February 25, 2024

The "One Man" Who Changed Everything (Romans 5:12-21)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Scripture: Romans 5:12–21

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Not a Household Name

When it comes to our modern, scientific understanding of physical reality, there is one man who changed everything; as one commentator put it, "one of those once-in-a-century geniuses who perceived the physical world with sharper senses than those around him". Though some might guess I was speaking about Albert Einstein, it was this man who introduced the system of thought experiments that Einstein would later use. When someone suggested to Einstein that “he had done great things because he stood on [Isaac] Newton's shoulders; Einstein replied: "No, I don't. I stand on the shoulders of Maxwell." James Clerk Maxwell is not a name most people are familiar with, but as one of this biographers has described it, in the 19th century “he made fundamental contributions to every aspect of physical science...[discoveries that went on to shape the 20th century]. [For example,] by discovering the nature of electromagnetic waves, he made possible the development of our great communications networks: television, radio, radar and the mobile telephone.” And the list of contributions could go on. One man.

And that's just one example. In so many different areas, from art to sports, from politics to philosophy, there have been key individuals whose contributions radically changed not only their field of study area of influence, but in time, the whole world as well. And yet, there is one man whose impact simply cannot be rivaled. Let's talk about him this morning as we look at Romans 5.

II. The Passage: “The Grace of That One Man” (5:12-21)

Look with me at Romans 5, verses 12 through 21. As I read through these verses, think about that idea of one man changing everything. Paul writes in verse 12...

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. [15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. [18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Did you identify him? The one man who changed everything? Well, hopefully you noticed that, according to Paul, there wasn't simply “one man” who changed everything. There were two.

It's hard to miss the fact that Paul uses the phrase “one man” nine times in these ten verses. But again, he uses that phrase (“one man”) to refer to two different individuals. The first “one man” is the first man, (v. 14) Adam. The second “one man” is (v. 15) “Jesus Christ”. And as I'm sure you noticed in this passage, Paul is using something like a 'compare and contrast' approach with these two men in order to encourage his readers in light of God's amazing work of redemption.

Now, there is simply no way in the time we have this morning to really unpack verses as theologically-dense as these. Instead, we'll do our best to think about the passage a whole, and how it fits into the flow of Paul's thinking in this letter to the disciples in Rome. Of course, to do that well, we need to understand how Paul's thinking has been flowing thus far. An easy way to do just that is simply to summarize the major sections up to this point. So here goes (fig. 1)...

The first half of chapter 1 (1:1-17) is clearly focused on “the gospel... [as] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”, both Jew and non-Jew (i.e., the gentiles). From 1:18 to 3:20 Paul expertly establishes that both Jew and Gentile are guilty before God, and thus, our desperate need for this gospel deliverance. Then comes the central passage in the whole book, 3:21-31, which makes this good news explicit. How can we as guilty sinners be delivered from judgment and restored to our Creator? By His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Chapter 4 simply shows how this kind of saving faith is not a new thing, but actually goes back to Abraham, while the first half of chapter 5 emphasizes how this peace with God through Jesus is all of God; given while we were still sinners, and sure to hold firm to the end, no matter what.

So what you may have detected in your readings in Romans, or from this overview, is that Paul is, in large part, concerned about his Jewish-Christian readers in Rome. