Sin Through Adam, Grace Through Christ

Having shown that by faith alone sinners may be made right with God, Paul now explains how justification gives us peace with God. No more grounds for condemnation, so no more basis for enmity. Then he shows why imputation of righteousness is established so securely in the divine method of giving sinners eternal life in the joy of God’s presence.


I. Union with Christ by Faith establishes peace with God – 5:1 The theme of peace reigns throughout these first 11 verses. Until peace is established no other blessings can be received. This is one of the blessings connected with God’s justifying action toward us.

A. In Ephesians, Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:13, 14). See also 15 “abolishing the law of commandments . . . so making peace.” He mentions the effect of the cross as “killing the hostility” (16) and in this way Christ came and “Preached peace to you who were far off and those who were near” (17).

B. Hebrews 13:20 calls God, “the God of Peace.” This same phrase is used twice in Romans (15:33; 16:20) It is also used in Philippians 4:19 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. When Zechariah calls Christ “the sunrise . . . from on high” he mentions that one of the results of his coming is that he guides “our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79).

C. As later verses here in Romans 5 establish, God is in a position of enmity with the Lawbreakers per lawbreakers [“ungodly, sinners, under wrath, enemies”) but in a position of love in light of his covenant [“called according to his purpose, for whom he foreknew” (8:28, 29)]. In Christ, therefore he removes the enmity, that is, God’s against us. In not counting our trespasses against us, but accounting them to Christ in his death, the just cause of his enmity toward us is removed and he is freed in a way consistent with his holy character to grant us all the graces of union with Christ.

D. It may be said that in Mercy God removes the cause of his anger and thus the moral barriers that hinder the display of favors to us. In Grace he then bestows the superabundant favors with which he determines to adorn the work of his Son. Those that are justified by faith have embedded within that status “peace with God.”



II. This grace of justification gives not only peace with God but expands into the hope of glory – 5:2

A. The faith that unites us to Christ for justification opens to us also the future certainties of the blessedness of the beatific vision. Our stance now no longer is in the path of “ruin and misery;” it can no longer be said “the way of peace they have not known” (3:16, 17). A door of entrance into another way came at the point of faith (“obtained access by faith”) and we now stand in an atmosphere of grace, viewing that particular grace of the glory of God as the end toward which we move. See Paul’s personal testimony of this in Philippians 3:13, 14 20, 21.

B. Standing in this grace we contemplate the specific purpose of our existence (Ephesians 1:11-14). Sealed with the Spirit, the “purchased possession,” the entirety of the redeemed from Adam to the final one of the “all” (2 Peter 3:10) will come to live in his presence and exist eternally to the praise of his glory. This is indeed the “hope of the glory of God.”



III. The hope of Glory transforms every experience here – 5:3-5

A. Since our final end of seeing and enjoying the glory of God is set by the reconciling work of Christ, all that God does in us here is in preparation for that eternity of glory. So, it is not only the future glory that we see as flowing from God’s grace, but “More that that” the present experiences of suffering are granted by God (Philippians 1:29). Paul says, “more than that” not because suffering is superior to glory, but he wants to communicate that we find comfort, not only the prospect of glory in the future, but we can see present suffering as in God’s hands also, and see it as a means of transferring the affections that will consume our hearts in heaven into the present. Suffering weans us from the world and its comfort and status and makes us desire the glory of God and his delightful and loving presence unbroken by earthly fascinations. Without suffering, the beauty of endurance could never be displayed. Endurance means to “remain under” a load; refusing to escape a burden that has come in the service of Christ.

B. This endurance has the effect of displaying the genuineness of one’s faith, that is, “approvedness.” Peter writes that various trials, by God’s purpose, display the “approvedness,” or “tested genuineness” of one’s faith (1 Peter 1:7). Such approvedness is manifest in the consistent preference that the Christian exhibits for God and his gospel over any favors, applause, or approval of the world. This provides both a witness to the world and a comfort to the Christian (James 1:2,3), that God’s Spirit sustains her/him under trial and the promises of God’s eternal rest become sweeter.

