The Bible knows nothing of paltry blessing. Instead, it portrays such extravagance of grace upon us, that we find it bewildering.
The Kitchen Sink Gospel
Call me old school, but I still don’t trust GPS. I’ve already had a few bad experiences—“Continue on Paint Can road for twenty-six miles…bear left at the fork…drive over cliff…” I still use GPS for in-city driving, but for long hauls, I like Mapquest. I need to see where I’m going well ahead of time.
The best Mapquest feature is the little slider that allows you to enlarge the scale of the map, while shrinking all the side roads and rabbit trails. There’s nothing like seeing where you’re starting, where you’re going, and the one way to get there. Simplicity is beautiful.
Sometimes when we Christians consider salvation, our heads are swimming with too many details. Like all the extra people. Moses is important, right? Pay attention to his tablets. John the Baptist baptized people. You need to get baptized. And there’s Peter. Somebody lied to him and then dropped dead. So make sure you don’t lie to an apostle. Oh yeah, the Antichrist. Don’t receive his mark on your hand or your head.
The more we talk the worse it gets. I call it the kitchen sink gospel. It’s not that those persons and the issues surrounding them aren’t important, just that we tend to splatter them across our faith canvas until the gospel isn’t so clear. Confusion inside the brain case leads to confusion in life, and then confusion in our preaching.
We’d do better to simply remember that our doom is in one person and our salvation is in another.
Only Two Men Exist
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul does the Mapquest thing. He pulls down the slider and enlarges the scale of redemption, shrinking all the details. We won’t hear anything about Jew or gentile, or even individuals, as we did in previous chapters. All such details vanish until only two men are left—Adam and Christ.
Paul wants first of all to demonstrate the striking similarities between these two. Both are historical individuals. You might wonder about Adam in light of the theory of evolution, but that is a concern related to apologetics. Paul doesn’t try to prove anything about Adam here. Instead, he assumes the historicity of the first man and moves on to assert that as real men, both Adam and Christ represent a singular collective.
In Adam we find a solidarity of sin, condemnation, death, and the entire human race. In Christ we find grace, righteousness, life, and a number of people who, though beginning in Adam, are now joined to Christ through faith.
We derive our identity and destiny from either Adam or Christ. No third possibility exists.
We Were Born a Mess
Sin and death went viral in Adam.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
When sin entered the human race through Adam, death came with it—not only physical death, but death as a deep, spiritual separation from God. This explains why, when Adam sinned in the garden, he didn’t drop dead (his physical demise came much later). Instead, he immediately began hiding from God. His former closeness with His Creator was now broken. Something was wrong inside.
This same death then spread to all men. Adam’s progeny would be afflicted from birth with it. We know this because all sinned. Without exception, as soon as we’re cognizant, we begin to do what our sinful forbear did—disobey God—which proves death has attached itself to us.
But what if you weren’t aware you were breaking rules, and indeed lived in a place or at a time when there was no specific code of moral law to obey?
13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.”
Even when we’re ignorant, like we all were before Moses came and delivered the Law of God, sin was still present, though we weren’t able to officially label it as “sin.”
14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam who was a type of the one who was to come.
Regardless of how we branded sinful behavior, and whether we were conscious of breaking specific commandments as Adam was, death reigned. It rules like a merciless tyrant. Our spiritual separation from God influences everything we do—what we like and don’t like, what we choose, what we reject, what we embrace, and what we hide from. Sin and spiritual death is everywhere we find people, and it controls them at levels they are hardly aware of.
Evidence of Sin in Your Pocket (or purse)
A campus preacher told me about a conversation he had had with a college student. The student said to him, “You Christians are too negative and gloomy about the condition of mankind. You’re always referencing sin. Sin is an illusion. I believe people are basically good.” The preacher said, “But you don’t really believe that.” The student recoiled and said, “Yes, I do.” “Okay,” the preacher said, “I’ll prove you don’t. Do you have a set of keys?” The student pulled out a key ring. “Why do you have those?” the preacher asked. “So I can unlock my car,” the student answered. “And why do you need to lock your car?”
The preacher could have also pointed out the house key and the key to the padlock the student used in the gym locker room. The fact is, “good” people steal and kill and destroy. Sin is such a universal experience and reality, that we must make provisions for it in ways that escape our notice.
We can’t afford to be naïve. It’s actually dangerous not to believe in sin, to assume everyone around us, even a stranger, is basically pure.
You would be shocked to know what people idly fantasize about at work as they sit right around your desk. You’d be disturbed to know the items saved on computer hard drives, and things being done right now in secret you won’t find out about until next week in the news.
