Romans 5:12-14 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
You all know the little saying that ‘when you see the word “Therefore” in the Bible you ask what is it there for.’ Well one answer is that it certainly shows us that this second half of chapter 5 has not been dumped in this place out of the blue. It is not like the random proverbs gathered together in the last half of the book of Proverbs where there is often little connection between one proverb and the preceding or following proverb. Rather the verses of our text follow on from the first four chapters of this letter. Paul is referring to everything that he has told us previously about the human predicament, about our sinfulness. You remember Romans 1 and Romans 2 where he talked about our sinfulness in heart. We didn’t worship God as we knew that we ought to have worshiped him. He’s talked about our perversion, in other words that we’ve actually inverted what God said. We glorified those things which God condemned, we have condemned those things which he glorified. We’ve worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. We’ve perverted justice, we’ve perverted morality. So, the apostle has spoken to us of our sinfulness in heart, of our sinfulness in behavior, about sinfulness in worship, in all those ways we have sinned and come short of God’s glory. In all those ways he has demonstrated our need for redemption. What had he done? He had focused on our various sins.
So this word “therefore” makes us look back and think about our predicament as he has described it. You are sinful, and therefore you’re in need of reclamation. But now at this verse 12 there is a change of direction. Paul wants us to think about our lives and our state a little bit differently. He is saying in effect, “I have talked to you in the past about your sinfulness, in view of your own personal sin – and even the sin of your particular group, as Jews or as Gentiles. Now, however, I want you to think in terms of your sinfulness because of the fact that you are all, Jews and Gentiles, related to Adam. I want you to think of your sinfulness in light of the fact that you are under Adam, your head and representative, how your father sinned and rebelled against God, and because he sinned and rebelled against God, you sinned and rebelled in him and are justly condemned in him.
Let me just pause right there. Don’t argue with me yet. I guess there are already some people thinking, “That’s not fair, Paul.” We’ll face your arguments in a moment, but right now hear Paul’s argument out. You can start probing him with questions in a little while. But unless you understand what the apostle is asserting, you won’t understand the answers to your questions about what he is asserting.
Paul is saying we are all as a human race in Adam. Like the whole oak tree is in an acorn, the leaf and the twig as well as the trunk and the branches and the roots are all in the oak. We are in solidarity with our father Adam; we are his inheritors and his seed and line. We are accountable to God because of Adam’s sin, rebellion and defection. That may seem unfair to you, but we live in such solidarities. If your father embezzled ten million pounds from the bank then you would share in his shame and the calamity of having a father in prison and no salary to support your former comfortable lifestyle. You can protest and say, “But I didn’t take the money.” True, but your own father did. You shared in his fall. Or again your prime minister took the whole nation into a war. Your brother was called up and he died in the war. That happened because of the federal headship of our prime minister. He did not act as an individual alone, but he acted also as the head of the U.K.
So understand what Paul is saying about it. This doctrine is called original sin. It has been one of those doctrines which people have protested about for years. But it’s right here in Romans, chapter 5. And Paul clearly thinks it is important for us to understand in order to appreciate the gospel of the coming of another federal head, Jesus Christ and the mighty victory that he won. So Paul is saying, “I want you to remember your status in Adam. You’re part of his race. You’re descended from him. You’re descended from him ethically and morally. You act like he acted.” But more significantly than that, Paul is saying, Adam was your covenant head and representative. What Adam did, he did as a public person. He acted as if each of you were there behaving as he behaved in the garden in taking that forbidden fruit. Incidentally, no one would have been any better than our first parents in resisting the serpent’s temptation. And because of that, I want you to understand yourself in that light, I want you to see that if you are in Adam, you are sadly under an old order of existence, and in that old order of existence there is only sin, death and judgment.
Now the reason Paul is raising this point is so that we will be able to contrast Adam and being in Adam with Christ and being in Christ. Adam the negative example. Christ the positive example. Adam the monstrous, bad, weak giant to whom we are attached, and Christ the good triumphant giant to whom all his disciples are attached.
