Romans 5:12-21.
Death in Adam, Life in Christ

             Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.


When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, a church he had not yet visited, he chose to write the longest of his known letters.  In his epistle to the Romans, Paul delves into the deep doctrines of the faith, first illustrating the lost and depraved state of natural man and his need for salvation from the condemnation of God that sin requires and deserves.  He argues that all people have been given the knowledge that there is one righteous God, that all know the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness, and that all choose the path of unrighteousness.  No person is without excuse as they face the judgment for their choice to rebel against God, a sure judgment that has only one outcome, a death sentence: separation from God for eternity. 

Paul also states that, because of the sinful nature of man, there is no work of righteousness that man can do to be saved from the penalty of his sin.  Any attempt to keep to any law of righteousness is frustrated by one's inability to keep the whole law:  Sin is always there.  Consequently, all people have sinned and come short of God's righteousness[1] and without God's intervention, no person can be saved.  As a Jew who was nurtured under the authority of Jewish law, Paul understood sin to be defined as the breaking of that specific set of laws, set down by Moses and greatly expanded upon by the Jewish leadership over the years.  As all Jews knew, to break even a single law was to make one a law-breaker and guilty of sin.  Consequently, Paul understood fully the frustration that comes from the veiled hypocrisy of self-righteousness.  Though almost every writer mentions the grace of God, Paul digs deeply into the need that we, as law-breakers, have for grace.  Unless God intervenes on our behalf, we have no hope. 

As a Jewish Christian, Paul learned of, and teaches about a broader context of sin.  Paul does not limit the definition of sin to the breaking of the Jewish Mosaic and Traditional Laws.  Sin predates the Law, and forms the basic character of man, even from the first man, Adam, who lived long before Moses.  In the fifth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Roman church, he targets the beliefs of its Jewish members who were trying to impose the requirements of Jewish Law on its Gentile members, those who believed sin to be the breaking of Jewish law, and who defined righteousness by strict obedience to it.

Romans 5:12.  Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

This statement begins with "wherefore," or "therefore," implying that this passage is a conclusion for comments just made concerning the nature of sin.  He has already described the universality of sin among all people and our need for grace.  Where did this sin come from?  Note that Paul does not say that sin started with "one man," but rather through that one man sin entered the world.  Certainly the spirit of evil ďpredatesĒ the creation of the universe, and was personified in the serpent in the garden of Eden who used his evil nature to allure and ensnare Adam and Eve.  Evil did not enter the world when the Law of Moses was passed down.  Evil entered the world in the heart of the first created humans who received the breath of spiritual life from God.  With this entry came the beginning of "death by sin," the separation of one from God because of their unrighteousness.  This separation was illustrated in the banishment of Adam and Eve from the garden and the curse that their knowledge of good and evil brought upon them.  Since the fall of Adam, all people have followed in his pattern of unrighteousness.  No person, born of a man and woman, has ever lived a sinless life.  Death (separation from God) has been the character of man from the beginning.  People do not sin because of Adam and Eve: all sin in the same manner and for the same self-centered reasons as Adam and Eve.

When in small, personal, Bible studies I have asked the rhetorical question, "When Adam was created, was he righteous, or was he wicked?"  It is easy for us to consider that he had to be one or the other, since they are opposites.  Actually, he was neither:  he was innocent because he first knew no sin.  The scripture describes him walking with God.  It was when Adam (and Eve) first acted on their self-centered nature that sin entered the world.  God commanded that they not eat of the tree of the "knowledge of good and evil."  Had they not eaten, they would have remained innocent, and ignorant of the contrast between righteousness and unrighteousness.  However, it was simply a matter of time before they followed their own desires, even when they knew that those desires were not part of Godís perfect will.  We cannot look back through thousands of years, point our fingers, and blame Adam:  Adam acted in the same way every person would act, and given the same choice we all choose unrighteousness every time we, like Adam, choose to act or think in any ungodly manner.  Some like to blame Eve on the pairís fall and use that condemnation to denigrate women, but we must realize that Eve did not act alone.  Adam was with her all the time.  Men and women both share the same sin nature and have the same responsibility for their actions before a Holy God.

