Condemned in Adam, Justified in Christ
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: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 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. 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. 17 For if by one man's 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.) 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. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Adam was far more than the first man. He was a covenant man, the appointed representative of the human race. His obedience to God would confirm all his posterity in its original uprightness. His disobedience would bring death to us all. He chose sin and plunged himself and his entire race into a terrible death: alienation from God, all the miseries of this life, physical death, and eternal hell. The only hope of condemned sinners is that a second Head has come forth to provide atonement for our sins (v. 11). “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him” (Isa. 59:16).
Death to Us All through Adam’s Sin (vv. 12-14)
One Man’s Sin, All Men’s Death (v. 12)
“One man” is emphasized repeatedly (vv. 12,15,16,17,18,19); this man is Adam. Sin entered the world through him, and “death through sin.” Death is not natural; it is God’s curse upon our rebellious race. “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Gen. 2:17; Ezek. 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Our race is unified in death because it is unified in sin.
All Sinned in Adam (v. 12)
The verb “have sinned” is an aorist tense verb, which indicates past, momentary action. The sin in question is a single act of sin, not a series of sins or the actual transgressions each man commits. Therefore, Paul is not saying that we all die because we all sin. This interpretation contradicts verses 13-14, for those who have not sinned as Adam did, against a specific and known command of God, still die. The passage emphasizes “one man” and “one offence.” If Paul is teaching that all die because of their own sins, then the parallel must hold with respect to Christ: all are saved by their own obedience.
There is only one interpretation that upholds the analogy between Adam and Christ, the verb tense, and the repeated parallels between the one man Adam’s sin and the obedience of the one man, Jesus Christ. “For that all have sinned” means that by Adam’s one sin, we all sinned. Adam’s sin is thus the sin of all. The phrase translated “for that” (evf w-|) is legitimately and likely better translated “in or by whom,” thus making the point unmistakable. In Adam’s sin, death comes to us all, for he was our covenant head. He stood in our place, acting for us, just as Christ was our substitute, obeying and dying in our place. When Adam sinned, we sinned, not personally but covenantally. When he heard the curse of God pronounced upon him, it was pronounced upon us. We are delivered from the “wages of sin” only because our merciful Father brought us under the headship of his Son.
The Explanation for the Reign of Sin and Death before the Law (vv. 13-14)
These verses are set off in the text as an explanation for the statement “for that all have sinned.” Paul wants us to understand that the reign of death over mankind is due to its covenant solidarity in Adam’s rebellion. In the period before the giving of the law, sin was in the world. Men died. How can this be in the absence of God’s law? Another law was at work: the law or reign of sin and judgment descending from Adam’s sin and by which we were reckoned to be sinners. Thus, death reigned throughout this period (v. 14); men were reckoned sinners even in the absence of a written law. God had spoken in Adam; we sinned in Adam. This is what Paul means by “them that had not sinned after the similitude or likeness of Adam’s transgression.” Adam’s sin was in the face of a clear command of God. Between Adam and Moses, God gave such clear revelation to very few, the vast majority being judicially consigned to ignorance. But, as verse 14 begins with a strong adversative, death still reigned due to Adam’s sin, in whom we sinned.
Adam as the Type of Christ (v. 14)
Our covenant representation in Adam is vividly brought out by calling Adam a “type of him who was to come.” Adam was a type of Christ? We might say an antitype, or a type by negation, or a type of the way God relates to us. Our condemnation in Adam was a type of our justification in Christ. We are not guilty by virtue of following Adam’s bad example. We sinned in him. His guilt was imputed to us because he was our head. We are made righteous not by being good but by Christ’s obedience imputed to us. In this way, Adam is a type of Christ. One head, Adam, ruined us. Only one head, Jesus Christ, recovers us, by giving us obedience in place of our rebellion in Adam, life in place of our death.
Abounding Grace in Jesus Christ (v. 15)
Grace Abounding unto Many (v. 15)
This entire section is based upon the relationship between Adam and Christ. However, the analogy is negative. God’s free gift of righteousness is not like the offence. His grace is much greater, more powerful and extensive, than Adam’s sin. It is true that all have died through Adam’s lapse, his deviation from truth and righteousness. “Many” is used instead of “all” not to limit the effects of his sin to a portion of mankind (v. 12), but to contrast what we lost in Adam to what we gain through faith in Christ. Since Adam’s sin brought death, God’s grace abounds much more through Christ. Twice grace is emphasized. By Adam’s sin, we had forfeited any hope of God’s favor. We were dead men: alienated from God and condemned. Death cursed our entire existence. But God looked upon us kindly, even when we were dead in sins and his determined enemies.