C. Thus “character” produces hope. Hope is the clear conviction that Christ’s return will be a glorious event in which all the sham of this world will be destroyed and the only true beauty and excellence will be shown to reside in the triune God as expressed in the glorious return of Christ to magnify, for all to see, the results of his redemptive work. This hope is in mind in Titus 2:13, 14 as well as 1 John 3:1-3.

D. The hope that becomes purified and brightened in the process of tribulation will never put the believer to shame—he will not find it unwarranted nor diminished in its power. It comes from the reality that through the Spirit we find the love of God communicated to us in at least two ways. One, the Spirit has shown us in calling us to salvation God’s love as manifest by his giving us his Beloved Son as the propitiation for our sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). Two, God’s love in the person of the Holy Spirit actually indwells us and operates personally through these trying providential arrangements to make us value God’s presence and favor above all earthly comforts (Hebrews 11:26).



IV. Now Paul demonstrates through an argument—from the greater to the lesser—that Christ’s work of justification gives certainty to all other eternal blessings for those thus redeemed. – 5:6-11

A. Most fundamental, first in a necessary order of divine actions for salvation, was the death of the Messiah.

  1. Paul describes our condition by several well-chosen words. First, we are weak or without strength, which may be a better translation. We are not just weak, having only a little strength. We are in truth without strength in this matter and have nothing at all to contribute to this saving activity. We are ungodly. Paul already has used this nomenclature in 4:5—[God] justifies the ungodly. Verse 8 calls those whom Christ redeems sinners. That means they are breakers, transgressors, of God’s law and thus deserve his wrath, not his favor. To be a sinner and to stand in an unredeemed state is to be at the same time ungodly. Verse nine reinforces this by saying that God’s saving work touches us precisely at the point of being saved from wrath. Verse 10 says that we are enemies. This litany of spiritual monikers shows our desperate, helpless, dangerous condition.
  2. Paul used the word “die” or “died” in verses 6-8 four times. Verse 9 employs the phrase “by his blood.” He relates Christ’s work precisely to the verdict of death that hangs over sinners and such a death that is set forth in the sacrificial system by the shedding of the blood of animals, the taking of a life that is innocent of the offense for which it is dying.
  3. The emphasis, therefore, of this section is that God has given us the greatest of gifts while we were as yet under wrath. While we yet were enemies and still in the state of the unremitting pursuit of transgression of his Law, He gave us his Son according to the terms of the eternal covenant of redemption. According to that same covenant, the Son came to be under the Father’s wrath with the moral purpose that he would be justified in granting us forgiveness. If by his blood we are justified, how much more will He himself, in person, now living, shield us from divine wrath as he, the righteous advocate, intercedes for us. Verse 9.

B. Built on this death to remove wrath, Christ’s life ushers in another necessary part of God’s saving activity. Verse 10, continuing the thought of verse 9, emphasizes the fact that since through Christ’s death at the time we were enemies, God removed that offense he had against us, how much more, now that the enmity has been removed by death, will Christ’s life serve to save us. The verdict of death has been removed. How does Christ’s continuing life subsequent to the resurrection contribute to what we need for salvation? His “life” is a short way to say that life of perfect obedience to the Law and the positive commands given to Christ in particular now constitute a righteousness that is imputed to us.

C. Thus we find that Paul has given an extended explanation of 4:25, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.”

D. These actions of full restoration move us all the way from enmity in our relationship to God to rejoicing in God. (5:11)



V. Paul compares Adam to Christ – 5:12-21

A. Adam’s trespass becomes the source of death to all for whom he is head (5:12-14) Verse twelve began in Paul’s mind, apparently as a short summation of the argument in 5:6-11. Verses 18 and 19 constitute the brief summation intended. This thought, however, led Paul to a more expanded explanation. He started the thought but interrupted it for a more detailed explanation of how we all are condemned alike, we all have an internal drive to sin that is certain of fulfillment, and that death is the universal experience of man. He draws out the discussion to show that as our subjection to spiritual corruption, death, and damnation is related to the actions of the one [Adam] that was our head in that test and his action has secured our participation in the reality of personal disobedience, so our salvation has been wrought out completely in another Head [Jesus] and his perfect obedience secured our union with him by an obedient faith.

