One For All
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 19 – Romans 5:12-21
An article in Time magazine reported an incident like so many we hear about in the daily news. Police detectives had arrested four teenagers for beating up some homeless people in a park. When they were taken into custody the boys confessed to a whole list of violent crimes. The boys were ages 18, 17, 16 and 15. In just 16 days they had beaten an old man to death, beaten several other elderly men but came short of killing them, had used a whip on two teen-age girls, had tied gasoline soaked cloth around a man’s legs and set it on fire, and had dragged a man 7 blocks before dumping him in the river where he drowned. To the shock of the neighbors these 4 teens had good school records, came from good homes, none belonged to gangs, they were active in organized sports, and 3 of the 4 had been summer camp counselors.
We shake our heads over such an article and ask ourselves, “What is our world coming to? Look at what modern ways are doing to our children to make them do such things!”
But — this Time magazine article was published in the early 1950’s. Has this kind of behavior been around that long? Even before violent video games, cable-TV and the internet? I doubt that many would disagree that crime reports are expected to rise as the population grows, but we need to be careful that we do not blame corruption so much on society that we forget its real source.
200 years after Jean Cauvin (we know him as John Calvin) succeeded in shaping the city of Geneva to operate by a biblical model, Geneva produced another man with the same first name, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The Renaissance had spread humanism world wide challenging the Reformation, but there was a problem with its message. The problem was with people themselves. Instead of becoming more noble, they still tended to do selfish, dishonest, violent and greedy things. The humanist had no way to explain how man could be so bad deep inside since he denied that there is any sin nature in him.
The philosopher Rousseau blamed culture. He believed that humanity’s bad ways had to have been learned. He wrote about the “noble savage” whom he saw as the superior primitive man not influenced by greed, commerce or Christianity. With no standards he was pressured to obey, a person would have no reason to become greedy or selfish. He thought that if man was really allowed to be free, he would be noble. He dreamed of a utopia where there were no rules, no authority — just pure natural freedom.
But the results of his thinking proved him tragically wrong. The French Revolution attempted to impose this freedom upon a whole nation. Those who would not go along with it were to be silenced by force. The guillotine became the answer to resistance. Blood flowed horribly in the streets. The quest for nobility and freedom brought totalitarianism and violence.
One of Rousseau’s students, a painter named Gaugin, decided to seek out the noble savage. He left his family and all he had to run off to live in primitive Tahiti. What he found there was not consistent with his teacher’s theory. As Gaugin got to know the primitive culture he found it anything but noble. He found despair, cruelty and greed was there in Tahiti as well. He painted his utter disappointment into a depressing painting, then he attempted suicide. His suicide attempt failed, just as did his search for the “noble savage.”
Humanists have continued to try to explain away this obvious flaw in their system. Man and his societies have been far from noble. History tends to expose an inner corruption. At first the modern humanists continued to seek innocence within, but with Hitler, World War Two, and a deteriorating national and world situation, a Second Humanist Manifesto blamed it all on society and its standards for corrupting man. It names industry, profit making, faith in God, revelation, salvation and belief in a final judgment as the evils. It ignored the fact that man is the one who makes up his societies. That’s the common element that corrupts it all.
God has explained clearly in his word that man is himself sinful, and it explains how he got that way.
Sin isn’t something we need to learn or discover. The Bible tells us that no one is without sin. We are born with it. King David knew that when he wrote Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”
David did not mean that his mother sinned in conceiving him. The wording of Psalm 51 shows that David understood that he was corrupted by sin from the moment he was conceived.
The first four chapters of Romans clearly show that sin is universal and corrupts all men. Now in chapter five it goes on to explain how things got this way.
Sin came to infect us all through the one sin of Adam.
Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”
That first man who lived in Eden did not just act on his own. Adam represented the whole human race. By God’s design, he stood for all of us when he sinned. The basic idea of being represented by another person is not that strange. It was the foolish anger of Pharaoh that sent so many Egyptian citizens to their deaths. Today, Ambassadors make treaties that effect whole nations. Our representatives in congress may commit us all to war where we might have to fight and die. Parents make choices that effect their children’s entire lives.
However, this representation in Eden was of a special kind. Adam stood as the head of the human race by the covenant God had announced when our race was created. When he sinned, through this one disobedience, by this single transgression, sin, its guilt, together with its punishment passed upon all his natural descendents. The only exception was Jesus Christ who was conceived supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was a true and complete man, but not by natural birth. Therefore he is the only one who did not inherit Adam’s sin and guilt personally.
God had warned Adam in Genesis 2:17 about the penalty for sin. He was told not to eat from the one tree in the garden. God said, “… in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Death is the penalty for sin, and death has ruled over mankind since the time of Adam. This is why sin has been around from that beginning.
Romans 5:13-14, “(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”
Since Adam stood as the head and representative of the human race, the Bible says we “all sinned” in Adam. We are all guilty, and inherit the corrupt nature that came from that sin We all deserve physical and spiritual death, eternal and complete separation from God.
However, God did not make things that way just to leave all mankind in a fallen condition. Adam is called a “type of him who is to come”. What Adam did was a hint of something far greater. Another representative would come. Adam’s sin laid the tragic foundation upon which an amazing deliverance would be displayed and accomplished.
The other representative of which Adam was the type was Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:15-21, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul calls Jesus the “last Adam”. Just as Adam stood for those he represented, so also Jesus stood to represent all those God had given to him. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus came to redeem his people. By his perfect obedience, by his righteousness, by his taking their place in death, he represented his people to make them holy. He satisfied the demands of divine justice when the perfect one died for the depraved.
