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Death Through Adam; Life Through Christ - Romans 5:12-17

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  • Death Through Adam; Life Through Christ - Romans 5:12-17

    John MacArthur


    Romans chapter 5, starting at verse 12. In this very fascinating portion of scripture, which is often overlooked because of its complexity, we are again brought face-to-face with one of the great, great realities of salvation and that is this: that one man, Jesus Christ, by one work, his death and resurrection, has affected salvation for all who believe.

    The message that Paul wants to communicate throughout the whole epistle to the Romans is that forgiveness of sin and access to God is provided through one person, Jesus Christ. That flies in the face of Jewish belief and of all religion. For men have always believed that if they're going to be forgiven of their sin, and if they're going to have access to God and enter into a right relationship to Him, whoever God is in their religious scheme, it's going to be because of something they do. It's going to be because of some level of virtue, some amount of goodness, some religious achievement, some religious ritual and ceremony in which they engage.

    No one really, from a human viewpoint, is going to come up with the idea that something somebody else does is going to make me right with God. The scheme of man-made religion always says if I'm going to be right with God, there's got to be something that I do. This is the religion of human achievement. Certainly the Jews were into that at the time of Paul. They believed that if a man was ever to have any access to God, if he ever was to be right with God, if he ever was to enjoy forgiveness of sin, he would have to reach a certain level of spiritual achievement.

    We often call it "salvation by works," or "works righteousness." By what a person does, they achieve favor with God. The message of the book of Romans from beginning to end is that access to God and forgiveness of sin is not something to which you make a contribution at all; it is something that is provided by one person for all. Now that's not an easy thing for people to accept. The question would come up, now wait a minute, how can what one person does affect so many?

    We could look at it historically. We could say certainly in human history there have been individuals who have risen above the hoi polloi, whose heads have somehow gotten elevated above the crowd, and they have influenced the human race singularly. There are some people in science who have done that, some people in politics who have achieved that; there are certain men in war who have risen above the crowd to singularly impact history. There are people in education, medicine, the arts, culture, social reform, engineering, agriculture and maybe even some in the realm of theology or religion who have ascended beyond the common man and singularly impacted thinking and life.

    But two men, and one in particular, have made the most monumental impact on human life. Two men have affected the whole of the human race for time and eternity more than all others combined and multiplied by an infinite number. Two men in a single act have made a greater impact on the world than all other people and all other acts combined and multiplied infinitely. You say who are these two men? Adam and Christ.

    Why is that so? Because Adam brought death and Christ brought life. And those are the two greatest influences--death and life. And if we are to understand that one person by one act can affect dramatically all of human history, then we must understand Adam and Christ. And so as Paul closes chapter 5, he moves into a discussion about Adam and Christ, a comparison. What is the reason for doing this? The reason is very simple. He has just presented the fact that Jesus Christ, by his one work of death and resurrection on the cross and through the open tomb has impacted all who believe.

    In other words, one man by one act brought salvation to many. And someone is going to say well now, I don't understand that. I don't understand how it is that one man by one act can affect so many. And they might find themselves lost in a bit of incredulity. Saying, well that's just not believable. And so to help them, Paul gives them an analogy. Are you having trouble accepting the fact that the one act of Christ can bring salvation to the many? Then if you are, you need to go back and look at another man who by one act also affected so many. And that other man is Adam.

    And it is the analogy in this text that is absolutely essential for us to understand. Let me read you verses 12 through 14. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned, for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." Hmm. What he's talking about here is the impact of one man, Adam, on everybody. And he says the fact that that one man, Adam, by one act affected everybody is a type or a picture of Christ by one act affecting everybody.

    Now I want you to understand this point because it is at the very heart of the Christian faith. The truth of verse 12 can be divided into four parts. I want you to take them very carefully with me. Number one: Paul says sin entered the world through one man. Notice verse 12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world...” Stop right there; very simple point. And here, my dear friends, is the bare root of human history. Right here, the Holy Spirit is giving you the key to unlock history. It's been put in your hand here. Here is the explanation for the world the way it is. Here is the explanation for why things are like they are: Because sin entered into the human realm through Adam. By one man, sin entered the world. That man obviously is Adam, named in verse 14.

