Before I start, I want to talk about Adam. The Bible’s witness about humanity is that the progenitors of the entire human race are Adam and Eve, who were real people created by God. We all, quite literally, are physically descended from these two people who were created by God. Genesis gives the account of that. This was generally accepted through the ages by Christians until mid 19th century when a belief in evolution took hold in popular thinking—and in some Christian circles. I have no intentions of diving into this massively controversial and divisive subject today, and I am not about to tell you what to believe, but I do want to make one comment. Paul references Adam here, elsewhere in Romans, in 1 Corinthians, and in 1 Timothy. Paul’s teaching in his letters and particularly in today’s passage is contingent on that understanding and I am preaching from that viewpoint.
That said, we are looking this morning about two connections:
- The first connection is of all men everywhere to Adam. This is often called “original sin”, and carries the understanding that even if we have not sinned in our actions (which I would argue is not possible in any case), we are inheritors of a sin “nature” from Adam. So the consequences of sin for us has nothing to do with whether or not we do what is right for what is wrong, sin is much more deeply embedded in humanity than that. This shows the very deep and foundational nature of sin.
- The second connection is the access to grace every man can gain through faith in Jesus. So, just as sin entered the world through one man, its solution also comes through just one man. This is one reason why it is theologically wrong to believe that the solution to sin has multiple answers (the “all roads lead to God” argument).
The Problem and the Solution
These two connections find their expression in two ways.
- The opposing patterns (or sequences) of:
- Sin (which deserves ) condemnation (which leads to) death, with,
- Grace (which brings) justification (which leads to) life.
- The connection between: Adam and the human race on the one hand, and between Christ and the people of God (the New humanity) on the other.
So, Paul explains this …
Sin enters the world through Adam’s sin and the consequence was death for Adam and for all men.
V12 _ “… sin entered the world through one man”, V19 “… through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners”_
which brings with it, condemnation (16,18)
V16 ”The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation,”
V18 ”… one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people”
and death (12,15,17).
V12 ”sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin”
V15 ”… the many died by the trespass of the one man”
V17 ”… by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man”
We inherit sin, its nature, and its practices because of the disobedience of Adam. Sin brings us to place of condemnation before God, which results in death. This is the fate of all peoples, wherever and whenever they may live.
Paul contrasts this grisly reality with grace which also came to the world by one man, Jesus.
V15 ”… if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
This brings righteousness and justification, (16,17,18,19)
V16 “judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
V17 ”… how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”
V18 ”one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people”.
V19 ”through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous”
This give us life! (17,18, 21).
V17 “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”
V18 ”one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people”.
V21 “just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
So, this morning I want to unpack those things … sin, condemnation, & death, grace, justification, & life.
Sin → Condemnation → Death
Firstly, I’ve said this before, but I feel it is important enough to repeat. Increasingly, people use the same words and mean different things by them. I have heard it said that words don’t just have meanings, they have usages. The meaning we should take for a word doesn’t come primarily from a dictionary but from its context. Although a dictionary is a helpful starting place to understand what someone means when they use a word, we must take its intended meaning from the context. This has never been more important than it is today.
This is a helpful rule to follow, when we read the Bible, don’t jump straight to a dictionary to understand a word, look at the context in the script. Also, when talking to people, one of the most helpful phrases we can use to avoid misunderstanding is “what do you mean by that?”.
As we look at these words
What is sin?
In the NT there are two distinct usages of the word “sin”.
- Human sinfulness (or the contamination of humanity in its nature by the sin of Adam), and
- Individual sinfulness (or, the individual acts of sin which every one commits).
In this passage, we can take the broadest possible meaning. In other words, everything both of these usages imply.
When looking at these, we must recognise that there is a disconnect between what the Bible teaches and what historic Christians believe, and what those around us understand. This is a classic example to illustrate what I mean when I talk about usage of words being different.
For a start, most people don’t believe in God, most people immediately revert to thinking about actions which they would perceive as “Sin”. These actions are usually connected with whether or not they cause some form of harm to another person, or, sometimes, to society at large. Any action which we might do is permissible and not sin, they argue, “if it doesn’t harm anyone else” (though of course they determine for themselves what actually constitutes “harm”).
Secondly, people of today’s age believe that “sin”, whatever they mean by that, is subjective, not objective. In other words, I will determine myself (internally) whether something is sinful or not. Discussions about whether something is sinful or not, then deteriorate into a power struggle where the more powerful people determine what sin is (and what it is not) and impose that on others.
Conversely, for the Christian, sin is a religious word which speaks directly about our standing before God. We commit sins (which are actions), but even then, whether our actions are deemed to be sinful is determined not by some subjective (and therefore arbitrary) feeling of ours, but by God. As a Christian, for me, “sin” is something which God deems to be sinful. IRRESPECTIVE of whether I personally feel it is right or wrong. But sin is so much more than that. As far as God is concerned, sin it is not just an action, it is in our nature and attitude. Sin opposes God. So, Jesus can raise the bar and talk of our hearts being sinful. James can write and say that if we don’t do what is right, that is sin for us.
Given these two completely different understandings, when I say something is sin, it CANNOT mean the same thing to me as to someone who does not even believe God exists. It’s just not possible. They cannot even understand it because this understanding is spiritually determined, and they are spiritually dead (cf. dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1, Col 2:13),
1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Although Paul does mention that “all sinned”, his focus here is on the tainting of humanity because of Adam’s sin. When Adam sinned, every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and his body—were all affected. But not just that, the Bible teaches that his sin affected all creation. Thorns and death, pain in childbirth, conflict between the sexes, are all a consequence of this sin. The effects of Adam’s sin were pernicious and total, and they were not temporary – they were permanent. Genesis 3:15 which describes what God says to Satan, is generally accepted as being the very first indication of the gospel and a prophetic description of Jesus (it’s known as “proto evangelium”). But it also describes that sinfulness will go down through the generations (note Jesus called the Pharisees “children of hell” cf. Matthew 23:15).
