Adam, Christ, and Justification, Part 1

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.

An Implication for Men

This is not a Father's Day sermon. But with one slight twist of the dial it could be. What Paul does in this paragraph is compare and contrast Adam, the first man and the father of humanity, with Jesus Christ, the second Adam and father of the new humanity. The passage begins in verse 12, "Therefore just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin . . ."

What this implies for fathers - though it is not at all Paul's main point here, and it won't be mine - is that Adam, the first man, had a unique burden of responsibility for leadership when he was created which Eve did not have. The reason we say this is that, even though Genesis shows that Eve was the one Satan picked to tempt, and in one sense she broke the specific commandment first not to eat of the tree, that made no difference to God or to Paul; they held the man accountable. When God came to call the couple to account, Genesis 3:9 says, "The LORD God called the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And when Paul talks about how sin entered the world and how we are all now sinners because of that first sin, he looks straight to Adam and not to Eve as the head and responsible one.

None of this is incidental. It is woven all through the Bible. The point is not that women aren't responsible or have no dealings with God directly. The point is that God holds men responsible for a unique role of leadership and protection and provision. So men, boys (who will become men); God designed you for this burden of responsibility. It is your calling. And if you fulfill it with humble, sacrificial love, it will be your glory as well.

Now that is not the point of the text. It is a subordinate implication.

Christ Is Far Greater Than Adam

The main point of the text is that what Christ has done for all who are in him is far greater than what Adam did for all who were in him.

  • The obedience of Christ is parallel, but vastly superior, to the disobedience of Adam.
  • The righteousness imputed to those who are in Christ is parallel, but vastly superior, to the sin imputed to those who are in Adam because of his disobedience.
  • The life that comes to us who are in Christ through that imputed righteousness is parallel, but vastly superior, to the death that comes to those who are in Adam through that imputed sin.

The point of the paragraph is that the obedience of Christ - the obedience unto death, as Paul says in Philippians 2:8 - is the foundation of the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ in the act of justification. In other words, the overarching theme of the letter to the Romans from 1:17 onward has been the doctrine of justification through faith apart from works - that believers are declared to have a right standing with God not on the basis of our inherent righteousness, but on the basis of Christ's righteousness received by faith alone. And now, in this paragraph, Paul draws this same teaching to a climax by explaining it more fully through the comparison and contrast between the effect of Christ's obedience and the effect of Adam's disobedience.

Why would he do this? Why involve himself in such a complex argument as we find in this paragraph?

Adam Is a Type

Before I try to answer that, let's be sure you see for yourselves that Paul does indeed intend to draw out a parallel here between Adam and Christ. Look with me at verse 14. Don't worry for the moment about the context here. We will work on that next week. I just want to get one crucial preliminary point from verse 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." Now that last phrase is what I want you all to see. That is the hinge on which the whole paragraph swings. Adam is a "type" of him who is to come. Adam is a type of Christ.

What does "type" mean? The NIV says "pattern." Adam was a pattern of Christ who was to come. He was an example, or a foreshadowing, or a prefiguring of Christ. Let me see if I can say it so that the children can understand it. Sometimes when we want to understand something better we compare it with something like it, but not totally like it. For example, if you come to my house and I say, "Look at my dog, Sable, and tell me what you see," you might say, "She's black with white paws and brown eyes and a tail with a white tip." And that may be about it. But then I go get Pastor Livingston's dog, Lady, and put her beside my dog and say, "Now how is my dog different? What do you notice that you didn't notice before?" Then you might say, "Well, Sable is bigger, and Lady seems to be friskier and Sable is sort of laid back, and Lady's tail kind of hangs down and Sable's curls up. And Lady has long hair and Sable has short hair. And Lady's nose is thinner." So do you see what happens: you notice new things about Sable when you compare her with another dog that is different - the size, the temperament, the curl of the tail, the length of hair, the thickness of the nose. So one way to see something better is to see it alongside something like it but different.

That is what Paul is doing in this paragraph. In verse 14 he says he is going to view Christ in comparison and contrast with Adam. That makes Adam a type or a pattern. And the aim is to see more clearly and more fully and more deeply the work of Christ and how he became the foundation of our justification.

Now why? Why take this approach? There are probably other ways Paul could have explained justification more fully and deeply. Why bring in Adam, the first man, and talk about his sin and how it affected the whole human race, and then compare that to Christ and his righteousness and how that affected all those who are in him? Why this approach?

Adam Is the Father of Every Person

There is more than one reason. And they are all woven together. Let me mention one and you will see others woven into it. Paul explains the obedience of Christ as the remedy for the damage done by the disobedience of Adam, because he wants us to see that the doctrine of justification by grace through faith is not limited to any one people group or any one place or any one time period of history, but is relevant and essential for all people in all times and all places. Wherever there are descendants of Adam, there is a need for the truth of justification by faith. The damage done by Adam's sin affects every human being in every place in all times. And now we see by this comparison in Romans 5:12-21 that the obedience of Jesus Christ and imputing of that obedience to all who believe is the remedy for the damage done to all human beings everywhere. There is no other remedy. There is no other salvation for the fatal damage done through Adam to all human beings.

The implications of this are staggering. One is that Jesus Christ is very great and worthy of our greatest admiration and trust and love and praise. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised and his greatness is unsearchable. He and he alone has lived and died in such a way that it can remedy the deepest problem of sin for any human being anywhere who trusts in him.

Another implication of this comparison between Christ and Adam is that Jesus Christ is not a tribal deity. What this means for missions and evangelism is immense. Jesus Christ is not a Christian god alongside the Muslim god and the Hindu gods and the Jewish God. He is the universal Lord and Savior, and there is no other Savior. The point of the comparison with Adam is to show that there is one fundamental problem in the human race that began with Adam at the beginning: Sin. And the burden of this text, expressed over and over and over again, is that the problem with humanity is not most deeply our individual sinning that might seek out individual remedies; but our problem is the connection that we all have with Adam's sin.

  • Verse 15: "By the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died."
  • Verse 16: "The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation."
  • Verse 17: "By the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one."
  • Verse 18: "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men."
  • Verse 19: "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners."

So the problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins - those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul is very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment. And the Savior from this condition and this damage is one Savior, who stands in Adam's place as a kind of second Adam (or "last Adam," 1 Corinthians 15:45). And in one great life and death of obedience he undoes what Adam did. In Adam all men were appointed sinners (verse 19), but all who are in Christ are appointed righteous. In Adam all received condemnation (verse 18), in Christ all receive justification.

Now let's drive this home for our missionaries and for all our evangelism here at home. Do not think that the doctrine of justification by grace, based on the imputation of the obedience of Christ through faith apart from works, is a mere concoction of a western European worldview that got off the ground with the guilty conscience of a monk named Martin Luther. That's not true. It can't be true, because it is the historical remedy in the person of Jesus Christ for the historical damage in the person of everybody's first ancestor.

The doctrine of justification by grace through faith cannot be replaced by a redemptive analogy. If Paul had merely said for example, "Sin is like drowning in the ocean, and salvation is like being pulled out of the water into a boat by a strong man," then you might go to a people group somewhere far from oceans and boats and say, "Sin is like sinking in quicksand and salvation is like being pulled onto a firm rock by a strong man." That's fine. But you can't do that with this doctrine of justification - not now, not after Romans 5:12-21.

Why not? Because now Paul has connected it with Adam. And Adam is the historical ancestor of every people group on the face of the earth. This is not a myth; it's not an analogy; it's not an illustration. It is historical fact. Adam, the first human being, sinned and in him all human beings sinned, and all died and all are condemned. And the remedy for that is another historical Person - the God-man, Jesus Christ, who came in space and time to undo what Adam did. He trusted and obeyed God perfectly, so that all who are in him by faith have that obedience imputed to them and become right with God forever.

Jesus' Righteousness Relevant to Each of Adam's Children

That historical truth is relevant and applicable to every people group on the face of the earth and every person you know in the United States of America. Someone might say, "But what if you come to a people group that has no categories or thought forms for understanding this sort of thing - a corporate connection between humanity and its ancestors, or the possibility of our sinning in the sin of another, or our being counted righteous with the righteousness of another? You know what? We are that people group. We don't have any categories for that in modern America. Many third world peoples would have far less difficulty with this text than we do.

I expect that before I am done with this three-part series on this paragraph some of you may say - or feel like saying - no way! We can't sin in Adam. We can't be identified with him in his guilt and condemnation. Somebody else can't obey for me to make me right with God. We can't have the righteousness of another imputed to us.

So the last thing I want to say this morning is this: It is the task of every missionary - and every pastor and evangelist - not only to accommodate Biblical teaching to cultural categories where possible and helpful; but it is also our task to create Biblical categories where no others will carry the Biblical truth faithfully. So, very personally, some of you have heard this morning:

  • that the Bible says that your deepest problem is your connection with Adam's sin and condemnation - that you share in it as part of the human race;
  • and that the only remedy in all the universe for this condemnation is the justification that comes by the work of Jesus Christ who was perfectly obedient even unto death;
  • and that faith in Christ is the one and only way to be united to him and justified and accepted before God.

But you say, "I don't understand this. I don't think this way. I don't have any categories in my brain for holding this." Please do this: embrace it as you see it; and tell God that you receive his way of salvation in Christ; and ask him with faith that he give you the fuller understanding that you need. God loves to save humble sinners. You don't have to understand it all to benefit from it all.

A closing appeal to the dads and all men. We want to pray for you this morning. If you take seriously the burden of your responsibility as spiritual leader in your family and church, then every one of you has burdens that could be made lighter by prayer. Come and let us pray for you after the service. A kind of Father's Day gift.