Now you will notice in this first verse before us, verse 12, that Paul doesn’t even get to that part of his argument. You need to understand that Paul begins a statement in verse 12 that he leaves open ended. In fact he doesn’t complete it until he gets to verse 18. Now already you’re thinking to yourself, “Boys bach, I understand what Peter meant when he said that there were things in Paul’s writings that were hard to understand.” Okay, I hear you, but it’s not that hard. Let me tell you what the late John Stott said about these verses twenty years ago; “All students of verses 12-21 have found it extremely condensed. Some have mistaken compression for confusion. But most have marveled at the almost ‘mathematical precision’ of Paul’s writing and have admired its craftsmanship. It may be likened to a well-chiselled carving, or a carefully constructed musical composition” (John Stott, The Letter to the Roman , IVP, 1994 p. 149).
What Paul says is not going to be that hard to understand. In fact, in verse 12, Paul makes an assertion; he begins a sentence that he doesn’t finish. And he doesn’t complete his argument until verse 18. You can see it. Look at the words ‘just as’ that follow the word ‘therefore’ in verse 12, and then look for the ‘so also’ . . . where is it? Look! Keep looking . . . Found it? It’s way ahead of us in verse 18 where Paul again picks up the argument of verse 12 repeating the two words ‘just as’, “Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”
So understand the structure of Paul’s argument. He starts off in verse 12. In the middle of his statement, he’s thinking something like this, “you know they’re not going to have a clue what I’m saying unless I tell them something else in a few more sentences.’ So he stops right there in the middle of a sentence; plunk right at the end of verse 12 with that stroke of his pen – you see the dash – and he plugs in a crucially important explanatory paragraph. And then he returns to his sentence again in verse 18; he repeats the first half of verse 12, and not until verse 18 does he complete it. So the whole point of this section is to parallel Adam to Christ. To compare them and to contrast them to show what it means to be in Adam and to show what it means to be in Christ.
The reasons he does this are two fold, to show us how grave is mankind’s predicament (it’s not nearly that we commit a few sins here and there, now and then). Then he shows us how glorious is Christ’s accomplishment as the last Adam. Man’s problem is not nearly that he makes a foolish mistake every once in a while, and he needs to get it tidied up. The problem is not the measles spots but the measles virus. You have to deal with that – not the individual spots of our sins. The problem is not ‘sins’ with a small ‘s’ but ‘Sin’ with a capital ‘S’, and the bias in all of us against God and against righteousness and toward sinning. The problem is that pervasive, it is that comprehensive, it’s deeper, it’s more intractable than an occasional swear word, and drinking too much, and visiting a pornographic website, and slipping something into your pocket that isn’t yours. We are being confronted by Paul with our fallen nature, and we have inherited that from our father Adam.
Paul knows that unless you know what he is about to tell you in these verses you won’t be able to appreciate your deliverance from the guilt and blame and power over sin which is the gift of your Saviour Christ from that sinning nature. The ‘therefore’ of verse 12 builds on and develops what Paul has been telling us in the first 11 verses of this chapter, that because of the work of Jesus Christ we have been justified freely through faith in him. Our pardon and our status as children of God is all due to what Jesus Christ has done. Churchill memorably spoke of the bravery of the few young men who flew their planes for us. “Never in the history of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few.” But Paul doesn’t say that we owe our lives to a few. We owe them to just one man. I was reading a fascinating book on science this week, Stuff Matters: Marvellous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik and there I learned that it took 300,00 people to put one man on the moon – engineers, seamstresses, dieticians, physicians, computer and fuel experts, and so on, all to get Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon. In this passage we are told that it took just one man to bring sin and death on the whole human race, but immediately that it took just one Man to bring about a new humanity and a new heavens and new earth.
MAN’S PROBLEM IS THAT HE SINS BECAUSE HE IS A SINNER.
Let’s take the first verse and begin; “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (v.12). What is Paul talking about here? Paul is telling you what your real problem is. And the problem is this. We all sin because we are sinners. Now it’s very important for you to hear what Paul is saying. It is not that we are sinners because we sin, but rather that we sin because we are sinners. The measles spots are the symptoms of an inward problem. That is what has to be dealt with, not putting antiseptic ointment on each individual sore. We sin because we are prone to wander; we are constitutionally sinners. And the reason we are sinful by nature and choice is because we are united with Adam. He pulled us down when he fell.
