The Reign of Grace and Life


Romans 5:12–21 (NRSV) 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Throughout ch. 5 to 8, Paul compares and contrasts this “present evil age” and a “glorious age to come.”  He uses these contrasting realms to conceptualize our experience of salvation.  The old realm is ruled by death (5:12-21), sin (ch. 6), and the law (ch. 7), and the sin nature (ch. 8).  In contrast, the new realm is characterized by life (ch. 5), righteous living (ch. 6), grace (ch. 6), and the Holy Spirit (ch. 8).

Paul goes back to the the account of Creation and the fall in Genesis (Gen. 1-3)  and the meaning of the first parents as prototypes of humanity and keys to the moral failure known as the Fall.  Paul is not comparing Adam with Christ, but describing the results of their actions.  Paul contrasts Adam’s act of disobedience with Christ’s act of obedience which led to reconciliation.

Why does Paul focus on Adam?  He is not unaware of Eve’s contribution to the Fall, but he focuses on Adam, the first man, in order to focus on the universal aspects of what he is saying.  Adam is the Hebrew word for man, or human.  All references to Adam in this passage have a generic meaning that embraces all of humanity, both male and female.  Adam, the first man, contrasts with Jesus Christ, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)

In the beginning, God created everything and pronounced it good.  Humanity is the crowning creation of God, in that, God created humanity in God’s own image.  But sin entered the world through one man, Adam (Rom. 5:12).  The act of sin in humanity broke the relationship that existed between God and humanity.

Before the fall, Adam’s state and standing was the same.  Adam had unconfirmed holiness, and his standing before God was the same.  After the fall into sin, Adam’s state and standing were also the same.  He was a confirmed sinner.  And so are we to this day, unless we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In fact, through this one original sin, all have sinned.  Through his sin, Adam became the father of all sinners.  One way to understand this is that Adam stood as the representative of all of humanity before God, and in his fall, so we have all fallen into sin.  Whatever the explanation for how this happened, the fact remains that every human being born is born with a sin nature, that is a predisposition to sin.

Adam was created with the potential to live a holy life, humans now are born with the inevitable destiny of sin.  It is impossible to not sin, so Paul says, (Rom. 7:21–24 NLT)  “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”  So the Psalmist declares, “There is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Ps. 14:3; Rom. 3:10)

Through Adam’s sin, death came to all humanity.  (Rom. 5:18) So Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  (Rom. 6:23)   Death spoken of here is not just the physical death that all humans experience, but the spiritual death, the death of the soul.  Sinners are those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  (Eph. 2:1)  Death is universal because sin is universal.  (Rom. 5:18)

But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s grace.  Through Adam’s sin death entered the world, but through God’s grace and forgiveness life entered the world through Jesus Christ.  (Rom. 5:15)  Both Adam and Jesus Christ committed a single act whose influence extends to all people.  Adam represents all humanity.  God offers all humanity a free gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  But we must receive the gift of righteousness in order to be represented by Christ.  “For all who receive ti will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.”  (v. 17)

Christ’s one act of righteousness refers to his death upon the cross, which he died once for all sinners.  It is a righteous act, because Christ chose to die in obedience to the Father’s will (John 10:18).  And as a result, new life in Christ is available to everyone through Christ.  (v. 20)  Paul isn’t teaching that everyone will be saved.  But that the atoning work of Christ is available to everyone.  The offer of salvation is to whoever will believe (John 3:16).

So what was the purpose of God’s Law (the Mosaic Law)?  Paul says that the Law was given to show people how sinful they truly were.  (v. 20)  So in the old realm, sin reigned over all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles from Adam until today.  But now, God’s grace has done a new thing.  And the law of grace now rules.  And so through Christ, God’s grace offers us right standing with God (justification), “and results in eternal life through Jesus Christ.”  (v. 21)

Lord, I thank you that sin and death no longer rule over the world.  I thank you that you have delivered me from the power of sin and death through the death of your Son, our Lord, upon the cross.  Help me to to live into my baptism, to live into my higher calling day by day, in and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, Amen.





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