The technical term for the transfer of guilt and holiness is “imputation”. The guilt of Adam was imputed to all those he represented. They are all considered guilty in him. The guilt of the one is credited to, and really belongs to, those represented. So, when Adam sinned, we all became guilty and deserving of eternal damnation.
The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to all those he represented. They are all considered to be justified in him. The Christian is truly counted as innocent before God. It is not that his guilt is simply overlooked or just arbitrarily pardoned. The pardon is based upon real justification. For them, their debt is fully paid off.
Just as the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the believer, the believer’s guilt was imputed to Jesus on the cross. When he died he really became sin for us. The guilt that he bore was real.
Adam represented the whole human race that would descend from him. That was the point of these first five chapters of Romans. Many other parts of Scripture teach the same thing. No one is excluded from the guilt and corruption of Adam except for Jesus Christ.
It would be reasonable then to ask who Jesus represented. If Adam condemned all people, did Jesus redeem all people? The plain answer of Scripture is, “No.”
The word “all” in 5:18 and throughout this passage, is used as it is elsewhere in the Bible. It is always limited by what is being spoken about. The context defines each use of the word. For example the Bible says that the decree of Caesar was that “all the world” was to be registered (Luke 2:1), but that tax census obviously only applied to the Roman Empire. The Bible also speaks of “all Jerusalem” and “all Judea” when only a specific group involved is meant. So also here, the “all” that Jesus represented did not include all that Adam represented. Each represented all the Father had assigned to him to uniquely represent.
Jesus directly explained who he came to represent in his lesson to the disciples in John 6.
John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
John 6:39, “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:65, “And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
Clearly, there are those the Father gives to Jesus to be raised up to life at the last day. Those are the ones who show the Father’s blessing by coming to Jesus in faith. All those who come are redeemed to everlasting life, and none of them are lost.
Just as clearly, some do not come to him. They are not redeemed. They are not given to Jesus by the Father. They were not represented by him on the cross. In fact, in John 6:66 some did not like this difficult doctrine and left Jesus, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
Not all came to him and persevered with him. Some showed they were not his people. In his prayer of John 17 Jesus showed clearly who it was he represented when he came to be the Savior. There he prayed …
John 17:1-2, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
John 17:9, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”
Jesus represented those the Father had set him to represent. This did not include all fallen humans.
Could it be that Jesus represented them all but does not save them all for some reason? The Puritan pastor and Bible Scholar John Owen wrote, it is “a monstrous assertion … that any should perish in whose place the Son of God appeared before his Father with his perfect obedience …” it is simply unthinkable, “… that his satisfaction in their behalf could be refused.”
If Jesus came and died to rescue all humans, and even one human is sent to hell, then Jesus would have failed!
But he did not fail. He succeeded to do exactly what he came to do.
Our fall into sin as a race was something unique as far as we know. It was not that way with the angels. They were not led into sin by a representative. Each angel that fell did so on his own. Jude 1:6 “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;” Since they did not fall as a race, they can have no redeemer to represent them either. No fallen angel is ever redeemed.
We humans are different. We were designed by God to be represented in one person who would stand for all of us. Loraine Boettner commented, “It is as if God had said, ‘if sin is to enter, let it enter by one man, so that righteousness also may enter by one man.’ ” This is the great benefit of being part of a race that can be represented by one person. Though fallen in Adam, individuals are also redeemable by a Savior.
Notice the things in Romans five which Jesus secured for us as our representative: by his obedience, his great act of righteousness, we receive …
:15 the gift of grace, abounding grace
:17 abundance of grace, the gift of righteousness, the promise of reigning in life by Christ
:18 justification to life
:20 grace abounding
:21 reigning grace through righteousness to eternal life
What a glorious and amazing blessing is ours by the work of Jesus, the second Adam!
There is no mystery about where corruption comes from. We have a corrupt society because it is made up of individuals who have inherited the corruption of Adam. Sin is not the only condition that is imputed by a representative appointed by the Father. We become children of God by imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
So can we introduce real change into our corrupt society? Is there anything we can do to turn around its influence? There is a way.
It is not by tearing down rules and authority to look for the “noble savage”. It is not by forcing all men to throw off moral and religious convictions by the guillotine. It is not by building up expensive and cumbersome government programs to control society. It is by bringing individuals the gospel, by telling the truth about Jesus Christ. When God changes the heart of one man, that one part of society is transformed.
You cannot build a great fortress out of crumbling bricks, even if you clean them up and paint them. If the bricks are corrupted, they will not hold up. You have to start with good, solid blocks.
Making a strong family, a sound church, a safe community, or a godly nation is done in basically the same way, by making sure the individuals that make it up are growing in Christ.
When you go out with the gospel hope you bring with you the remedy God provides for re-structuring your family and community. While you cannot change the hearts of those who show they are not Christ’s, it will keep you busy enough seeking out those for whom Christ died. Tell them the good news. Pray with and for them. Bring them into Christ’s church. When they believe and become changed you will know that they too are redeemed by grace.
For all who are with us in the family of God’s covenant, they are here by that grace alone. We who were in Adam, rightly condemned and deserving of eternal damnation, are made righteous in Christ by having what he did imputed to us who deserve nothing. This is cause for joyful worship and thankful living. As Paul concluded in 5:20 “… but where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,”
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)