Academia can mock the idea of sin as being an antiquated holdover from an unenlightened time, but no theological concept has better attestation in our world than this so-called superstition.
The Gordian Knot Untied
Whatever Adam managed to do, Christ managed to undo, and much more.
Where Paul began this section with the similarities between Adam and Christ, now he presents the contrasts. Through a set of rapid comparisons, the apostle lists what Adam did, and in the next column celebrates the much greater size, quality, and effect of what Christ did.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
- Many died through Adam. BUT, much more, grace abounded to many through Christ.
- Condemnation came through one trespass. BUT justification followed many trespasses.
- Death reigned through Adam. BUT those who receive the abundance of grace will reign in life through Christ.
And so, Paul offers this summary statement:
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For 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.
If Sins Were Golf Balls
In order to illustrate the superiority of Christ’s gift over Adam’s ruin, let a golf ball represent Adam’s sin. That one golf ball brought condemnation. Now let’s travel all the way over to the far side of history, to the 21st century, where we find you. You have more than one golf ball in your hand. In fact, within the last 24 hours, you’ve accumulated a half-dozen of them—selfish motives, bad attitudes, unfair criticism, outbursts of anger, etc.
Now consider how many golf balls you would have collected based on the sins of your last month. You can no longer hold them in two hands. How about your entire last year? Now we’re talking about garbage bags full of golf balls. Imagine the sins of your entire life. At this point, you may need to store your golf balls in an eighteen wheeler.
But what would happen if we added all the people in your city as well, with all the sins they ever committed in their lives? The number of golf balls would probably grow into a mountain that could be seen twenty miles away. Let’s now add all the folks in your state, your country, and finally the whole world.
But before we stop, let’s add all the people who have ever lived in the history of this world with all the sins they’ve ever committed. That would make the number of sins astronomical, leaving little room on planet earth for anything else except golf balls.
We might think that such sheer abundance of sins would seriously challenge grace and choke it off. But what followed this insane profusion of sin was the more abundant grace of justification. The cross dealt with a world full of “golf balls” all at once.
When you first received Christ (which you must do in order to actuate His victory in your life), He didn’t merely deal with your personal sins. You might have thought His grace barely covered your evil deeds, stretching around them like a fitted sheet around a mattress. But this isn’t true. He came to you as the mighty power that dealt not only with your sins, but everyone else’s as well. His cross paid for every conceivable sin in a hundred billion lifetimes. That was the grace that came to you.
This is why it makes no sense for us to obsess over our sins as though they are somehow unforgivable, bulletproof, or indelible. In fact, the overwhelming scope and power of God’s grace in Christ turns its receivers into kings, ruling and reigning over sin.
Don’t continue behaving like a slave or prisoner. Grace seeks to make us reign over our selfishness at home. It makes us rule over our laziness at work. Grace seeks to elevate you above the things you look at on the internet.
When it comes to personal sin of every kind—hidden, addictive, ugly, public, or criminal—it doesn’t reign over you; the abundance of grace causes you to reign over it.
Moses Makes Everything Clear
Doubtless, a lot of people wonder about Moses. Surely, there must be three men, not just two, who are key figures in redemptive history. But Paul provides the shocking reason that God introduced the Mosaic ministry:
20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass,
The ministry of Moses—the Law of God, the Ten Commandments—actually increased the trespass of Adam. When people know they’ve broken God’s law, and keep breaking it, the sense of sin and guilt intensifies more than ever. In effect, Moses proves you are a sinner in Adam.
but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ is the only viable means of salvation.
Moses Can’t Save (Even Though He’s Good at a Lot of Other Things)
Occasionally doctors need to scan a patient to find out what is going on inside. They inject dye into the blood stream, so it will expose blockages. The dye doesn’t cure anything, it only highlights the problem. That’s the ministry of Moses. But when the doctor goes to work on the patient to save him, that’s the ministry of Jesus.
Our world has spiraled into a worsening state of confusion. People at large sense something is wrong when individuals can no longer figure out whether they are male or female, or whether they should be intimate with a male or female, or with an adult or a child. The moral climate has never been more muddled, and so the knee-jerk response is to bring in Moses.
The Law of God is good. It provides a structural protection from lawlessness. It can expose the spiritual state of individuals and nations. Perhaps it can slow down social decline. But it can’t change anybody. If anything, sinners respond to it by trying to overthrow it. They didn’t get enough votes this year, but they vow to regroup and try again later. They love their sins and are willing to perish in hell with them.
But take the same sinners and hook them up to the super-abounding grace of Christ and they will not only refuse to defend their sin, they’ll discard it, disavow it, and live for Christ. In many cases, they will even die for Him. That is grace reigning.
We are sinners in Adam.
Moses proves it.