If we’re not trusting in Jesus Christ then we are constitutionally sinners. That is the point that Paul lays out in verse 12. We have a force in our heart to self and self-satisfaction because we are sinners. We perform certain sins because they flow from a nature which is itself corrupted by sinfulness at its core. Let me repeat this that Paul’s point is not to talk here – as he did earlier in chapter one – about your particular sins. You see it would be true if you said “Because of Adam’s sin, we sin.” That’s true. That’s a true theological statement. I could give you a zillion Scripture references to back it up. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. Paul is saying that it was in the beginning, in Eden, that you sinned. You, you’re sitting there in the pew, you’re alive, you’re breathing, but you sinned in Adam. Paul’s argument is that sin entered into the world through Adam’s defiance. Adam bit it off and swallowed it down and did it his way. And so death spread and spread through all the following generations of the whole human race because all sinned in Adam. All mankind is united to Adam. He is our head; he is our representative. And what he did had implications for us. It’s not simply that we’re sinful because we do stupid, ugly, hurting things. It is because we are by nature sinfully biased. And Paul is arguing here, among other things, that death in the world is the result of sin, and that our father Adam violated God’s covenant of works. Paul’s argument is that all have sinned in Adam. He is not saying here that they have individually sinned as a consequence of Adam’s sin, though that’s true, or that if we had been Adam we’d have behaved in exactly the way he behaved, that’s also true, but that’s not being written about here. Paul is asserting that because of the unique status of Adam our covenant and federal head, to whom we were joined we actually sinned in Adam.
Now I want you to think about this for a moment. I’m not sure whether you are understanding what Paul is saying here. You might think he’s talking about the individual sins of people that bring death on themselves. Let me show you six places in this larger passage in Romans 5 that make it clear that Paul is not talking about your individual sins, he’s talking about your solidarity in Adam’s sin. He is referring to the imputation of Adam’s sin to each one of you.
i] First, look at verse 15. In verse 15, Paul says, “The many died by the trespass of one man.” Notice, he didn’t say the many died because of their own sins. That might be true, but that’s not what Paul says. The many died because of the trespass of one man.
ii] Notice again verse 16. Paul speaks of the result of “the one man’s sin,” not the result of your sins, but the result of the one man’s sin.
iii] Notice again the second half of verse 16. He says the “judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.”
iv] In verse 17 he is saying that by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man. He doesn’t say through the trespasses of us all that sin reigned. That would be true, but that’s not what the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul. It was “by the trespass of the one man that death reigned.”
v] In verse 18 we are told that the result of the one trespass was condemnation for all men. Again . . .
vi] In verse 19, “through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners.” Clearly throughout this passage you see what Paul is concerned with? It is the sin of the one man Adam, and the implications for us in our union with him who is our representative and our father and our head.
In other words, Paul is saying the problem of sin is far deeper than many teachers, and philosophers, and politicians, and psychologists are willing to admit. Apart from Christ it is not simply that you, from time to time,do things which are out of accord with God’s word. The problem of sin is that by nature, if you’re not in Christ, by nature you are a sinner. You have inherited from Adam a sinful nature; but you have also, because Adam is your representative, been implicated in Adam’s sin. In other words, Paul is saying this so that we will see a great truth and say something like this; “We’re involved in something that is so much bigger than us, so much deeper than our own outward and superficial desires and actions may be, so we all need a huge supernatural rescue from the outside.”
Paul is sitting there waiting as we read verse after verse of the last half of Romans chapter 5 listening for us to come to exactly that conclusion. We probably made a New Year’s resolution four days ago and already we have broken it. We need more that human effort and will and resolution. We need rescue from the outside that takes away personal guilt and condemnation, and creates redemptive energy on the inside. Your redemption can’t be achieved by your turning over a new leaf, making a few resolutions, tidying up this and that area of your life where you have some problems or mistakes or some shortcomings. It’s more radical than that. It goes to the heart of who you are. It goes to the heart of the human race. It goes to the very first man who stood in as representative of all men. Adam the representative, Adam, the federal head. You are guilty in him.