  1. Verse 12 clearly unites Adam with all his posterity in Adam’s first sin. He was a covenant head and when he sinned, we all sinned. “In the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17) constituted the covenant of works for Adam and for the entire race in him. His transgression meant that the entire humanity included in him at his creation participated with him—transgressed—and received the penalty—death. Both guilt and corruption arose from the transgression.
  2. Verse 13 – Since the fall of Adam and until the giving of the Law under Moses, sin was in the world. Since there is no sin if there is no law, the fact that sin was in the world even before Moses shows that law also was in the world and verifies Paul’s argument in 1:19; 1:32; 2:9; 2:13, 14; 3:9. Everyone had law and all sinned against law even though it is not a specially revealed Law like that given to Adam and eventually given in an expansive exposition to Moses. The reality that sin was in the world and sin was accounted to all is one of the clear lessons of the Noahic flood (Genesis 6:3, 5; 8:21).
  3. Verse 14 – This is a strong adversative, “Yet.” It seems that Paul refers to two realities of death in this conclusion.
  • Adam’s violation of a specific command has brought about a condition in which death reigns in a physical way over the entire race though few subsequent to Adam had violated a specific command.
  • Evidently Cain in Genesis 4:4-16 violated a law of sacrifice and then purposefully ignored the warning of God. Not only did he ignore the requirement of sacrifice, he killed Abel. God, in a special temporal mercy, then set a law of protection for Cain.
  • Death penetrates the narrative throughout. Nevertheless, it is clear from the narrative of Genesis that expectations of morality and worship were implicit, and one element of the death that has passed on all men is the insensitivity, even the hostility, to the requirement of the holy law written in the heart. Part of the purpose of the Cain narrative is to demonstrate that.
  • The sin of Adam brought about the verdict of physical death and the reality of spiritual death. The latter included not only the verdict of condemnation but the condition of corruption of soul by which we aggravate the sentence of death through our unbroken continuance of personal transgression. Both death and the continuance of sin are explained by the effects of Adam’s personal disobedience. As he was covenanted to God for all his posterity, we sinned and were subjected to the punishment of death and corruption. This explains why Paul can so freely assume in the first part of this chapter, that we are sinners, under divine wrath, without strength, and enemies of God.

B. 5:15-17 – Countering Adam’s devastating headship, Christ’s headship for his people has resulted in life. Here Paul makes the connection between Adam and Christ so plain that none can deny the principle of covenant or of imputation. The teacher should bear in mind that Paul is giving an explanation of the principle upon which the work of Christ suffices for our justification apart from any works of righteousness of ours. He uses the language of Romans 3:24 [“freely” and “by grace”]. Just as surely as Adam’s fall results in an absolute verdict of condemnation, so Christ’s obedience results in an absolute verdict of righteousness.

  1. Verse 15 – Paul contrasts the reality that one head brought about death for the many that he represented in his trespass, but another Head brought about a super-abundance of free grace for the many that he represented. They are alike in that they are both covenant heads. But they are quite distinct in this: the headship of the first brought just verdict of condemnation because of an inextricable natural relationship. The headship of the second is based on pure grace, unmerited favor, a status unrelated to the intrinsic merit of the recipient.
  2. Verse 16 – A further contrasting analogy is that just one sin of Adam as a covenant head brought condemnation, Christ’s justification does not deal only with that one sin but with the many transgressions that have followed that initial determining transgression. Condemnation came at the first sin, but its intensity has been ever increasing through the multiplication of sin. Jesus undertook to render satisfaction, not only for the initial verdict of Adam’s sin, but for the many sins that have added to the susceptibility of each sinner to the wrath and indignation of God, each multiplying such at his own rate for his own sin. Verse 16 teaches, therefore, that when he deals with sin, he does not do it just in general, but must deal with the actual transgressions of all for whom he died, as well as their involvement in Adam’s sin, guilt, and condemnation.
  3. Verse 17 – The contrast here is between transgression/death and righteousness/life. Death is the reigning monarch over the entire course of history as the result of the first sin of the one man. Those who receive the grace of righteousness through the one man Jesus Christ, however, now reign in life. On the one hand, “the wages of sin is death,” and it reigns for all have sinned; but on the other, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” and those to whom the free gift is given reign in eternal life by that free gift[ (Romans 6:23).