Abounding in Christ (v. 15)
This abounding is definitive. The verb (evperi,sseusen) is in the aorist tense and refers to the one-time sacrifice of the Son of God. It is through his justifying blood that grace abounds to us. “Abounding” is objective. It is not our feeling of grace abounding that occupies the apostle’s attention but the abounding of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This abounding implies the certainty of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. If we have died in Adam, much more shall we live through Jesus Christ? God could have justly left our entire race under condemnation. His grace comes forward. God’s grace is not the whim of momentary feeling but the settled attribute of his kindness to the undeserving. He would not allow sin and death to prevail. He sent his Son, and through him the gift of righteousness. Nothing other than his own love led him to save us. None of the sorrows and trials we experience in this life or the weakness we find within ourselves must be allowed to obscure the wonders of God’s grace to dead sinners. “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)!
Abounding by Faith (v. 15)
This abounding grace is received only by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no grace to be had or expected outside of faith in him. This gospel of sovereign grace is offensive to the world. All objections based upon fairness are immediately silenced by this one name: Adam. Every single man, woman, and child is under Adam’s condemnation unless God bestows his grace and unites them to his Son. All are condemned as sinners before the holy and just God. Thus, we must flee to Christ for refuge (Heb. 6:18). Only in him are the fountains of saving grace opened to us. But while God’s grace is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ, all are invited to come to the water of life and drink freely. We receive abounding grace only because the Son of God incarnate was crucified for us. Let us cling to him. If we want our filth purged, our status changed from criminals to friends of God, we must look to Jesus Christ. And as believers, to whom this letter was written, we must never stray from these fountains. All grace unto holiness, joy in suffering, and strength in the hour of temptation flows from the same source: God’s abounding grace in Christ, giving us life in place of our death, forgiveness in place of our sin in Adam.
Justification in Jesus Christ for Many Offences (v. 16)
The life and righteousness we gain in Christ infinitely surpass our death and defilement in Adam. By Adam’s one transgression, not only did death come to us, for “in him all sinned” (v. 12), but we also came under judgment unto damnation. God’s just sentence of “guilty!” is bad enough, but when it comes with his power to condemn and cast us away from his life-giving presence forever, we are left with bitterness, misery, and hopelessness. But God’s grace lifts us up far higher than we sank in Adam. Not only does the blood of Jesus Christ remove the definitive sentence of death and damnation that are ours in Adam, but God’s grace also covers our “many offences.” Jesus Christ was “made sin for us” not only to bear the curse we contracted in Adam but also to provide cleansing for our personal sins.
The Reign of Life in Jesus Christ (v. 17)
Death Reigned by the One, Adam
Our merciful Father did not think it enough for us to be delivered from our sin, condemnation, and death in Adam. He would have sin’s curse to be so eradicated that his grace would dominate us more than sin did. Death reigned by Adam’s sin, because we sinned in him. Death dominates us: fears, disease, broken relationships, decaying institutions, everything. Our Redeemer came forward, sent into the world by the God who is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4). He bore our guilt and penalty. By his life, he swallowed death – the Life overcame death by dying to the power of death, which is sin. Joined to him by faith, his death is applied to us by the Spirit he gives to us. The reign of life takes the place of the reign of death – and much more. Still struggling with sin, we are forgiven. Still feeling the consequences of our death, his grace overcomes them. In weakness, we are made strong. Tempted, we overcome. Trembling with guilt, fresh forgiveness is granted to us through the resurrected Son of righteousness, risen with healing on his wings.
Abundance of Grace and the Gift of Righteousness
Notice the words used to describe what we receive in Christ: abundance of grace, the gift of righteousness, reign in life. As full as we were of sin and death, so full are we now of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Our Father freely forgives our sins, invites us to his throne of grace, receives us as his children, and gives us every spiritual blessing – all because of Jesus Christ. We receive these blessings not by any works of ours but because of the “gift of righteousness.” We receive righteousness and life through Jesus Christ. Our status is not “filthy” but “righteous.” We do not stand before God in the rags of our sin but in the bright white, shining robes of our Savior’s obedience. His righteousness is imputed to us just as surely as was Adam’s sin. We must call Adam’s sin our sin; we sinned in him. We may now call Christ’s righteousness our righteousness; we are righteous before God in him.
Grace and Righteousness Reign in Life
As much as sin and death once dominated us, now in Christ grace does. God’s grace permeates every area of our lives. His kindness is overflowing, abundant, much more extensive than our sin in Adam. He is ever ready to extend this kindness to us. Jesus Christ once purchased it for us by his blood. The wells of salvation are dug. The river of life is flowing from the throne of God. Heaven is opened. Rejoice in the Lamb of God! Look for nothing but what you find in him! Looking to him, you will find everything, everything in him: life, mercy, forgiveness, strength, hope, joy, peace, confidence. Heaven still sings with the same fervency as it did when he ascended. Behold the Lamb of God! He still takes away our sins, ushers us to heaven, and clothes defiled sinners with righteousness.