    Through that one man, sin came into the world. Now listen: sin entered the world through that one man, it wasn't invented by that one man, it wasn't originated by that one man. You remember Jesus said the devil sinneth from the beginning. There was sin prior to Adam. Lucifer, that great son of the morning, that great archangel who fell because of his pride, was the first and original sinner. But sin entered the world, the cosmos of man's existence, the system of creation, as we know it, through one man. He introduced sin to mankind. He became the agent of the devil.

    The wicked, vile, sinful devil tempted Adam, who became the vehicle to pass sin out of the angelic realm into the human realm. And if you read in Genesis chapter 3, you read the sad story of how first Eve sinned and then Adam sinned. Adam is held responsible because he sinned willfully and wasn't deceived and because he was the head over Eve and was given authority. God gave Adam only one prohibition. He said you can do anything you want except just don't eat of that one tree of the knowledge of good and evil, just that one exception. But you know the story: Eve ate and so did Adam, which tells me that sin is basically born out of selfishness. How selfish do you have to be when you can have everything in a perfect world except one tree and the one tree is what you've got to have?

    Pride, self-centeredness, always at the heart of sin even as it was with Lucifer, who said I will be like God, I will be like the most high, I will, I will, I will, I will, and that in Isaiah 14 is recorded and that's why he sinned. Now when Adam sinned, something dramatic happened. It says, "Sin entered the world." Amazing thing took place. His sin, listen to this, brought a constitutional change into his being. He degenerated from his original creative identity and became different. Unholiness became part of the fabric of his soul.

    Would you please note it says through one man's sin, singular, not sins? Not all the acts of sin came in through Adam. He didn't invent all the acts of sin, but the principle came, the nature, the disposition, the innate corrupting element entered into the human stream. For Adam was mankind. He was all the mankind there was, along with Eve. And once the sin principle came to dwell in him, he would then pass it on to all of his procreation. Just as all the offspring of Adam have human characteristics like eyes and ears, and hands and feet, and nose and mouth and internal organs, so they have the sin principle as well.

    It is passed on to progeny. The world of mankind then became corrupted. John Donne must have been musing about this reality when he wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And then he said, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." You're not an island, you cannot be isolated; you cannot be separated. Adam, acting in a solidarity, Adam was mankind in his loins, was the seed of humanity that would bring forth every human life, and when he was polluted so was everything that came out of his loins, and he produced a polluted race.

    God made a very important comment on this when God identified Israel with a sign called circumcision. God said I want you to circumcise every male child on the eighth day. Why? Well, you say well, that was the sign that you were a Jew. Well, it was more than that. Why did God choose that kind of sign? Why didn't he carve an X in their wrists or whatever? Why that? Because the cutting away of that skin was a demonstration of the fact that man needed a cleansing. Something in his life and character needed to be cut away. Something needed to be removed. And why did he choose that particular thing to be removed? Because nowhere better is the sinfulness of man demonstrated than in his procreative capacity.

    If you want to see the sinfulness of man at its nature-level, you see it in the fact that a man will always produce a sinner. And so circumcision was God's way of saying to people, you need radical surgery at the very, most deep level of your nature as evidenced by the fact that you can produce nothing but sinners. The whole of mankind was there in Adam when he sinned and all subsequent human history then was encapsulated at that moment the mark of sin was made and we all bear it.

    The Jews will understand this corporate personality concept because they didn't think of themselves as individuals but as parts of people, tribe, and family. So, the whole of the human race in the loins of Adam is then caught in the polluting of sin. That's what Paul is saying here; he's saying in verse 12, "Through one man sin entered into the world," a pretty basic, simple point. Adam acting as mankind was then the solid mass of humanity and when he sinned he introduced sin into the human stream, and so that one man, by one act of disobedience, affected the whole human race.

    First Corinthians 15 says, "As in Adam all die." That takes us to the second point in this verse. Death entered the world through sin. Point one; Sin entered the world though Adam. Point two: Death entered the world through sin. That's what it says, death through sin. God said you eat and the day you eat you will die. And the death principle became operative in Adam and Eve the day they ate; if they had not eaten, they would have no doubt been translated into the presence of God without experiencing death, and the notable exceptions of Enoch and Elijah would have been the rule for everybody.

    But because Adam sinned, death came. Now listen to this, death is not natural to the constitution of man as created in God's image. Death is an invader, a usurper, an intruder. Death is the penal consequence of sin. Sin destroys. Ezekiel 18 says in verse 4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." In Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." Death became the penalty for sin. And this is the direct and unfailing fruit of the poison that entered Adam's heart. Solidarity in guilt implies solidarity in penalty and so it is appointed unto man once to what? To die. Everybody dies. Everybody dies.

    As one undertaker signed his letters: "Eventually yours." Sin and death cannot be separated, they cannot be isolated from each other, and so sin came through Adam into the human experience and death came through sin. From Adam came the character of corruption that lead to death.

    Now the deeds of sin flow out of the character of corruption. That's very important to note. Because we have the corrupt principle of evil within us, we do evil deeds. We are not made sinners because we sin; we sin because we were made sinners. I am not a sinner because I sin; I sin because I was born a sinner. And because I was born a sinner, the death principle operates in me. I will die physically. I am dead spiritually, cut off from God, and someday I may die eternally.

    So, sin came into the world through one man and death came through sin. Third point Paul makes in verse 12: Death spread to all men. Death spread to all men because all sinned. This is a very interesting point. Nobody gets off the hook. There is none righteous. Paul says in Romans 3, “no not one.” Death came to everybody, no one escapes. This is a very theological truth. Paul is emphasizing that the sinfulness of all is due to the sin of one man. Imagine that. Imagine that. One man, one time, does one sin and we all pay. All of human history.

    We don't die because we do deeds of sin; we die because sin is in us working death. So he says sin and death pass to all men because all sinned when in Adam. He's saying we were there in his loins with all the human race and we're all in sin and we're all born sinners. Now what is the proof of the fact that we are sinners? It is that we what? We die. Death shows our sinfulness. Look at a baby. A baby dying at birth. Has that baby committed an act of sin? Do a deed of sin, have a thought of sin, say a word of sin? No. Then what could cause its death? The fact that a sin principle was already operative in that baby before it was ever born, the fact that that sin principle was operative put into that baby the potential for death, which ultimately would be realized.

    A little child who dies of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, hasn't committed an act of sin, said a sinful word, thought a sinful, wicked thought. How then could it die? It dies because the sin that is in it, is already in it, is already operating the death principle. And so before a child ever commits an overt, willful act of sin, the death potential is already there because the sin is already there in nature. There is a corruptible seed there, a disposition toward death.

    Paul says we're born dead in trespasses and sins. Death, then, is universal. All die, infants die, fetuses die, children die, good people die, evil people die, everybody dies. And if there is--now listen to this--a universal effect then there is a universal cause. The universal cause is the total depravity of the human race, because we all sinned in Adam. We were all there in his loins in terms of progeny. Our depravity, then, is not the result of our sins; it is the result of Adam's sins and we sinning in Adam as the human race in his own loins.

    How depraved is man? Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” From the very word go, from conception on, I was shaped in iniquity. The sin principle was operating. In Psalm 58:3, "The wicked are estranged from the womb." From the time of the womb there is already estrangement from God. In Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked." Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" Not one, no one can. And Job 15 says, "What is man that he should be clean?" Or, "Who is born of a woman that he should be righteous? ... How much more abominable and filthy is man who drinketh iniquity like water?” From the very start, man is sinful, and therefore death is operative as a principle, and as soon as he gets into life and gets old enough, he will inevitably, what? Sin.

    The principle is there, and then he will inevitably die. All this because of what Adam did. I know what you're thinking by now; you're saying if I'd have been there I wouldn't have sinned. So why am I responsible? Why do I get the effect of Adam's act? How is it that I can sin in Adam when I wasn't even alive and then become guilty for what I supposedly did there when I really wasn't there and have to pay the consequences for what I supposedly did when I wasn't there? And the only answer Paul ever gives is this: well, then, how could you die in Christ and rise in Christ and be given eternal life in Christ when you weren't there either?

