Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 2, 1990


Purpose: To show that just as surely as Adam's sin brings death, Christ's accomplishment at the cross brings justification and life.

Some of you are--or were--great athletes. You never sat on the bench during a game. You played every quarter. But others of us--us, you notice how I worded that?--we know what it means to be on a team yet watch from the sidelines. It's not nearly as much fun. We would have rather been playing. But I can tell you this from experience, when your team wins, you're just as happy as the people who played. You jump up and down and scream right along with them, "We won! We won!" You're part of the team and you enjoy the benefits of being on the team.

That's even true in some individual sports, like auto racing, or bicycle racing, or boxing. One person is participating, but often a whole entourage of people are involved in his or her performance. Look toward a boxer's corner after a victory and see all the people jumping around with their hands in the air. They are part of his team. They helped him train. They advised him. They have identified themselves with that one man and they reap the rewards of his victory, or suffer the agony of his defeat.

I mention that because it helps us understand a great doctrinal truth that many people find difficult to accept. I'm talking about our identification with one man in His sin, and/or our identification with one Man in His righteousness and the life that follows. Paul has been teaching us the great doctrine of justification by faith in the book of Romans. That is, a right standing before God and the assurance of future glory by faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ alone. In chapter 5 he's been addressing the question, "Can faith in that one great act at Calvary really see us through to glory?" It certainly can. Just as surely as Adam's sin brings death, Christ's accomplishment at the cross brings justification and life.

That's the message of Romans 5:12-21. It's one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to understand but it is so very important. I read it for years and scratched my head wondering what it was all about.

It's actually a contrast between two men: Adam and Christ. And everyone of us is identified with one of the two. There are just two teams. Furthermore, everyone of us will reap the consequences of what our man--the head of our team--has done. But what have they done? And what are the consequences of being identified with them?

The Effects of Adam's Sinful Act
(Romans 5:12-17)

Let's start with Adam, and see the effects and consequences of Adam's sinful act.

The Results (Romans 5:12)

Romans 5:12. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." That's not a complete sentence, is it? It sounds as though Paul wanted to finish it by saying, "even so…" but he got sidetracked.

That's exactly what happened; he got sidetracked. The King James Version helps us understand that by putting the next five verses in parenthesis. Paul doesn't actually finish his thought until the middle of verse 18. And that's why this passage is so difficult for most of us to understand. See, if you'll drop your eye down to verse 18, you'll find that the first half of the verse actually repeats exactly what he said in verse 12, and then you'll see the words, "even so." You see that? You might want to circle them and draw a line back to verse 12, because that's the finish--that's the completion--of Paul's thought in verse 12. And everything between is a digression--a very important digression, as we shall see.

But even without the conclusion in verse 18, Romans 5:12 contains some crucial truth that we need to understand--particularly about a vital doctrine that has usually been called the doctrine of original sin. The one man is obviously Adam; he's mentioned by name in verse 14. And his one act of sin had two disastrous consequences according to Romans 5:12.

1. Sin entered the world as a direct result of Adam's one sinful act.

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world."

Sin was unknown in God's world before Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, but became very much a part of the human scene afterward. Adam is mentioned as the guilty one rather than Eve because he was in charge and he was ultimately responsible. And eventually he would have sinned whether Eve had tempted him or not.

When Adam sinned, he suffered a constitutional change. He became a sinner, with a sin nature and a disposition toward sin. And he passed that nature on to his descendants just as surely as he passed on the tendency to have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Everyone born of Adam from that day onward has been born in sin. That's what it means when we say "original sin." All of us were born in sin.

Many people don't like that. Right away they ask, "Do you mean that my precious little baby has a sin nature?"

Yes, yes he does. It's hard for me to believe that, too. I mean, a couple weeks ago, I was rocking my wonderful little grandson, looking into that sweet little face and saying, "Lord, is it really true? Does this child have a sinful nature?" And then he began to demonstrate his sinful nature to me! And yes, it's true.

And it isn't only the Bible that teaches that. Ray Stedman quotes a report from the Minnesota Crime Commission, purely a secular agency: "Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it--his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmate's toy, his uncle's watch. Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless.... If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist" (Romans, I, 131).

That's a strong statement from a secular agency. But it's what the Bible teaches. When Adam sinned, sin entered the world and has touched the life of every person from that day on, save the Lord Jesus Christ, of course. Sin entered the world.

2. Death spread to all mankind as a direct result of Adam's one sinful act.

Romans 5:12. "And just as through one man sin entered the world, and death, through sin. Thus, death spread to all mankind because all sinned."

Physical death was unknown in God's world before Adam sinned, but it became very much a part of the human scene as a result. In fact, nobody has been able to escape it from that day to this, except Jesus (and a few others in the Old Testament whom God took miraculously into heaven). "But that's not fair," you protest. Why should I have to suffer for what Adam did?"

That's where the team concept comes in. You're on the team, you're part of the human race, you're identified Adam whether you like it or not. And you reap the consequences of being on his team. As a matter of fact, the Bible is so specific as to say you sinned when he sinned--"...because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). The tense (Aorist) indicates that it happened at one point in time, that is, when Adam sinned you were there and participated in it--just as Levi was there in the loins of Abraham and paid tithes to Melchizedek though yet unborn (Hebrews 7:9-10).

How can that be? Very simple. We are all affected by what our ancestors did. For example, you wouldn't be here today if your great-grandfather had died at the age of five? Your very existence is bound up in him.

My great-grandfather, who was born in Germany, made a momentous decision in 1863. He decided to move to the United States. Had he not done that, I probably would never have been born--anywhere. You see, he was Jewish and no doubt would have been killed in the Holocaust, and I would have died before I was even born. I was there in him when he sailed to America and I have benefitted from what he did. I'm enjoying life today because I was there in him.

I was also there in my great, great, great, great--ad infinitum--grandfather Adam when he sinned. And I am suffering the consequences of that act, as well--because I'm a dying man, as you are.

Just in case you still think it isn't fair, let me assure you that you would have done the same thing Adam did had you been in his shoes.

I've told the story before of old Mose, a slave in South before the Civil War. He was getting weary of chopping wood day after day, year after year. One day as he swung his axe into each piece of wood he muttered "Old Adam, old Adam." His master heard him and asked him why he was saying that. "Well, if it hadn't been for Adam, I wouldn't be stuck out here in this woodpile slavin' away all day by the sweat of my brow. I'd be in the house restin' and sippin' lemonade." The master thought for a moment, then said, "You come into the house, Mose. From now on, you don't need to do any more hard work. You can lay around and do whatever you like." A few minutes later, he brought in a little box and said, "One more thing, Mose. See this box I'm putting on the table. I don't want you to open it. Okay?" Now enjoy yourself.

For the next few weeks Mose couldn't get over his good fortune. He wandered around the house enjoying his leisure and his lemonade. But that box started to get to him. He started to feel it, lift it, shake it. Finally, it got too much for him. There was no harm in takin' one little peek. He opened one corner and saw a piece of paper. Now he couldn't be satisfied until he took it out and read it. "Mose, you old rascal. I don't ever want you blaming Adam anymore. If you had been there in the garden, you would have done the same thing Adam did. Now, you hightail it back out to the woodpile and get to chopping again" (Hal Lindsey, The Liberation of Planet Earth, p.51).

You see, the truth is well established. It's God's Word: "...through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned."

And by the way, all the memory verses from this memory bank season are from the book of Romans. Every one will be. If you follow it through--if you do them, memorize them--you'll be able to think your way through Romans. And I would encourage you to do that. It would be very, very profitable and beneficial to you. And you must know Romans 5:12. A very important verse.

Maybe you're still not convinced. Paul wants to give you some further evidence for what he has just said. So after the results, let's look at the evidence. And now we're in the digression.

The Evidence (Romans 5:13-14)

The question is this: If all mankind was not present in Adam and did not sin in Adam, then why did people die from Adam to Moses, before the law was given?

Romans 5:13. "For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law."

Now the point is simply this: If all mankind was not present in Adam and did not sin in Adam, then why did people die from Adam to Moses, before the law was given? You see, people die because of sin. Sin does not become a legal transgression with a penalty attached to it until there is a law to transgress.

If you were driving in Germany on the Autobahn, you could go as fast as you want--foolishly, dangerously, sinfully fast. But there will be no penalty because there is no speed limit posted. As soon as they post one, then there's a law, and you're breaking it and you will be punished for it.

That's what the law does. Romans 5:14. "Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses"--even before the law, you see. "Even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam., who didn't disobey a direct command of God like Adam did. Who is a type of Him who is to come."

Death is the penalty for sin. But if there was no law given as yet for people to break, why then did they die? And they did die. In fact, they couldn't escape it. Death "reigned" over them, like a tyrannical dictator. They didn't disobey a direct command of God as Adam did, yet they died. Why? The only logical answer is that they sinned in Adam, the head of their race. You see, they were on Adam's team. And so they suffer the agony of Adam's defeat. They are one with Adam. They inherited his sinful nature. That's why they died.

In that sense Adam is a type of Christ. See how he says that at the end of verse 14: "...who is a type of Him who is to come." Paul has been talking about Adam, but he really wants to talk about Christ. And this little statement about Adam being a type of Christ leads him into it. Just as Adam is the head of a race of fallen people, Christ is the head of a race of redeemed people. Just as Adam's one sin brought death to all his descendants, so Christ's one act of obedience--going to the cross--brings righteousness and life to all who are in Him. And in that sense, Adam is a type of Christ.

But that takes some clarification lest we think Adam is a picture of Christ in every way--and he certainly is not. And that's what the next three verses are about. People read these verses and they scratch their head and say, "What are they here for? What does this mean?"

The Clarification (Romans 5:15-17)

There are three major differences between Adam and what he did, and Christ and what He did:

1. In Adam many died; in Christ grace abounded to many.

Romans 5:15. "But if the free gift"--see, free gift is not like the offense; they're different. "For if by one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of that one Man Jesus Christ, abounded to many."

The effect of Adam's sin was inevitable disaster for everybody: death. The effect of Christ's sacrificial death at Calvary was a gracious and abundant gift for many. Paul calls it "the free gift." He's referring to our right standing before God ("the gift of righteousness", verse 17), and our sure possession of eternal life (refer to Romans 6:23). That's what Christ gave us. Adam gave us death. Christ gave us the gift of eternal life.

2. In Adam there is condemnation; in Christ, justification.

Romans 5:16. "And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned." See, there's a difference. Clarification here. "For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift, which came from many offenses, resulted in justification."

Isn't that incredible? Just one sin, yet by it the whole human race was condemned. Yet even though we humans have committed countless numbers of sins, they became the occasion for God's gracious provision of justification for all who would believe. That's different.

3. In Adam death reigns; in Christ we reign in life.

Romans 5:17. "For if by life one man's offense, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ."

That's an interesting verse. After saying "death reigned," we would expect Paul to say "life reigns." Instead, he says we shall "reign in life." We who have trusted Christ as Savior and been graciously granted a right standing before God have become spiritual kings and queens. We reign in life. The commentators will disagree as to whether he means this life or in the millennial kingdom on earth, but I think both are true. Because we know Christ, we've been declared right with God and we have eternal life, we can live and reign triumphantly through any circumstance right here on earth, right now. And the day is coming when we will reign over the earth with our Lord Jesus in righteousness and peace (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10).

And now that the clarification has been made, we are ready for the long awaited completion of that sentence. This is the great truth Paul has been heading for all along--what we have in Christ as compared to what we had in Adam.

The Effect of Christ's Righteous Act
(Romans 5:18-21)

So let's look secondly at the effects of Christ's righteous act. We've seen the effect of Adam's sinful act. Now, the effects of Christ's righteous act. And there are two.

Justification and Life (Romans 5:18-19)

The first half of verse 18 is essentially a summary of what we've just studied in Romans 5:12 and the verses that follow. Romans 5:18a. "Therefore as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation"--that's a repeat of that whole passage, particularly verse 12.

We ought to understand that by now. Adam's sin resulted in condemnation for the whole human race. And we ought to be ready for the punch line by now: the "even so." Here it is in Romans 5:18b: "...even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life."

That one righteous act is none other than Calvary--the act of becoming "...obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). And that one righteous act provided justification (a right standing before God), that issues in life (eternal life) for all mankind.

Isn't that fantastic! All of us can be on the winning team. We don't have to be losers. We can all be on Christ's team. He provided that for all mankind. Don't miss that in verse 18. You see, "the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life." It's certainly not unfair for all to suffer for Adam's sin since all can benefit from Christ's sacrificial death, is it? No, it's not unfair at all.

But does that mean that everybody will be saved? Look at the "all men" in that verse. "Through one man's offense judgment came to all men, so the free gift came to all through one Man's righteous act." We'll all be saved? We call that "universalism." Some people teach that, but the Bible doesn't. Paul has made the point abundantly clear: Faith is the one human condition for salvation. He devoted the entire fourth chapter to it, and he certainly does not need to repeat it here. Salvation has been provided for all, but it is only experienced by those who put their trust in Christ as Savior from sin, and those alone.

The truth of verse 18 is driven home in Romans 5:19: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience, many will be made righteous."