There may be some of you that are thinking, ‘But that’s not fair.’ I understand that. I’ll help you as we work through this passage to understand a little bit more of why this is a just and righteous and a straight way of God’s working. But consider this for a moment. Even in the Scripture we have examples of people standing in and doing things which have implications for the whole of the people of God. Think of David and Goliath. Now there’s a story that you learned as a child. And in the story, you remember that the deal was whoever won the hand-to-hand combat between Goliath and whomever Israel’s representative was going to be, won the whole battle. If Goliath won the battle, the Philistines won the battle. If the representative of Israel won the battle then Israel won the battle. “Well is that fair?” you might think. That was the deal. That’s the way it was, and it saved a lot of lives.
We see this, of course, in human history, as well. There’s a fascinating story from the Scottish wars of independence, Robert the Bruce had been in rebellion against the King of England and his son (who became Edward II) for maybe fifteen years or so. A British army had marched north to Sterling in Scotland and laid siege to the castle where Robert’s army was. It was the battle of Bannockburn, June 1314 and on the very first day of the battle, Robert was out inspecting his troops. Then Sir Henry De Bohun, who was reckoned by some to be the third greatest knight in Christendom, and in Edward II’s English army, saw Robert the Bruce out in front of his troops. He thought, “This is my chance for glory. I’m going to engage Robert the Bruce in hand-to-hand combat, and I’m going to kill him.” So he went charging across the marshes on that giant horse of his, charging against the King of Scotland. Now if Robert the Bruce had been killed in that hand-to-hand combat that day, you think that it would have been, “Oh well, the Scottish army goes home that night and regroups and fights again tomorrow.” No way. That would have been not only ‘Finis,’ ‘The End,’ for this particular battle, but it would have been ‘Finis’ and ‘The End’ for Scottish independence because Robert the Bruce was the only claimant to the throne in Scotland. If he’d been killed then the war of independence would have been over. So in that case, that hand-to-hand combat between the Bruce and De Bohun was the whole show. Bruce losing would result in the game over. What happened? At the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 De Bohun lowered his lance and charged, but Bruce stood his ground. At the last moment Bruce manoeuvred his mount nimbly to one side, stood up in his stirrups and hit de Bohun so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two. Despite the great risk and bravery that the Scottish King had taken, he merely expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his favourite axe. So merger with England had to wait almost 300 years until the beginning of the 17th century when James 6th of Scotland became James 1st of England.
Let me use another illustration. Now we live in the age of genetics. That science may be a little less difficult for you to swallow. I am talking about the fact that someone else can have an impact on you, and you have no say in the matter. You may have a friend whose family has a hair colour or a genetic eye condition that is passed along. His children have no say, no contribution, whether they receive that eye condition or not. They may or they may not and there is nothing they can do about that reality. And you say, ‘Well, that’s not fair.’ This isn’t a fair world. It’s a groaning, fallen, weeping world. We know this even psychologically. I’m thinking of a minister right now whose father and mother handed him over to other relatives when he was a little boy. In many ways that son has never, ever got over that desertion on the part of his father and mother. And it has impacted him profoundly in numerous ways. He has carried feelings of rejection, of being unloved and unwanted, through his life. That minister was not a particularly bad boy. He had very little to do with his parents’ action, but he was impacted by something totally outside of himself. I am saying that so we are in many relationships, and our solidarity with Adam is one of those..
Suffice it to say that Paul is explaining to the congregation in Rome 1900 years ago that they were all impacted because of Adam’s sin. Adam was my representative. He stood in for me, he represented me, and as he rebelled against God, I am implicated in that rebellion. And you might say, “I don’t like that.” Paul says, “Good. You shouldn’t like that.” But is it true? That is the question and Paul gives two proofs;
i] Universal sin. The sin of the federal head of mankind has created universal sin. What society in the world today, or in all the civilizations since the dawn of time, have been without sin? Where in a capitalist society, or a monarchy, or in a democracy, or in totalitarian or socialist regimes is there a culture without sin? Where would you go to live to find a civilization lacking in sin? Paul tells us in verse 13 that there was sin in the world in all the millennia and centuries that existed between Adam’s fall and the giving of the ten commandments to Moses. There was still during those years a divine law to break everywhere in the world. You can’t commit a transgression unless there is something to transgress. You can’t sin unless there is a law. And so Paul is saying, “See! I know that Moses’ law was not given until Sinai, but guess what? We know that there was sin in the world before Sinai. You can see it in the lives of the first two men born to Adam and Eve. Cain murdered his brother Abel. The patriarchs lied and cheated one another. Sin existed and thrived in the world before the giving of Moses’ law, and so there must have been a law to break. God gives a conscience. God writes the things of the law on our hearts. All men – even those in the midst of distant tribes in Papua New Guinea – know in their hearts that it is wrong to show cowardice, or to steal from another in the village. All men are under the covenant of works. God has given everyone a conscience and the things of his law. All men are to give obedience to it. You can look around you in the world, and even the people who haven’t got the Bible, they sin. That shows that they are under the law too. They are under an obligation to keep the law. They answer to God. That shows that they have violated that obligation; they are guilty. All the world lies guilty before God.