    You didn't die on the cross, and you didn't rise from the dead and you didn't really historically, physically get nailed to the cross with Jesus, so how can the death of Jesus Christ include you and the resurrection of Jesus Christ include you and impute to you eternal righteousness and give you eternal life if you weren't there, really? How can I be held responsible for something somebody else did? You have to ask the same question about Christ. How can I be blessed by something somebody else did? You know the answer? I don't. That's just the way God did it and He hasn't told me anymore than He told you in the Bible. That's the way He did it.

    And so Paul answers the question by asking a question. Which he does in the rest of the chapter; we don't have time to develop all of that. But the point is this: Adam sinned, sin entered the human stream. Sin entered the human stream, death entered the human stream. How extensive was it? Death spread to everybody, because everybody was in Adam's loins when he sinned. That's the point. It's an incredible thing to think about: One man, one act, unbelievable consequences, unbelievable. And by the way, God could have said, hey, I give up on you. I'm not going to provide any salvation for you. He did with the angels, you know? When Lucifer sinned he didn't sin by himself. He took a third of the angels with him. And God provided no redemption and no salvation and no recovery and consigned them to eternal damnation in the lake of fire, with no recourse. With man, God said well, with the angels who sinned with Lucifer, there's no hope. But with the men who sinned in Adam, I'm going to set about a redemptive plan. And He did.

    And so when you're asking the question how can I be responsible for what Adam did, ask yourself the question how can I be redeemed by what Christ did? That's God's plan. So, principle number one, sin came through one man, death came through sin; number one, number two. Number three, death spread through all because all sinned. Number four, very important point: fourth point is that history proves this to be true. History validates this. Verses 13 and 14: "... For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” Stop at that point.

    Now, I know you kind of get confused by that, so let me just take it apart for you. Very interesting point; the main phrase here is “death reigned.” See it in verse 14? “Death reigned.” How do we know that everybody got under this curse? How do we know that everybody was victimized by Adam's sin? How do we know that? Because death reigned. Somebody says no, no, no, no. You are responsible only for your acts of sin. You're not responsible, only when you break the law of God, when you act willfully against God. We're not responsible for what Adam did--everybody comes into the world, and you're innocent, and you choose to sin on your own and you break God's law and that's your problem. Paul says no. No, death reigned. And he says--look at this—it reigned from Adam until Moses. Oh, what's the importance of that? Well, there wasn't any law given until whom? Moses. So there was a period of time when people weren't willfully breaking the commandments of God. That's true.

    And in verse 13 it says the sin was not imputed when there is no law. In other words, you can't charge people, you can't charge people with a crime unless there's a law that says that what they did is a crime. Right? So until you have a written law, you can't be charging people with sin. But nevertheless he says sin was in the world. Even when you couldn't overtly charge a man of sin because the law hadn't been written, God hadn't spelled it out. So you couldn't come to somebody if you were a prophet and say I condemn you before God because you have violated His law. The guy's going to say, what law? What law are you talking about? And so there is--you go back into the Old Testament and you ask yourself, there's certain behavior by certain people that's very strange; why does God let them live? Why doesn't the community of believing people come down on those people and judge them and why don't the godly people come down on these people and do something? And you have to remember that it was difficult to impute or to charge people with an offense before the law of offenses was written and spelled out.

    But nonetheless sin was still present. Why? Because verse 14, because death reigned, from Adam to Moses. What does he mean by that? Simple interpretation, everybody what? Died. Everybody died. Why did they die? The wages of sin is death; they died because they were sinners and if they were sinners, they sinned. So he's breaking the back of that viewpoint that says there's no sin except you directly overtly violate the law and of course the Pharisees loved to buy into that kind of thing that if you didn't overtly, directly, purposefully break a law of God, you hadn't sinned. And that's why Jesus said to them, I'm telling you if you look on a woman in your heart and lust after you've committed adultery in your heart, and he went on and on and on, right? With the law of the heart that is written in the heart which he talks about in Romans chapter 2.

    So history proves that sin and death passed to everybody because everybody died, even before there was law, which meant that sin doesn't need the law to exist and where there is sin there is death. And he further says in verse 14, death reigned even over those who hadn't sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam. Now what does that mean?