Some argue that if Adam had not sinned, he would have never physically died, equating physical death with the death described in this passage.  Such a position ignores the context and content of God's plan and purpose.  When Adam sinned, he did not experience immediate physical death.  Adam and Eve did not physically die in the Garden of Eden.  In fact, Adam and his immediate predecessors lived lives that were far longer than those lived by people today.  If God had planned for people to be physically immortal, there would be no place for them in heaven, in eternity.  Certainly there would not be sufficient room on Earth.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they died spiritually:  they were separated from God.  Adam no longer walked with God, a state that initially characterizes all men to follow him, because all who followed him have sinned.

Romans 5:13.  (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Note that in this argument, sin did not enter the world through the breaking of the Mosaic Law.  Sin came into the world through the unrighteousness in the natural heart of mankind.  The Law serves only to illuminate and expose sin, highlighting our need for grace.  Again, the Jews equated sin with the breaking of Mosaic Law.  They held that, where there was no law, there was no sin.  If someone was ignorant of the law, then how could they break it?  Logically, if this were true, it would be best to destroy the law so than no person would ever be condemned by it.  However, Paul makes it clear that lawlessness is not to be equated with sinlessness.  It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that lawlessness is simply a license to sin all the more.  It is not the Law of Moses that creates (imputes) sin.  It is the sin of man that the Law of Moses illuminates.  The basic knowledge of good and evil is deeply etched in the hearts of men.  They do not need the Mosaic Law to know that the attitudes and actions of their hearts are often ungodly and unrighteous. 

Romans 5:14.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adamís transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 

The Greek word rendered, reign, is often translated as "king."  This word carries the context of authority.  A king, by definition, owns and controls everyone and everything in his domain.  In this same manner, sin reigned in the world from Adam to Moses when the Jewish law did not exist.  We shall see that sin continued to reign afterwards, and still does.

Paul then gives the narrative of Adam a curious twist.  He treats Adam as an archetype (or an antitype?) of Christ.  That is, Paul is going to draw some metaphorical similarities and opposites between Adam and Jesus, drawn close enough that he will refer to Jesus as the "Second Adam."[2]  Paul uses this metaphoric model to compare and contrast the impact, or legacy, that the nature of both Adam and Jesus has on mankind. 

Romans 5:15.  But not as the offence, so also is the free gift.  For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 

First, he draws a contrast of opposites:  God's gift of forgiveness through Jesus and Adam's offense: the sin of missing the mark.  The nature of sin is characterized in Adam, and the nature of grace is characterized by Jesus.  Those who would follow both Adam and Jesus would take on their nature.  To Paul, to follow the depraved nature of this sinful world is to follow the nature of Adam.  To follow Adam is to receive his nature of sin, embracing its condemnation, and receiving eternal death: a curse of judgment.  Likewise, to follow Jesus is to receive His nature of love, embracing His righteousness, and receiving eternal life: a gift of grace.  Many, if not most of the people of this world, follow Adam, and are dead in their sins and trespasses.  Yet, many also have followed Christ, abounding in His grace.  This latter community of faith is alive in the forgiveness they have received for their sins and trespasses.

Romans 5:16.  And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.  

Paul then contrasts the consequence of these opposites:  justification and condemnation.  Through the one man Adam, judgment results in condemnation.  However, through the grace of God, through the one Man Jesus, judgment results in justification. 

Adam's sin binds us to the condemnation that comes from judgment.  There is no escape from condemnation for those who place their trust in Adam, in the world apart from God.  Freedom from condemnation is given by God's grace to those who place their trust in Jesus.  This entire line of reasoning would be easy for the ancient Jew to follow, but would be difficult to reconcile in light of their deeply ingrained view of the place and purpose of the Mosaic Law.  By defining the nature of sin apart from the law, Paul seeks to bring the Jew (and all others, of course) to recognize that to sin is simply the reasonable and unrighteous nature of man, and righteousness is found only in God's grace through Jesus Christ.  The Jew is seeking righteousness by keeping the Law, yet frustrated by the hypocrisy of the deep knowledge that such a task is impossible.  The news of the gospel is, indeed, good news for the Jew as well as for the Gentile.