The word "many" is the same both times, but it is obvious that Paul uses it twice for literary effect. It means something different each time. The first time it refers to the entire human race. Adam's sin affected all mankind. Paul already taught us that in verse 12 and again in verse 18. Everybody on his team shares in his sin and death. The second time it refers only to those who believe. Only those who choose to be on Christ's team by faith share the justification and eternal life which He has provided. You see, "also by one Man's obedience, many will be made righteous."

Superabundant Grace (Romans 5:20-21)

That's the first effect of Christ's righteous act: justification and life. But there is a second effect in verses 20 and 21, and that is super-abundant grace. The question lingering in the minds of Paul's readers, and especially his Jewish readers, was, "What about the law? What role does it play in all of this? Didn't it talk about righteousness and life?"

Romans 5:20a. "Moreover, the law entered, that the offense might abound."

The ten commandments were never intended to give people a right standing before God. That was always by faith. They were added--literally, brought in alongside--in order to show sin for what it is: willful disobedience to God's will, a transgression of God's righteous standard. The law was brought in alongside so that the offense might abound. That doesn't necessarily mean that it makes people sin more. Paul does make that point later in the book as we'll see, but I don't think that's not what he means here. The purpose of the law was not to make people sin more, but to act as a kind of divine magnifying glass on our sin (Hendriksen, 184). That's what it means when it says, "to make the offense abound."

I've got a magnifying glass here in my pocket. Now, if I look at my necktie through that magnifying glass, I see some spots. The magnifying glass doesn't increase the number of spots, but it reveals more of them than I saw before, and it makes the ones I did see stand out more clearly. In other words, it makes the spots abound. And that's what the law does to sin.

Thank God Paul didn't stop right there, in the middle of Romans 5:20. "But where sin abounded," he said, "grace abounded much more." God's grace is immense enough to cover all our sins, no matter how gross they may be. Christ's death on Calvary is vast enough to remove all our guilt, no matter how overwhelming it may seem. God's got a superabundant supply of grace. It never runs dry.

Romans 5:21. "So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Grace reigns supreme when we put our faith in Christ as Savior from sin and God credits to our account His own perfect righteousness. That assures us of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, can faith in Christ's one great act at Calvary really see us through to glory? It certainly can. Just as surely as Adam's sin brings death, Christ's finished work on the cross brings a right standing before God and eternal life. That's something to thank Him for in joyful praise and worship.

Trusting Jesus As Your Savior

But the great question that remains is this: Whose team are you on? Adam's or Christ's? What results are you experiencing? Sin and death? Or justification and life? We're all born into Adam's line. We had no choice about that. And we are all doomed to suffer the agony of Adam's defeat: death. We're all members of his losing team. We were drafted on that one; we didn't have any choice. But Christ paid an exorbitant price to purchase us for His own team, you see. He died a torturous death on Calvary's cross, at which time He allowed His Father in heaven to lay on Him the guilt and condemnation that our sins deserved. And not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world. Then He arose triumphant over sin and death, to prove His power to give us eternal life. And now He calls on us to turn from our sin and trust His redeeming grace, "...so that," Paul writes in verse 21, "just as sin reigned in death, so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Have you trusted Him as your Savior from sin? If you haven't, are you willing to do that right now? Is there any good reason to put that off another moment? Let's bow our heads and our hearts prayerfully in His presence.

With our heads bowed, let me ask you again, have you made that decision to trust Christ as your Savior? Have you acknowledged your sin and believe that He died in your place, paid the penalty you deserved, and put all your hope for eternity in Him alone? If you're not sure you've ever done that, oh, we plead with you to do it now. We've prayed that you would do it now. Eternity hangs in the balance. Would you express your faith to Him? Do it in prayer, right where you sit. Let me lead you in a prayer, and you mean these words from your heart, and just think them. God knows what goes on in your soul, right there where you sit.

"Lord, I'm a sinner. I do understand that my sin separates me from You and leads to eternal death. But thank You that You sent Your Son to Calvary to die in my place and bear the penalty of my sin. And Lord Jesus, I'm trusting You as my Savior. Come into my heart and save me from sin."

Will you make that decision today?

Closing Prayer

Oh, Lord, I pray that those who have yet to avail themselves of Your marvelous grace, which is greater than all of our sin, will, in these moments, make that decision and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive His gift--His gracious gift of eternal life. And that all of us who know Him will rejoice in Him, for that wondrous grace that rescued us from sin. Yes, grace greater than all of our sin. Thank you, in Jesus' name. Amen.


Continue to ROM 08: A New Chapter Has Begun