Will it be Adam Or Christ?
One thing you never have to teach your children is how to sin! It seems to come naturally. Everyone does it, Thus we see Paul’s earlier conclusion in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal. In essence, since Adam fell, where there is history, there is sin. In Romans 5:12 Paul explains the obvious universality of sin with the simple phrase that “sin came into the world through one man” – Adam.
But please note that Paul, although he deals with the universality of sin and death and the fact that Adam was the fountainhead of the problem, does not in any way seek to explain how sin and death spread to everyone. He just treats it as a fact.
Romans 5:12-21, rather than trying to explore how sin and death took over humanity, focuses on Adam and Christ as models of two types of life. John Burnt is quite correct when he writes that “what Paul is most interested in showing us is that no matter how big a mess Adam got us into, Christ’s solution not only cleaned up the mess but went far beyond.
Paul’s mention of not sinning in the likeness of Adam (verse 14) raises an interesting idea in his mind that leads him into the provocative concept that Adam was “type (“Pattern,” NIV) of the one who was to come,” or Christ.
“How is it,” we are forced to ask, “that Adam the sinner is a pattern of Christ the sinless? What is Paul talking about?”
The answer for the apostle is that the significance of what Christ and Adam did touches every human being who has ever lived. Adam is then a type, or pattern, of Christ in the sense that both affected the entire race.
Romans 5:12-21 is really describing two ways of life – the Adam way and the Christ way. Beyond that, in the entire context of Romans with its emphasis on faith, he implies that all people choose whether they will align with Adam or Christ. In the end every person either will remain in Adam and the sin life with its inglorious ending or will unite by faith to Christ and receive both justification and life everlasting.
One of the keys to understanding verses 15 and 16 is “not like.” In verse 15 Paul asserts that “the free gift is not like the trespass.” In what way are they unlike? The apostle’s vigorous reply is that the gift of grace is greater than all the effects of sin.
The apostle continues to exhibit grace’s unlikeness with sin and its superiority in verse 16. “Again, the gift of God is not to be compared (not like) in its effect with that one man’s sin: for the judicial action, following on the one offence, resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace, following on so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal”
What Paul is claiming is that if the effects of sin were powerful, the effects of God’s gift are even more powerful. Thus the gift more than conquers the sin problem.
Sin is not the last work, Paul points out in verse 15 and 16, because the grace gift changes the sinner’s entire situation. The gift provides a way of escape. It opens up an avenue that releases sinners from the penalty of judgment and provides for their justification full and free.
With verse 18 and 19 Paul is ready to conclude the argument that he began in verse 12, in which he pointed out that death came to all because of the infection of sin that tainted all human beings. The word then signals that he is about to sharpen the point of what has gone before. He has not the slightest doubt in verse 18 that just as condemnation came upon all humanity because of Adam so justification can reach all through Christ.
But, we need to ask, what does he mean in each case by “all men”? There is not the slightest uncertainty that the judgment of condemnation has come upon every individual because all have sinned. That has been Paul’s theme since Romans 1:18, and he explicitly states it in Romans 3:23.
But that is not the only theme in the first five chapters of Romans. A second one follows from the conclusion that all have sinned (verse 23) and stand condemned (Romans 6:23). Immediately following in romans 3:24, 25 and on into chapters 4 or 5 the apostle begins to emphasize justification by faith as the solution to universal sinfulness and condemnation. Paul couldn’t be plainer that it is those who have faith who are justified. He sets forth faith as the condition of their justification. Without it they are not justified but still remain under condemnation. Paul doesn’t suddenly change that model in Romans 5:18. While Christ died to provide justification for all people, they still need to accept it before it is theirs.
Paul’s point in his use of all in verse 18, is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his. When we ask who belongs to, or is “in,” Adam and Christ, respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: every person, without exception, is “in Adam” but only those who “receive the gift” (those who believe, according to Romans 1:16-5:11) are “In Christ.”
When thinking about the all of Romans 5:18 we must not forget the “many” of verse 19. We can have no doubt in the context of Romans that the “many (who) were made sinners” through the fall of Adam means every person (see Romans 3:23). But it is also true to the overall flow of Romans that the “many (who) will be made righteous” are those who accept Christ by faith (see Romans 1:16, 17, 3:24, 25; 4:1-25; 5:1).
The good news is that Christ died for every human being who has ever lived. The bad news is that not all receive or accept (verse 17) God’s gracious gift. His sacrifice made provision for the justification of the entire human race. But some choose to follow the Adam way rather than the Christ way.
The provisions of redemption are free to all; the results of redemption will be enjoyed by those who have complied with the conditions. The condition of justification in romans 3-5, of course, is acceptance by faith. Thus, many is not all in its fullest sense when it comes to justification and salvation. It is our privilege right now to accept through the gift of God’s Spirit His abounding grace (Romans’ 5:20) and the way of Christ as we at the same time turn our backs on the reign of death connected to the Adam way (verse 21). Thank God for the choice.