The Reign of Grace (vv. 18-21)
By the Righteousness of Christ (v. 18)
So that we may be rejoice in God’s grace and be led meekly to rest in Jesus Christ alone (v. 17), Paul repeats that Adam’s sin was the judicial ground of our condemnation. In the same way, “even so,” by the righteousness of the one man, Jesus Christ, we are declared righteous before God. While some translate the word “righteousness” as justification, it is more properly a reference to the active obedience of Christ by which we are justified. His act of obedience is clearly contrasted with Adam’s act of disobedience. As Adam ruined our race by his disobedience, so in Jesus Christ we are declared righteous before God, the just Judge, by his obedience imputed to us, given to us as a free gift.
In All Who Believe in Christ (v. 18)
Many refuse God’s free gift and perish in hell under God’s just wrath. How can Paul write that this gift comes to all men? All men are represented by one of these two heads: Adam or Christ. All who are in Adam suffer the consequences of his sin: the reign of death, condemnation, and eternal judgment. In the same way, all who are in Christ receive the fruits of his obedience: life and righteousness. Thus, the “all men” here means “all who are in Christ,” who by believing the gospel come under his headship. And what do they receive? Justification of life; this is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus that brings true life to those who believe in him. He does not do this by setting a good example for us, any more than Adam condemned us by setting a bad example. No, our Lord had to obey God’s holy law, for we had wickedly broken it. He had to suffer all the pains and horrors of the judgment that hung over our heads due to our sins. The only way for us to escape the condemnation that comes to all men in Adam is to flee to Jesus Christ for refuge. All who look to him will be saved; he will lose none (John 6:39).
Constituted Righteous in Christ (v. 19)
By the disobedience of one man, Adam, we were “made sinners.” This verby conveys the idea of being constituted as something, to be put in the class or category of something, or to be established as. This aorist passive verb emphasizes that by Adam’s one sin we entered the ranks of the condemned. He was our representative head and did not act for himself alone but for all men. To complain of this arrangement is to question God’s wisdom and right to govern us in the way that best reveals his glory and promotes our wellbeing as his creatures. The parallel holds with respect to Christ. By his obedience, we were “constituted righteous.” The same passive verb is used, which indicates a work done for us, not by us, a work of God not of our own will or effort (John 1:11-12). The second use of the verb, however, is in the future tense. The grace of justification through Christ’s obedience is continually operative in our lives as believers. His obedience reconciles us to God and obtains our free and full pardon. It will continue to open heaven to us. Our sins do not detract from our Savior’s obedience, nor does our repentance or holiness add to it. He has once and for all time made us righteous by his obedience. Nothing can close the fountains of grace he has opened for us by his obedience.
The use of “many” instead of “all” is important. Paul utilized this parallel in verse 15. Here he does so to settle beyond a doubt that universalism is false. While many are justified in Christ, all are not. This is not because our Savior’s sacrifice is insufficient to save all, but because it is not God’s intention to save all. Rather than balk at God’s sovereignty, we should marvel that “any” would be shown mercy. “Made righteous” indicates a forensic or legal justification. This parallels our legal condemnation in Adam for a sin not personally but covenantally ours. Through God’s grace, we are taken out of the ranks of the condemned and placed in the company of the righteous. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to us. We are no longer counted as condemned criminals before God but as his righteous friends.
The Personal Importance of Forensic Justification
That this is a legal declaration on God’s part does not in the least diminish its personal significance. Is our being counted or reckoned condemned in Adam merely legal? Do we not feel its personal implications in ten millions ways? It was not our personal sin, but we justly suffer for it, including death and all the miseries of sin and corruption in this life. So in Jesus Christ, being now counted or constituted righteous, his righteousness is ours. By faith, we have a legal claim upon it. We may bring it before God as the grounds of our being blessed by him. We may expect forgiveness, peace of conscience, fellowship with God, and all the other blessings of salvation through Christ’s obedience. This places assurance of salvation upon an unassailable foundation – not our progress in holiness or our feelings – what Jesus Christ has done for us by his obedience. Every other grace we receive from God flows from his obedience and his sacrifice on the cross.
Make Much of Christ’s Obedience to His Father’s Will (v. 19)
In this fallen world, we lose sight of the necessity of obeying God. This was Adam’s single test: obey God. Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was accountable to the Lord; all Adam’s happiness and security depended upon his obedience to the Lord. Adam spit in God’s face. Disobedience ruined our race. By man’s disobedience, God’s perfect world and man’s upright heart were destroyed in an instant. We are saved because the Son of God took upon himself our nature and took upon himself the responsibility of obeying the Father for us. Upon his coming into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:6-8). It is by his doing of the Father’s will, subdued and obedient, that we are reconciled to God (Heb. 10:10).