    Very simply, Adam sinned--listen to this--in direct violation and disobedience of a specific command from God. Right? God said do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don't do it. And Adam did it. And so somebody's going to say well, sure, Adam died because he directly violated a command. But he said death reigned between Adam and Moses over people who didn't even directly violate a command of God. Because not everybody in the world during that period from Adam to Moses, as the world was being populated--not everybody in the world knew the command of God. Not everybody heard the command of God.

    Most didn't. Most didn't have a written law from God. But death still reigned. Why? Because it was the sin principle, the corrupt nature in man that was killing him. And that was the proof that he had received a sinful nature at his birth, which was the proof that it was being passed down from the original sinner, Adam. So his whole point is this: all of human history, from Adam on, before the law and after the law, all of human history, whether you sin in direct violation of a command of God, or whether you're an ignorant pagan who doesn't have any idea what God said--all of human history will reveal the fact that man is a sinner at the very deepest level of his nature because everybody dies. Everybody.

    That's the proof of it. So through the one man, Adam, and his one act, the whole human race was plunged into sin and death. And then he says this in verse 14: Adam “is a type of Him who was to come." However, this is a marvelous statement. You're a Christian not because of anything you did. I am a sinner--are you ready for this?--not because of anything I did. That is right. I didn't do anything! I just was born. And I had nothing to do with that. Let alone Adam or whoever all in the process of people finally got to me; I had nothing to do with any of them. And I have passed on the same corrupt legacy to my children and my grandchildren, although my grandchildren seem to have escaped a little of the taintedness of--you know how that is for grandparents.

    I'm a victim of the whole thing and everybody that comes out of my loins is a victim of it. And that's precisely what Paul wants you to understand. That while you no more are responsible for that act which produced your death; you are no more responsible for that act which produces your salvation and your life. That's a gift. That's a gift. In verse 15 he says a free gift. Isn't like the transgressions. He says, wait a minute, while I'm making an analogy here, they're different, they're different, they're different. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died. And there he uses many. He uses many and all all through this text for literary contrast purposes and sometimes many means all and sometimes all means many, but he does parallel them for contrast, literary style.

    “If by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.” What a great statement. How much greater is this? How much more wonderful is this? They're different. What Adam caused was terrible. What Christ brought was wonderful. They're different in every way. They're different in their essence. It was Adam's disobedience that cursed everybody; it's Christ's obedience that brings salvation.

    They're different in the sense of the effect they brought. Adam's sin produced nothing but sin. It was one act of sin producing nothing but sin. One act, one effect. It was Christ's one act of righteousness producing eternal, unending, infinite effects of blessedness upon blessedness upon blessedness. With Adam there's one result. Sin. Death. With Christ, a myriad of uncountable, eternal glories. They're different, they are not the same. And yet the point is made, one man, by one act, can have immense impact.

    In verse 17 he says, but “if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who received the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ." That's much more. That's much greater, much more glorious, much more far-reaching.

    And so beloved, we hear Paul say this. Don't be shocked. When you hear me say that you have nothing to do with your salvation, you can't earn it, you can't win it, you can't do some religious gyrations that are going to appease an angry God, you can't gain access to God through your morality, your ethics, your personal honesty; you can't do anything to contribute to it; it is the work of one, Jesus Christ, who has accomplished salvation, which is granted to you by grace through faith. You have no more to do with that by way of deserving it than you have to do with your sinfulness by way of deserving that. What a perfect parallel.

    One man polluted the whole human race. We accept that. So why should we not accept that one man brought salvation? Through one man: sin, condemnation, death, damnation. Through one man: righteousness, promise, glory, what a contrast. Is it any wonder that hymns and songs throughout the centuries have been written to extol the glories of the cross? We can sing, can't we, joyfully, with H.G. Spafford: "My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul."

    I didn't deserve to be a sinner, you say? That's true. And you don't deserve to be a saint, either. You were made a sinner in Adam. And you were made a saint in Christ. So when somebody comes along and suggests that they have made some contribution to their salvation by their good deeds, their good works, their righteousness, their accomplishments, their religiosity, or whatever, you remind them that they have made no more contribution to their justification than they made to their condemnation. That's Paul's word; powerful, powerful stuff.

    Whatever we are, says Paul, we are by the grace of God through the provision of one man, Jesus Christ. Through the provision of one man, Jesus Christ. Through the provision of one man, Jesus Christ.
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