October 15, 2017
UNION WITH CHRIST AND THE CERTAINTY OF OUR HOPE
(17 of 44 in a series through Romans)
It has been commonly been noted that the doctrine of original sin can be empirically verified. Now, let me explain what people are saying when they make that statement. First, the doctrine of original sin is the doctrine that teaches that people are born into this world with a sinful nature. And when people say that this particular doctrine can be empirically verified what they mean is that though you certainly can show this doctrine in the Bible, you can also just point it out in the world. If someone tries to raise a child, for example, it isn’t going to take too much effort to convince them that people are born with a sinful nature. That person will say, “Oh, I can testify to that every day.” People may doubt every other doctrine taught in the Bible, but it’s really tough to argue against the claim that people are born with a sinful nature. We don’t need to be taught to be self-centered, covet, lust, or the like. These things are just part and parcel of who we are.
Because of this, even unbelievers have to acknowledge the doctrine of original sin. Now, they may not call it that. But they have to admit that without being instructed in how to sin, people are born with a sinful nature. They may deny our doctrine of Scripture, Christ, or salvation, but they have to acknowledge the truth of at least this aspect of our doctrine of sin.
Now, I don’t bring this up simply to get a laugh as we think about the selfish actions of toddlers. I bring it up because I want to argue that the doctrine of original sin (i.e. inherited sin) can be for us a constant reminder of why our hope for eternal life is certain. And since that may sound odd, as if these two truths should have no connection, let me try to explain what I mean.
If you’re an unbeliever and deny the truth of Scripture, then the reality of our obvious sinful natures from birth should prove somewhat problematic. It’s obviously true, even to you, but why is this a reality? I mean, if we all simply arrived here by some evolutionary chance (as many unbelievers would say), then why do we have to be given disciplined training and teaching in order to do nearly everything that is good while what is sinful simply and naturally flows right out of us? Also, why is our sinfulness from birth so pervasive that it affects literally everyone?
Well, the Bible has an answer for this reality. And the answer the Bible gives to account for this reality also explains why we all die, which we’ll get to in a second. But here’s the interesting part: the text we’re looking at this morning tells us that just as it is sure and certain that mankind sins and dies, it is equally as certain (in fact more certain) that those who have faith in Christ and get his gift of righteousness will experience eternal life. Specifically, Paul says in Romans 5:17, “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.” That’s why I say that the doctrine of original sin that we witness played out all around us every day can be a constant reminder of the certainty of our hope for eternal life.
And that’s what I want you to know and feel this morning—the certainty that we who stand in grace and have been credited the free gift of Christ’s righteousness from God—will experience eternal life and a reign of life that is even more certain than sin and death are in this age. I think that’s Paul’s main point in this text.
That is to say, I think that Romans 5:12-21 isn’t Paul taking his argument in a completely different direction after arguing for our assurance of hope in 5:1-11 so that now he wants to completely switch gears and talk about Adam and Christ in 5:12-21. No, these two texts are connected. And here’s how they’re connected. After Paul argues for our assurance of hope in 5:1-11 we may be asking how Christ’s work of living, dying on the cross, and being raised from the dead makes my hope certain. And here’s Paul’s answer in 5:12-21: The reason Christ’s life, death, and resurrection make our hope certain is because when we exercise faith in Christ, we are united with Christ Jesus so that the righteousness, justification, and life he experienced (and experiences) are just as certain for us (and even more certain for us) as the sin, condemnation, and death we’ve experienced by virtue of being united with Adam.
And isn’t the certainty of eternal life what we all want to know? I mean, when you and I are on our death beds, isn’t the most important thing in that moment knowing that what we’ve hoped and believed about the eternal life that awaits us on the other side of death is true? And the answer is that it’s true because of our union with Christ, and one thing, ironically, that witnesses to its truth is the certainty of sin and death we witness every day in our world.
Now, of course, what I’ve argued demands some kind of relationship between why we sin and die on the one hand and why we receive righteousness and will know eternal life on the other. Otherwise, why would seeing the certainty of the first in our world remind us of the certainty of the other? And this is what Paul explains in this text that we’re going to look at this morning, and the first thing Paul notes right out of the gate and throughout all of these verses really that:
Adam and Christ are alike in that their actions affect all in them
One of the things that you see throughout these verses is the constant theme of two men, whose actions both affecting all people in them. I’ll explain what I mean by “in” them in a second. But just note how Paul speaks right at the beginning of sin coming into the world “through one man” (v. 12), or that “many died through one man’s trespass” (v. 15), or of “the result of that one man’s sin” (v. 16), and though we could note many others, how Paul says in verse 19 that “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” What he’s clearly establishing is that the action of one man affected many others. And in verse 14 he explicitly identifies this first man who had this negative impact, noting that he’s talking about Adam, the first man ever created, whom he identifies as “a type of the one who was to come” (v. 14).
