Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ, Rom. 5:12-21
To put it mildly, this is one of the more challenging sections in the Roman letter. Fear not, there are several more to come. As always, we must consider the context and the flow of thought Paul has been presenting up to this point. All have sinned, but who is responsible? All need forgiveness, but who can deliver? The issue in the text—are men born in a sinful state, or do we choose our lot? Does Jesus’ sacrifice automatically remedy the fall into sin, or do we have a choice? Renowned theologians Calvin and Arminius headed up early schools of thought on two vastly different conclusions. Simply put, we must learn whether our eternal destiny is chosen for us, or whether we have a choice. A popular t-shirt presents the two sides of the issue. Calvin would say the t-shirt chose the owner. Arminius says he chose the shirt. Paul’s point is this—Satan used the first man Adam to bring sin into the world. By choice, all men eventually make the same mistakes as Adam. But in Christ, the effects of Adam’s fall are reversed for all who will obey. We must choose to obey Jesus in order to be saved (Heb. 5:8-9). We are responsible for our own sinful condition, and we are responsible to obey Christ and receive forgiveness.
Paul effectively uses the two heads of the human race to discuss the problem of sin and its cure. After stating in verse 12 that sin entered into the world through one man, Paul then digresses for several verses to discuss difficult details of his subject. Now, imagine another dash at the beginning of verse 18 as Paul finishes the thought he started in verse 12. As in Adam, all sinned by choice, so in Christ all may find forgiveness, by personal choice (Acts 2:41). Our path into sin began at Adam, but we find forgiveness through Jesus. Although Paul indicates that Adam is representative of all sinners, this does not mean that we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin. We do inherit the consequences of a fallen world, which makes it easy for every person to follow Adam into sin. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus provides the solution. What mankind lost in Adam, we can more than regain in Jesus Christ.
The penalty for sin comes upon all who have personally sinned. The penalty of sin is death. We know that physical death is the lot of all mankind, without choice (Heb. 9:27). But the choice to sin brings a death far worse—spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). Spiritual death entails separation from God. In this life we can be reconciled through Christ and avoid eternal separation (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Whether before the Law, under the Law, or in the Christian age, we all sin. People get lost in the trees of this discussion and cannot see the giant redwood forest in front of them. Through Adam came death. Through Jesus comes life. Both Adam and Jesus affected the whole of humanity through one act. Our greatest decision and act will be to choose Jesus.
Salvation is granted, not through the Law but through the grace of God. Through grace we obtain right standing with God. We deserve punishment, but God is willing to forego that and grant us eternal life. We do not deserve Jesus, but God has graciously given him to be our Savior. Salvation is available for all.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.