ii] Universal death from Adam to Moses proves the effect of his sin on every single generation. Look at verse 14; “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam,” There’s the universal reign of death from Adam to Moses. You see it in the effect of Adam’s sin upon us. Everyone is under the penalty of the broken covenant of works. In other words, Paul is saying that when you weigh up the teaching of the Bible, and you look at the time from Adam to Moses then what do you see? Everybody dies. Scientists do not have an explanation why this happens. Who do we all die? They can’t tell us. But everyone breathes his last. Now the people between Adam and Moses – several thousand years – hadn’t been given the law of Moses throughout that period. They hadn’t been given that special revelation of the ten commandments of God as Moses had received them from Jehovah at Sinai. “But even amongst those who haven’t sinned against that special revelation, death reigned,” Paul says. We die, you die, I die, all men and women, even the very best die. Death embraces all; it is radical and universal as sin is. And that proves our solidarity with Adam in sin.
So Paul is saying that despite the fact that Moses’ law had not yet been promulgated, that before the time of Moses, death reigned. And that is an evidence that Adam’s sin had an impact on everybody. If we are to be extracted from this predicament, we are not going to be able to do it ourselves, because we are all caught in a web, in a complex of sin that is bigger than we are. If we are going to be extracted from this predicament, we require a Mediator who is simultaneously like us and not like us. He is fully human, but he is without sin, and he comes from outside our predicament, and not under the bondage of sin which we are in Adam. And Paul is saying that is precisely what Jesus Christ does. Jesus Christ comes into the world to redeem people that are in this position. It’s not just that they need to turn over a new leaf, or make changes in their lives, or get their act together. That’s not Christianity. Christianity is not doing your best to make yourself a little better. We’re in a much worse situation than that.
So there is just one way out of that dilemma. It is through another representative head, and he’s the One that I want you to know – Jesus Christ. Paul has been so clear in this letter to the Romans in explaining this and insisting on it. Jesus Christ has done everything in his life and death as our representative to live the life we should live in loving God with all our beings and loving our neighbours as ourselves and then in taking the judgment that we deserve for our disobedience to God. We are saved through what the last Adam, Jesus Christ, our substitute and advocate with God, has done in our place.
This is so important to remember in evangelism, because evangelism is not about getting somebody to switch from brand X to brand Y. It’s not about you changing your name brand loyalty. It’s not some sort of a detached decision that you make. You are involved in the greatest predicament that ever existed, and you have not a clue about how to extract yourself from it, nor any way to effect your extraction from it. In evangelism we are sharing the message that God has done something to deliver you out of that predicament, unilaterally God did it, all by himself, and all you can do is receive it by faith. That is very, very different than sort of presenting the merits of one case, and the merits of the other, and saying, “Okay, it’s up to you now.” That’s the consumer approach. “I’ve got the better brand, try it, your life will be better.”
Christianity, you see, is not about making a new start in life. It’s receiving a new life to start with. And here in Romans, chapter 5, Paul is telling you why that is. Because you were involved in such a web of sin that you could never extract yourself from it. Jesus can redeem the life of a person raised in an abusive home. Paul is here to tell you that Christ can conquer and elevate and give rest here and now. Not after death, R.I.P. rest in peace, but come to Jesus Christ all you who labour and are heavy laden and he will give you this rest today. But until you appreciate how bad the fix is, you’ll never see how glorious the divine fix is – the fix that truly fixes.
4th January 2015 GEOFF THOMAS