C. 5:18, 19 – The application of the results of the work of each head are applied infallibly and without exception.

  1. Verse 18 – The word “all” cannot, in the context of the analogy of headship, be understood as an absolutely universal “all.” Rather it is to be seen as the absolute certainty of application of the work of each head to all those whom he represented. Adam, representing all persons that descend from him by ordinary generation, has brought all of them under condemnation through the one trespass. His counterpart, Christ, brings all that are in him as a covenant Head through the grace of the eternal covenant, into a state of justification and, thus, life.
  2. Verse 19 –
  • The “many” means the many that were in Adam on the one hand, and the many that are in Christ on the other. Those that are in Christ were also in Adam, but Christ’s obedience has overcome the deserved verdict of condemnation by the more potent act of substitution in their stead, both in condemnation and in obedience. The obedience of Christ constituted a single progression of loving and heart-felt submission to the will of the Father in all the moral demands of the Law and the positive requirements that related to him in particular. He understood the Law’s requirement with an unclouded mind and gave loving obedience to it without a moment’s hesitation or any shade of resentment. Those positive requirements that lay upon his specific mission that are not necessarily absolute moral requirements for all men, he also pursued with zeal and love. His birth to a young woman in suspicious conditions, his submission to parents that only dimly and gradually understood his mission, his rejection by all the leadership of the people to whom he came as the one that should have been their heart’s desire, and his submission to the wrath and loss of favor with his Father as he is treated as a sinful wretch—all these constitute a course of obedience that wove a fabric of righteousness without seams or fissures at any point. His life truly was one act of righteousness, it was the obedience of one man by which many will be made righteous.
  • Made –As Adam’s sin in his covenant capacity made his posterity “sinners;” His action even before any participation in it by personal transgression constituted us, gave us the standing of, sinners; even so Christ’s obedience, even before any participation in personal acts of obedience, constitutes us, gives us the standing of, righteous people. His obedience, his righteousness, is imputed to us for righteousness. This is what Abraham saw from afar [John 8:56, 57] and by faith in it was he justified.



VI. The relationship of Law to grace as seen in the contrary results of each. – 5:20-21

A. Verse 20 – The Law, contrary to all the boasts that these Jews made about having the Law, did not come to them as a mark of righteousness for them. It came instead to increase the trespass. This it did in two ways.

  1. It revealed more vividly the nature of righteousness, and transcended the law written on the heart in clarity and specificity, thus giving a much clearer view of sin.
  2. Second, the law inflamed sin and brought out the gusto of our rebellion against God. It made hypocrisy a peculiarly sinister and damnable form of sin. It was Paul’s deep and virtually unparalleled knowledge of Law and tradition [Galatians 1:14] that made him in his rejection of Christ the worst of all sinners [1 Timothy 1:15, 16]. His justification was an example of the super-abounding grace of God.

B. As one can see, therefore, that sin has come over all men in that death has come over all men. Sin reigns in the universal dominance of death in human affairs and relationships. On the other hand, Christ’s perfect obedience [“through Jesus Christ our Lord”], his righteousness, has created the substance of justice [“through righteousness”] on the basis of which grace, unmerited favor, comes to us with the certainty of eternal life [“grace might reign . . . leading to eternal life.”]

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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