Romans 5:17.  For if by one manís offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

Paul then contrasts the final result of these opposites:  life and death.  To follow the way of the world and its man-made cultures, whether religious or secular, leads only to death.  Paul presents this as an inviolable truth.  The offense of Adam has been replicated in the life of every human, born of a man and woman, who has ever lived.  Sin has reigned as the authority in the lives of every person from their first ability to form moral judgments until either their natural death, or their justification in Christ. 

Sin is an gruesome master, bringing no true peace or joy into the lives of its servants.  However, when one comes to faith in Jesus Christ, it is His Spirit that comes to reign in the life of the believer, supplanting and evacuating the evil spirit just as the shining of a bright light supplants and evacuates the darkness.  All of the power in this transaction is in the Holy Spirit.  Sin, as a master, leads one only to death: separation from God for eternity.  The Holy Spirit, as a master, leads one only to life: an eternal and secure relationship with God.  This is a gift, a gift of righteousness that one simply cannot attain while subject to the reign of evil in one's heart. 

The nature of this world, personified in Adam, lacks little in its rationalizations to keep its subjects under its control.  Few saw this more vividly than the early church whose members were criticized by the secular culture as ignorant and unenlightened, and despised by the Jews as heretics.  The Jews had their way to salvation:  keeping the Law.  The Greeks had their way to salvation: the peace that comes from philosophical knowledge.  The Roman and Barbarian cultures had their way to salvation:  eat drink, and be merry today, for tomorrow you die and it all ends.  Every world culture and world religion is a product of Adam, and apart from God's plan of salvation through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, leads only to eternal separation from God.  Eternal life is a free gift, one that we cannot attain through worldly works of any kind, whether it be keeping of a law, working penance, or by following any other of man's contrived practices.  Eternal salvation is a gift of God's grace, as He has chosen to forgive the sins of all those who would simply place their faith and trust in Him rather than through any other means declared by this world, Adam.

We should note that Paul also uses the name of Adam in a manner similar to that used in the Old Testament.  The Hebrew name is more than a personal name, and is used to refer to mankind in general, as in "God created man (Adam) in his own image."  Just as "Adam" can represent a single individual from the Genesis garden narrative, the Hebrew form of the name can also refer to all created men (and women).  For Paul, Adam represents the sin in the heart of man.  Adam is not so much "to blame" for it as some might attempt to argue, nor is Adam the "originator" of sin.  Adam and Eve are, however, the first to experience deathís sting.    

Romans 5:18.  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 

Adam's sin resulted in the condemnation of everyone who would follow him.  As each person was born in the image of Adam, they chose to follow his sin nature and bring upon themselves the penalty for their rebellion against God.  People today are not paying the penalty for Adam's sin as some would argue.  People today are paying the penalty for their own sin, a sin that of their own choosing, a choice for rebellion that so well correlates to the sin of Adam.  We see, even in Adam's life how that sin nature was passed down to his own sons when the rebellious Cain slew the faithful Abel out of his own hatred and jealousy. 

Romans 5:19.  For as by one manís disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 

It does not take a lot of analysis to understand Paul's simple statement that sin is disobedience, and by emulating Adam's disobedience all have become sinners; all are lost.  We can look at Adam and see the predominant and initial act of disobedience when he, upon understanding God's command, chose to rebel.  Jesus was also faced with an act of obedience that forever defined His righteousness.  At the garden of Gethsemane, the stress of Jesus' decision to obey God was evident.  Where Adam said, "Not thy will, but my will be done,Ē not in words but by what he did, Jesus said, "Not my will but thy will be done."  By His choice, He the man Jesus knew what would follow would be gruesome and tortuous for the flesh.  Furthermore, taking on the sin and experiencing its penalty was an act of obedience that would provide the way for the salvation for all people.  By following Adam, we take on Adam's unrighteousness.  By following Christ, we are imputed with Christ's righteousness, not that we become perfect or sinless, but rather that the sin of those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ is forgiven. 