Everywhere in Scripture the obedience of Jesus Christ is emphasized as the sole ground upon which we are made right with God (Isa. 42:1; 52:13-53:12; John 6:38-39; 10:17-18; 17:4-5; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7-8; Heb. 2:10; 5:8-9). He obeyed for us, even as Adam sinned for us. The Christian gospel is this: that the Son of God undertook to obey God in place of our disobedience, to humble himself in place of our rebellion, and to suffer the just penalty of our wickedness. His sacrifice is sufficient and powerful to save because he was the perfect Lamb of God, the sinless High Priest who entered the Most Holy Place to make intercession for us upon the unstained altar of his own obedience. Never must his obedience lose its hold upon our faith and affections. His obedience, not our works, delivered us from our curse.
The Offence Abounding, Grace Superabounding (v. 20)
As evil as Adam’s sin was, the offence now “abounds.” To our guilt in Adam, we have added a host of willful, knowing transgressions. The precariousness of our position is now seen for what it really is. This is not the only purpose of God’s law, but it is the purpose that Paul emphasizes here to leave all men without excuse (Rom. 3:31). Even in unbelieving nations, God’s law is known. Continued disobedience takes the sword of justice under which Adam fell by his sin and sharpens its edge.
In his grace, God did not leave us here. Where the offense abounded, God’s grace super-abounded. God through his law exposed the depths of our corruption so that the greater glory of his grace might be revealed. It is not as if the law made us sinners; it revealed our treason in Adam and our sinfulness in life. In the law, we see a perfect reflection of the will and holiness of God. We live in God’s world, and we rebelled against him. He gave us his law to reveal the depths of our corruption. He sent his Son into the world to redeem us. How horrible is our plight if we refuse to come to Jesus Christ that we might be saved from our sins! Not only do we lie condemned in Adam, but our actual transgressions also demand the executioner’s sword. The sword of divine justice fell on Jesus Christ. As wicked as we are, he is our righteousness if we repent and believe the gospel. As condemned as we in Adam, we are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
And in Christ, Grace Reigns (v. 21)
As sin once reigned in us unto death, grace now reigns through righteousness. In Adam, we are condemned criminals before God’s majesty. In kindness and mercy, God has stretched forth his arm to save his enemies and bring in everlasting righteousness (Isa. 63:5). All who believe in Jesus Christ are now dominated by his headship, not Adam’s. Grace is said to reign through righteousness. It was not grace at the expense of God’s justice or by ignoring the claims of his law. Our Savior bore our curse on the cross. He obeyed God’s law in our place. Lawless grace is an enemy of the gospel. And as Paul shall immediately say (chapters 6-8), grace is not truly possessed where sin still reigns in the heart and life. The reign of grace is comprehensive. It begins with justification and proceeds through the transformation of our lives into the image of Jesus Christ. But the emphasis here is upon the fountains of grace that are opened to us through the one-time obedience of Jesus Christ. As insistent as Paul will soon be on holiness of life, this is the fruit of God’s grace in our lives, not its source. Grace comes to us solely because the Son of God obeyed in our nature and suffered the full weight of our curse. Grace reigns in us because Jesus Christ obtained everlasting righteousness for us, because we are the righteousness of God through faith in him (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
If we are to be right before him, we must look to the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, for there is no other obedience that God will accept in place of our filth. If we do not believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Adam is still our head. Sin and death reign in us. Condemnation awaits us. But God in mercy says to us now: “Look to my Son and live. Trust his blood and righteousness; be cleansed, forgiven, and reconciled. There is no other Savior, no other righteousness.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved; thou, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
To Clarify, Encourage, and Apply
1. What is meant by saying that Adam is our covenant head?
2. What is the meaning of “all sinned” in verse 12?
3. Since there was no written law, why did men die in the era between Adam and Moses?
4. In what ways is the free gift of God’s grace greater than the offense and condemnation in Adam?
5. What are the parallels between Adam and Christ? How do they help us understand the gospel and specifically the way we are reckoned righteous before God?
6. What is the significance of Christ’s obedience?
7. Explain “made righteous.” (v. 19) Compare the phrase with “made sinners.”
8. Why the future tense in the second “made righteous” in verse 19?
9. How does the entering in of the law made grace abound?
10. What does it mean to say that “grace reigns by Jesus Christ? Define grace.
11. What is the importance of adding “through righteousness?”
12. How does the analogy between Adam and Christ help us understand world history? Ourselves? Our need of Christ and the gospel?