He says this:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Note the mention of “offspring” — this describes the conflict going down through the generations.
So, the effect of Adam’s sin is experienced in all humanity. It affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core so that everything is tainted by sin and, as Isaiah says, “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. So, Jesus says, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18).
Although many people up until recently haven’t bought into the concept of inheriting sin and its consequences. In fact, I have had people ridicule me for that belief, the rise of “identity politics” which insists that our rights and voice are connected to the “group identity” we belong to. This means we are judged on the past actions of others who share that identity with us. So, for example, I am a white man, and, according to this new way of thinking, I have benefitted from that identity and I am culpable for the actions other white men carried out in previous generations. For example, there are calls for “reparations” for the slave trade. We abolished the slave trade in Great Britain in 1807, that is over 200 years ago. So people who have never been slaves are now expecting reparations from people who have never owned slaves.
So the concept of inheriting the guilt of Adam’s sin is not so far-fetched after all. Is it?
What is Condemnation/Judgment?
Condemnation comes because of sin. Isaiah says “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Biblically, the word condemnation is synonymous with damnation, judgment, punishment, destruction, and verdict. In its strongest sense, condemnation means “the banishing to hell all those disobedient to the will of God”. So, for example, Jesus says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).
The Law, was also called “the ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). It brought condemnation upon us because it made known our sin and its tragic consequence: death. So, the Law judge us all condemned, it carries a verdict of “guilty”, pointing out our sin (Romans 3:19-20; Romans 5:12-13). It reveals that sin is within us and therefore condemns us.
Condemnation is the declaration that we are guilty of sin before God.
Before Christ, the price the Jews had to pay was animal sacrifice. These sacrifices were a reminder that God punishes sin, that it deserves death, but they also showed that forgiveness was possible, and they foreshadowed Christ and his ultimate sacrifice. This, in essence, was the purpose of the sacrificial system. The writer of Hebrews explains: “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4), he goes on to say, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
What is Death?
On the face of it, this is a strange point to make, but “Death” can have both physical and spiritual meaning. The two are closely linked in the Bible. As with sin, death has two meanings:
- Physical – with all that entails. (Note Genesis 3:3. I have had people say to me that Adam didn’t die when he sinned, which proves God was lying, and therefore He doesn’t exist. Well, despite the incomprehensible logic in that argument, is Adam alive today? No. So Adam DID die after he sinned!)
- Spiritual – a more nuanced, usage, which relates to our relationship with God. People will quite easily talk of their love of people ‘dying’, so they do understand that death can be applied to a non-physical reality.
The Bible talks a great deal about us being dead. Clearly since we are not physically dead, the only possible meaning in those instances is the spiritual one.
Acts 17:26 “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.
In this passage, just as with “sin”, “death” includes the full range of understanding and usage.
Grace → Justification → Life
Grace is not just a prayer we say before a meal!
We looked at grace in detail just a couple of weeks ago, so I’m not going to labour this point, but a basic recap is this…
“Grace” in the New Testament means “favour, blessing, or kindness.” More than that, it means UNDESERVED favour, blessing or kindness, and although we can all extend grace to others, when the word grace is used in connection with God, it takes on a really powerful meaning. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves.
This it the root of the difference between mercy and grace. Simply put, mercy is God withholding the punishment our sin deserves, grace extends BEYOND mercy and brings us the eternal life we simply don’t deserve.
So, Titus 5:5 describes God, in mercy, choosing to cancel the debt of sin we owe by sending Jesus ..
“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour”
But God goes even further than mercy and extends grace towards us and this grace supremely brings us forgiveness (Ephesians 2:4-9)
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.
Remember … God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
Like Grace, I explained Justification just a couple of weeks ago, and won’t plough the same ground again, but for the sake of completeness this morning, remember justification is …
Justification is a declaration and not an action, the declaration is made when our faith (and not our behaviour) is observed. This might seem to give a free pass to people who act in ungodly ways but profess faith.
However, we must note that our behaviour will always follow our beliefs – that is very clearly spelled out in the book of James.
In Biblical terms, justification is the judicial act of God by which, on the basis of our faith in the work of Christ on the cross, He declares us to be absolved from Sin, released from its penalty and restored as righteous.
- We escape punishment, and,
- Our relationship with God is restored. (‘just as if’ we had never sinned).
Life here I believe has two understandings:
- Life as in quality of life. This doesn’t just mean not dying, but living life and life in al it’s fullness as Jesus said.
- Life as in Eternal life. This is clearly the sense of v21, which specifies eternal life.
A few words about life.
One of the key texts which speak of the connection between Jesus and life must surely be “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
Life in abundance … John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (they “they” in this passage are specified in v9. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture”).
So, hopefully, as we read this section of Romans and consider the opposing progressions of sin to condemnation to death, and grace to justification to life, we will understand more completely exactly what God has done for us and what we have escaped from.
To finish this morning’s message, I want us to understand the choice God sets before humanity. We can choose one or other of the two paths,, in fact Jesus describes them as paths (or ways).
Firstly he declares that he is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6), and that there are two paths to choose from. He calls us to walk on the right path.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13,14).
Isaiah says to us “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
Jeremiah 16:6 describes God saying,
“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
The people of God were faced with a choice (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). We face that same choice.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.
Simply put, we have a choice to make. God’s way, the way of grace and life, or Man’s way, the way of sin and death. Which will you choose?