Romans 5:20.  Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

What is the purpose of the law?  Prior to the law, man knew of his own unrighteousness based upon the sin of Adam as he "ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."  God had a special purpose for the Jewish people:  it was through them that God would reveal Himself to the world.  When Moses walked down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he held in his arms a gift that would reinforce their own understanding of moral behavior.  One could see in the Commandments their own sin, not only in the knowledge of their heart, but in their knowledge of the Law of God.  The Law put the spotlight on sin.  However, grace has power over all sin.  Consequently, where sin "abounded" in the heart of the unbeliever, grace "abounded even more" when its power overcame the sin. 

Satan has no power over God.  There is not an eternal battle line drawn between God and satan that moves back and forth as one overpowers the other.  When confronted with the power of the Holy Spirit, Satan is entirely impotent.  Satan has no more power over the Holy Spirit than darkness has over light.  It is light that fills the room, chasing away the darkness at the rate of speed that it travels without impediment (300,000,000 meters per second.)  Likewise, when the Holy Spirit enters, satan flees.  It is God who has all the power over satan, and it is grace that has all the power over sin.  Darkness has no power over light, satan has no power over the Holy Spirit, and sin has no power over grace.

Romans 5:21.  That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Finally, Paul comes back to the metaphor of authority: the reign of a King.  We have a choice of what we will accept as the authority to whom we declare our allegiance.  One is to surrender to the authority found in this world, an authority that teaches many lies:  You may scream out "I am the master of my fate, the Captain of my soul!"[3]  Well, Captain, you have chosen for yourself a master than cannot save you from the consequence of your sins.  Your eternal separation from God is your choice to make, as you chose Adam as your master.

You may argue, "I have been a good person.  God loves me and will not condemn a good person."  The truth is that you are not good.  The Jew understood what it meant to be a lawbreaker; all people are law breakers.  God's judgment is not based on a balance scale of good versus bad.  It is a judgment based solely on righteousness.  Only the sinless person is righteous, and all have sinned and come short of God's demand for perfection.[4]  If you have not appropriated the righteousness of Christ by giving your heart and life to Him, that sin in your heart still condemns you.  By choosing this human rationalization, you have also chosen Adam as your master.

You may argue, "You Christians think you have the only answer.  All of the world religions are doing the same thing"  The world has a lot of plans for salvation.  None of them involve God's paying the penalty for sin that no man can atone for.  None of them are consistent with God's revelation of Himself to mankind through His Word, through the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, or through the testimony of the Messiah, God Himself, who came to earth to provide a clear and eternal message.  None of them accept God's gift of righteousness simply by placing their faith in Him based upon what Jesus has done.  All of the world's plans are of man's design, and if you choose to follow these, you have chosen Adam as your master.  Like Adam, you will find yourself standing before God in the final judgment, and without faith in Him, you will stand unforgiven, yet given the choice of your heart that you demonstrated in life: separation from Him for eternity.  Salvation in faith in Jesus is the only plan that is Godís design.

You may argue, "There is no heaven and hell.  All of this religious talk is foolishness."  Godís Word is foolishness to those who are lost.  If you have rejected the gospel, you have chosen your own logic, and your own way, a way that cannot possibly save you from the consequence of your choices.  Listen to the still, small, voice of God as He speaks to you of the sin that thrives in your heart, and the offer of grace that He extends to you.  Don't continue in your choice as Adam as your master.  Trusting in God takes a leap of faith.  Salvation is found in that faith, and that faith alone.

Our choice is simple:  follow Adam, or follow Christ.  Follow the fate of this world, or follow the fate of Christ.  We can serve God, or we can serve man.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[5]  


[1] Romans 3:23.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:45.

[3] Invictus, William Earnest Henley.

[4] Ibid. Romans 3:23.

[5] Joshua 24:15.