Now, what does he mean by Adam being a type? Well, in the Bible, this generally refers to a person, event, or institution in the OT that pictures for us a reality in the NT, and most of the time that corresponding reality in the NT is the person, Jesus Christ. Remember, for example, how John notes that Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” and then John adds, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 22)? That’s an example of a type in the Bible. The temple in the OT was the place where God allowed his presence to dwell among his people, but it was a type, a picture, of what would be fulfilled in Jesus in a more powerful way, since when Jesus walked the earth we literally had God with us. And though I could give many other examples, I think that’s a sufficient picture of what a type in the Bible is and how it functions, as it pictures for us something true about Jesus who was to come.
But in what sense was Adam “a type of the one who was to come,” as Paul says in verse 14? Well, I think it becomes clear when you see that he begins talking about another man, Jesus, affecting many people by his actions. So, for example, in verse 19 Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” This, I think, is our answer.
Adam is a type of Christ, giving us a picture of what Jesus would be like and do, in that Adam’s actions affected everyone connected with or united with him. And since Adam was the head of humanity (sometimes called our “federal head”), his actions literally affected every human being who was born from his line, which is all of us. That’s why Paul could write in the text we heard read earlier: “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). We’re all considered “in Adam” as we’re born into the world. As the first man, he is the head of all of humanity.
But what Paul wants us to see is that the same is true regarding Jesus. That is, his actions affect all “in him,” which is why Paul can conclude the verse we just referred to by writing, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Thus, as we’re born into the world, we’re united with Adam, our head, so that what he did and the consequences of his actions affect us, but when we place our faith in Jesus, we’re transferred to another head and united with him so that what he did and the consequences of his actions affect us as well, which is glorious news. That’s the premise we need to have in place to make sense of what Paul is saying. Adam and Christ are alike in that their actions affect all in them. So, how does each of them affect us? Let’s start with Adam
Adam brought sin, condemnation, and death to all in him
Paul notes that Adam brought sin and the corresponding penalty of death to all of humanity. Here’s how he begins, “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” (v. 12). Adam sinned and brought sin and death into the world, and it spread so that you end up seeing everyone after Adam dying because they’re sinning.
But at this point, it’s almost as if Paul cuts off his comparison. He started with “just as …” so you would expect him to say something like “so also …” but he doesn’t do that. He actually doesn’t pick it up until verse 18 when you see the “as … so …” language. But the reason he cuts it off is most likely because he understands in the middle of making his argument that someone could give an objection. And that objection would be something like, “Well, can we really say that men were sinners in that time after Adam but before Moses when there was no law given by God, not explicit stated commands that could be obeyed or disobeyed”?
After all, Paul himself has already argued in 4:15 that “where there is no law there is no transgression.” But what Paul had meant then is not that where there’s no explicit law there’s not sin. As I noted a couple of weeks back, a transgression is a violation of an explicitly stated law. So Paul isn’t saying that where there’s no law there’s no sin. Of course men have sinned since Genesis 3 on. He was simply saying that their sin wasn’t raised to the level of being a transgression until God explicitly gave laws which their sins violated.
So, how does Paul show that men were sinning during the time after Adam but before the law was given through Moses? He writes, “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given [that’s his assertion], but sin isn’t counted where there is no law [that’s what he’s trying to answer]. Yet [that is, now he’s going to show what evidence there was that sin was in the world before the law] death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (vv. 13-14). That is, Paul acknowledges that all these people who lived between the time of Adam and the giving of the law weren’t sinning exactly the same way that Adam did. Adam was given a clearly and explicitly stated prohibition by God, and he violated it. That would happen again when the people were given the law. And between Adam and the law the people were not violating explicitly stated commands from God. But, Paul argues, we know they were still sinning? How do we know that Paul? He answers, because death reigned in that time, and death is the penalty and punishment and result of sin. Thus, Adam’s sin brought in the spread of sin and death to all people, which is evidenced in the sinfulness and deaths of all of mankind after him, even in the period before the law was given.
Now, because he ends with this mention that Adam is a type of Christ in verse 14, from verse 15 on, he’s going to compare the results and effects of what Adam did to the results and effects of what Christ did, but at this point we’re just trying to focus on the work of Adam and the effect he’s had. Therefore, we’ll only be looking at one half of Paul’s statements in these verses. But here’s what we read:
“For if many died through the one man’s trespass” (v. 15)
“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation” (v. 16)
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (v. 17)
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (v. 18)
“For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19)
Now, if we put that all together, we can say that Adam’s one sin made all in him die, be condemned before God, subject to the reign of death in the world, and become sinners. In other words, because Adam was our representative before God, his rebellion against God when he sinned and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil affected all of us. He brought condemnation to the world and all mankind. Therefore, we’re born into the world guilty, condemned before God, dead in our sins, sinfully corrupt in our natures, and knowing that we’re going to die. The guilty verdict that fell on Adam wasn’t merely an empty legal sentence from God on humanity so that we’re all condemned. It brought with it these two enemy powers of sin and death. So, yes, we sin and we will die. But sin isn’t just a rebellious action we do, and death isn’t just the expiration of life from the body. Sin and death are enemy powers to which we’re enslaved as we’re born into the world. That’s why Paul speaks of the reign of death in these verses and will say in the next chapter that we were once “slaves of sin” (6:20).
That’s the state of every person born into the world since Adam (except for Jesus). We’re all condemned, slaves of sin, under the power of sin, and we therefore sin and will die. As we started, that isn’t very difficult of a point to make. Just open your eyes and look all around you. It’s clearly true. The insight we’re providing today is the reason why that’s the case. It’s because Adam was our representative before God, and in him all these consequences fall to us. Adam brought sin, condemnation, and death to all in him. But there is good news. Let’s consider the results and effects of Christ’s work.
Christ brought righteousness, justification, and life to all in him
As Paul begins comparing the work and results of Christ’s work when compared to Adam’s in verses 15 on, he notes just how much greater Christ’s work is. I’ll start with an image that might help picture what Paul argues here. Imagine someone walked into a warehouse, full of furniture, that had a water pipe running along the ceiling. And someone walks in and does one act. He hits the water pipe with a pick axe, causing it to burst open and flood the entire warehouse, completely immersing all of that furniture in water.
Now, imagine that one other man comes and completely makes the room right. He fixes the damage. He fixes the pipe, empties the room of water, dries out and cleans the furniture, etc. Well, we could say that each men did one act. The first did one act of bursting the pipe and destroying the warehouse. And the second did one act of cleaning and fixing everything. But we’d all know that these aren’t equal. The second man’s act, though like the first in that it had an impact on the entire warehouse, was much more impressive. This is how Paul talks about Jesus coming in and reversing the effect of Adam’s disobedience in our lives. Here’s what we read in the other half of those statements we referred to earlier.
“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” (v. 15)
“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification” (v. 16)
“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” (v. 17).
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness [Think here of the one act of cleaning the warehouse, for example. Jesus’ “one act of righteousness” was living a whole life in perfect obedience to his Father, even to the point of dying on a cross] leads to justification for all men [that is, all men in Christ]” (v. 18)
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (v. 19)
So, let’s put this together, because we’re united with Christ by faith we’ve now been transferred from “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” That’s why when you read a text like Ephesians 1:3-14 that describes the blessings of our salvation, you keep reading phrases like “in Christ” or “in him” in every verse that speaks of our saving blessings. It’s because salvation is defined best as all the blessings we experience by being united with Christ by faith because when we’re in Christ what is true of him becomes true of us. Is he righteous? We’re credited with his righteous. Is he living forever, triumphant over death? So are we. Is he loved by his Father? The love that the Father has for his Son he has for us (John 17:23). And we could keep going. That’s what it means to be saved, and that’s an amazing reality!
Therefore, in our text, Paul notes that whereas in Adam we became sinners, died, were condemned, and were enslaved to sin and death, in Christ we are recipients of grace, are justified, have been credited with perfect righteousness, have life, and will reign in life with Christ. So, if you heard what is true of us through our union with Adam and thought, “That feels unjust,” then rejoice in the unjustness (i.e. mercy and grace by definition is not merited) of the benefits that come to us in Christ. He did all the good work and merited life, but we get to receive it by faith.
But that brings us to our last observation in this text, namely,
If we’re in Christ, the reign of eternal life to come is as certain as the reign of death now
This is where I started, and it’s where I want to end. In verses 20-21 Paul brings up the law again. If the law wasn’t about us obeying its commands and being justified, then what did it do? Well, Paul answers, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (v. 20). That is, the law gave us explicit commands, turning our sins into trespasses and transgressions, and it even increased sin in the sense of arousing sin within us because when a good command meets a rebellious, sinful person, it arouses within them sinful actions (i.e. Rom 7:7-11).
But that wasn’t the end or ultimate purpose of the law. Paul continues in verses 20-21, “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, the law revealed our sin and condemnation, but it did so in order that we might look to Christ and see grace greater than our sin, a gift of righteousness that is greater than our unrighteousness, justification that is greater than our condemnation, and life that is so much more powerful than death that we will experience it forever.
Why is our hope sure? It is sure because we’re united with Christ who lived, died, and was raised for us, just as we were once united with Adam. And if we look around and see with certainty and sureness the effects of humanity’s union with Adam—sin and death enslaving and reigning over us—then let it be a reminder of the certainty that the gift of righteousness credited to us by faith will one day be evidenced in us experiencing the reign of eternal life, as justified children of God who have peace, stand in grace, and even now rejoice in our certain hope. Let us rejoice even now as we come to the table. Amen.