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A Tale of Two Men: Romans 5:12-21

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.



The Spread of Sin Into the World

It was in 1977 that the last case of smallpox, a deadly infectious disease, was diagnosed in the wild. The victim's name was Ali Maow Maalin. The World Health Organization then set out to track down every single person with whom this man had been face-to-face with in order to vaccinate them with the anti-virus that had been developed and to find anyone who had been infected already. Thankfully no one had been infected. Also, Maalin completely recovered. And smallpox appeared to be over forever.

This moment came as a result of a decades-long campaign to eradicate smallpox from the face of the earth. Until the beginning of the 19th century, this virus was one of the most dreaded diseases in the world, killing one in three of the people who contracted it. Around 500 million people died from this evil virus the century before it was annihilated.

Sadly, in 1978, smallpox cropped up again in Birmingham, in the United Kingdom. Janet Parker, a photographer at Birmingham Medical School, got the disease. She developed a horrifying rash. Doctors initially brushed it off as chicken pox. However, Parker progressively got worse. After much testing, it was indeed determined that she had this terrifying disease. She had contracted it from the building that she worked in which had a badly managed research lab. The doctor who ran it committed suicide shortly after Parker was diagnosed. This lab had some of the virus left over. The facility had earlier used this sample virus to help contribute to the research to help eliminate smallpox. Sadly, Janet Parker died a few weeks later.

While sin is not a deadly virus in the same sense as smallpox, it is no less a killer. And it certainly has many of the characteristics. For example, through one person, Adam, who became a sinner because of a choice to rebel against God, sin has indeed entered humanity and has spread to all of his descendants. They are literally born sinners. And since he was the first man on earth, that would include every one of us. Further, this "virus" doesn't kill one-in-three. It kills all of its carriers. However, we must also say that this virus, that we not only acquired from Adam, we also continue to impose on ourselves, doesn't just cause physical death, which is a separation of body from spirit. It also causes spiritual death as well. That is a separation of the sinner from a Holy God.

Sadly, if this condition is not remedied, we will face the final consequences of sin, which is eternal death or separation from God in Hell.

Thankfully, however, God has given to us the cure for sin, death, and Hell. That cure is trusting by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary who took our sin upon Himself and gave to us His righteousness in its place. Through faith, we become part of a new family not infected with the virus of sin. Jesus is the New Adam who is in the process of creating an all-new humanity composed of those who, through faith, have become sons and daughters of the living God.

Paul's Reasoning in Romans 1-5:11

In the book of Romans, Paul is explaining to us how unrighteous mankind can become righteous before a Holy God. God cannot look upon sin and must condemn it in order to remain a just God. In the first 3 chapters, Paul painstakingly shows that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and therefore could never be saved by works (Romans 3:23).

Even the law could not save because all that it could do was point out sin. It could not produce the righteousness that is necessary to stand before the God of the universe uncondemned. Rather, it causes every mouth to be stopped and all the world to be guilty before Him (Romans 3:19.20).

The Gospel tells us that righteousness comes by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. (3:24-26).

Chapter 4 of Romans makes us aware that it has always been the case that man is justified by faith. He gives the example of Abraham and the writings of David to make this clear.

By the time we get to chapter 5:1-11, we have the great Apostle giving to us some of the many benefits of being justified by grace through faith. These benefits include:

  1. Peace with God (5:1)
  2. Access to Grace in Which We Stand (5:2a)
  3. Rejoicing in Hope: Even in the Midst of Tribulations
  4. God's Love in Our Hearts.
  5. Salvation From God's Wrath.

After waxing eloquent on what Jesus has done in justifying us by His blood, saving us by His life just as we were reconciled by His death and telling how we exult in all of this, Paul then brings us back to his major argument. He explains further how Christ made possible our justification and salvation. The apostle does this with an analogy. He compares what Adam did in bringing sin and death into the world with what Jesus did by bringing us life through His substitutionary death on the cross. And that is the subject of the rest of chapter 5.

I. The Consequences of Adam's Actions (12-14)

Even though Eve was the person who originally listened to Satan and ate the forbidden fruit, Adam is held responsible by God because he is considered the head and was therefore in charge of what went on. Paul also says in another passage (I Timothy 2:14), that Eve was deceived by Satan. Whereas, Adam, in full knowledge, disobeyed God's commands, thus performing cosmic treason against the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Though not found specifically in Scripture, some have used the term Federal Head to explain how Adam's sin could be imputed to all of mankind and how Christ's righteousness could be imputed to all who have faith in Him. In other words, Adam, as our representative on earth chose to sin. So, he passed sin onto us because the whole human race is his descendants.

And just as Adam's sin brought condemnation to all, so Christ's sacrifice in obedience to God the Father brought justification to us all, since He also represented us as our new head, the first of a new humanity.

While we don't know for sure how sin was transferred from Adam to the whole human race, we do know for certain that sin entered the world through Adam's transgression. Adam's sin was the beginning of all the problems that we have today (Romans 5:12).

I heard one person once say that he would like to "kick Adam's butt" for what he did. They were mad because they had to suffer for what he did. Especially since they weren't there. The truth is that this type of thinking is being completely arrogant. For who's to say that any of us would have done anything differently if we were in his position. Apparently, God thought that we wouldn't have done any better than Adam did. God has perfect knowledge and is completely just. He can see all contingencies and is able to know what would happen under various conditions with different persons. And he still allowed Adam's sin to be passed down to the whole human race.

Also, Paul doesn't leave it at that anyway. One man may have brought sin into the world, but we ran with it. For all of us have sinned. Adam's sin may have made us sinners, but we have abounded and reveled in it.

The fact that we are born in sin is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin: It was about this doctrine that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:

"The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith."

