul chooses to say that Adam is a type of Christ. Verse 14: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” He chooses to tell us that Adam is a type of Christ just after saying that even people who did not sin in the way he did still bore the punishment that Adam bore. Why did Paul, just at this point, say that Adam was a type of Christ?
Jesus, Our Representative Head
Because what he had just said gets at the very essence of how Christ and Adam are alike and different. Here’s the parallel: People whose transgression was not like Adam’s died like Adam. Why? Because they were connected to Adam. He was the representative head of their humanity, and his sin is counted as their sin because of their connection with him. That’s the essence of why Adam is called a type of Christ—because our obedience is not like Christ’s obedience and yet we have eternal life with Christ. Why? Because we are connected to Christ by faith. He is the representative head of the new humanity and his righteousness is counted as our righteousness because of our connection with him (cf. Romans 6:5).
There’s the parallel implied in calling Adam a type of Christ:
Adam > Adam’s sin > humanity condemned in him > eternal death
Christ > Christ’s righteousness > new humanity justified in him > eternal life
The rest of the passage unpacks how much greater Christ and his saving work are than Adam and his destructive work. Keep in mind what I said at the beginning. What we are seeing here is God’s revelation of realities that define the world that every person on this planet lives in. Everybody on this planet is included in this text because Adam was the father of everybody. Therefore, every person you meet in America or any other country of any ethnicity is facing what this text talks about. Death in Adam or life in Christ. This is a global text. Don’t miss that. This is the defining reality for every single person you will ever meet. Wimpy worldviews produce wimpy Christians. This is not a wimpy worldview. It stretches over all of history and over all the earth. It profoundly affects every person in the world and every headline on the internet.
Celebrating the Superiority of Jesus
Now let’s look at three ways that Paul celebrates the superiority of Christ and his work over Adam and his work. They can be summed up under three phrases: 1) the abundance of grace, 2) the perfection of obedience, and 3) the reign of life.
1) The Abundance of Grace
First, verse 15 and the abundance of grace. “But the free gift [namely, the free gift of righteousness, v. 17] is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” The point here is that God’s grace is more powerful than Adam’s trespass. That’s what the words “much more” signify: “much more has the grace of God . . . abounded for many.” If man’s trespass brought death, how much will God’s grace bring life.
But Paul is more specific than that. God’s grace is specifically “the grace of that one man Jesus Christ.” “Much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” These are not two different graces. “The grace of that one man Jesus Christ” is the incarnation of the grace of God. That’s the way Paul talks about it, for example, in Titus 2:11: “The grace of God has appeared [namely, in Jesus], bringing salvation . . . .” And in 2 Tim. 1:9: “His own . . . grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus.” So the grace that is in Jesus is the grace of God.
This grace is sovereign grace. It conquers everything in its path. We will see in just a moment that it has the power of the king of the universe. It is reigning grace. That’s the first celebration of Christ’s superiority over Adam. When the trespass of the one man Adam and the grace of the one man Jesus Christ meet, Adam and his trespass lose. Christ and grace win. That is very good news for those who belong to Christ.
2) The Perfection of Obedience
Second, Paul celebrates the way that the grace of Christ conquers Adam’s trespass and death, namely, the perfection of Christ’s obedience. Verse 19: “For as by the one man’s disobedience [namely, Adam’s] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [namely, Christ’s] the many will be made righteous.” So the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, keeps him from sinning—keeps him obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8)—so that he offers flawless and complete obedience to the Father on behalf of those who are connected to him by faith. Adam failed in his obedience. Christ succeeded perfectly. Adam was the source of sin and death. Christ was the source of obedience and life.
Christ is like Adam, who was a type of Christ—both are the representative heads of an old and a new humanity. God imputes the failure of Adam to his humanity and God imputes the success of Christ to his humanity, because of how these two humanities are united to their respective heads. The great superiority of Christ is that he not only succeeds in obeying perfectly, but does so in such a way that millions of people are counted righteous because of his obedience. Are you only connected to Adam? Are you only a part of the first humanity bound for death? Or are you also a connected to Christ, and part of the new humanity bound for eternal life?
3) The Reign of Life
Third, Paul celebrates not only the abounding grace of Christ and the perfect obedience of Christ, but finally, the reign of life. Grace leads through Christ’s obedience to the triumph of eternal life. Verse 21: “. . . so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Grace reigns through righteousness (that is, through the perfect righteousness of Christ) to the great climax of eternal life—and all of that is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Or, once more in verse 17, the same message: “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” The same pattern: Grace through the free gift of righteousness leads to the triumph of life, and all of that through Jesus Christ.
I mentioned above that the grace of God in Christ that Paul mentions in these verses is sovereign grace. Here is where you see that, namely, in the word reign. Death has a kind of sovereignty over man and reigns over all. All die. But grace conquers sin and death. It reigns in life even over those who once were dead. That is sovereign grace.
Jesus’ Spectacular Obedience
This is the great glory of Christ—he vastly outshines the first man Adam. The spectacular sin of Adam is not as great as the spectacular grace and obedience of Christ and the gift of eternal life. Indeed, God’s plan from the beginning, in his perfect righteousness, was that Adam, as the representative head of humankind, would be a type of Christ as the representative head of a new humankind. His plan was that by this comparison and contrast, the glory of Christ would shine all the more brightly.
Verse 17 puts the matter to you very personally and very urgently. Where do you stand? “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Notice the words very carefully and personally: “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.”
Precious Words for Sinners
These are precious words for sinners: The grace is free, the gift is free, the righteousness of Christ is free. Will you receive it as the hope and treasure of your life? If you do, you will “reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Receive it now. Bear witness to it in baptism. And become a living part of the people of Christ.
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. 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