Another doctrine called Total Depravity speaks of the spiritual condition of fallen man. It the teaching derived from Scripture, that every part of man- his mind, will, emotions and flesh have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being. Both who we are and what we do have been affected by sin. That is a major consequence of what Adam did by his one act of disobedience.

G.K. Chesterton said something similar to Neibuhr when he wrote:

"The total depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact."

We don't like to think of ourselves as depraved. There are two lies going around today. One is that human beings are basically good. And the other is that a loving God won't punish good people.

If we believe what Paul says, then there are no good people. Even our sweet seemingly innocent babies are born in sin passed to them by Adam. And Christ's blood has to cover them. Missionary and author Lou Nicholes once used this illustration:

"Some years ago the MINNESOTA CRIME COMMISSION released a statement which was in line with what the Bible teaches about man’s basic nature. ‘Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish, and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it - his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncles’ watch. Deny him these once, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is, in fact, dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. This means that all children - not just certain children - are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions, to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal - a thief, a killer, or a rapist.",

So, because of Adam's sin, sin entered into this world, bringing death as a consequence. Thus death spread, for all have sinned. During the period from Adam to Moses there was no specific Law that men could violate since the Law was not yet given. So sin could not be imputed to them. But sin was still present since we see that men, women and children still died. Death is said to have reigned from Adam to Moses, even though people didn't sin in the same way Adam did by violating a specific command given by God. So even before the Law, the problem persisted.

II. Adam's Sin Compared to Christ's Obedience (15-19)

We may look at the situation in Adam and find it utterly hopeless. And without Christ, it was. Adam's offense brought us spiritual death and dead men can't do anything. What we needed was not one who could make bad men good. We needed one who makes dead men live. And thus we have our Lord Jesus Christ entering the scene.

Adam's offense brought many deaths. But Christ's grace, His free gift, abounds even more (15). Adam's sin was horrible. However, it can never compare with how good Christ's free gift truly is.

The one offense of Adam produced judgment of condemnation. However, many offenses produced the gift of justification (16).

Can you imagine how many sins took place as humanity multiplied after Adam and the years before Christ? And how many have been committed since Christ died and rose again up to this present day? In fact, there are 7.7 billion people on this planet in 2019. What if each one committed one sin today? Now multiply that by 365 days and you get the sins committed in just one year. The question is, does Christ's blood potentially cover each and every one of those sins, provided they accept His sacrifice on their behalf? The answer is, a thousand times, Yes! What a powerful sacrifice of obedience Jesus gave on the cross! The blood of Jesus will never lose its power. His grace goes beyond any sin any of us have committed or will ever commit. Where sin abounds, grace over abounds!

By Adam's offense death reigns, but those who receive the gift of righteousness will reign in life through Christ (17).

Verses 18 and 19 are a summary of what Paul just said. He reiterates:

Through Adam's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation. Through Christ's one act, grace came to all resulting in justification of life.

By Adam's disobedience, many were made sinners. By Christ's obedience, many will be made righteous.

Once again, Paul emphasizes that this justification is a free gift and any gift must be accepted to be truly realized. It is accepted by faith. That is the key to receiving all that Christ freely gives to us. As Paul said earlier: "It is by faith from first to last" (Romans 1:17).

III. The Law's Relationship to Adam's Sin and Christ's Righteousness (20-21)

Finally, we see that once again Paul comes back to the Law to end this section of his book to the Romans. He does this because he is dealing with, not only Gentiles in this church, but also with some Jews who can't give up the notion that the Law has something to do with making one righteousness. To them he says that its presence was intended, not to justify them but to cause man's sin to increase.

Just think of a speed limit sign on a highway. How many go just above the speed limit no matter what it is. If it is 80, they go 85. If it is 85, they go 90. In the same way, the Law made men want to break the Law. It also made them more aware of their own sinfulness and their inability to keep God's law. Finally, it served as a tutor to lead mankind to Christ.

However, just as sin abounded by the Law, grace abounded much more! Just as sin reigned in death, so grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ!


Here is an interesting illustration which comes from the 'Heaven and Home Hour Radio Bulletin. It tells us:

"How does a worm get inside an apple? Perhaps you think the worm burrows in from the outside. No, scientists have discovered that the worm comes from inside. But how does he get in there? Simple! An insect lays an egg in the apple blossom. Sometime later, the worm hatches in the heart of the apple, then eats his way out. Sin, like the worn, begins in the heart and works out through a person's thoughts, words, and actions."

The bottom line to this passage is that man is born a sinner and sin is in his heart. He inherited it from Adam. We are sinners by nature, but we are also sinners by choice. Sadly, all of us choose to sin.

But God has now given to us another choice. We can either stay in the family of Adam with it's physical death, spiritual death and ultimately eternal death, or we can enter the family of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, by accepting what He did for us on the cross of Calvary, believing in His death, burial and resurrection. Death has no more dominion over him. And it need not have dominion over us if we accept His sacrifice on our behalf.

Not only that but we must be continually aware every person we will ever meet, from our doctor, lawyer, bus driver, waitress, a neighbor across the street, or anyone else is either in Adam and lost, or in Jesus Christ and heading for Heaven with us. We need to remember that Christ loved them enough to die for them. The question is, will we love them enough to share our hope of salvation with them? They may not hear it from anyone else. And they may end up lost forever without us.

I love the little chorus by Wendell Loveless entitled 'Lead Me to Some Soul Today.' He sums up what we should be asking God for every day of our lives. The song goes:

Lead me to some soul today O teach me, Lord, just what to say Friends of mine are lost in sin And cannot find their way Few there are who seem to care And few there are who pray Melt my heart and fill my life Give me one soul today.

May the Lord give us this kind of heart for those who are under the reign and curse of Adam's sin.

© 2019 Jeff Shirley

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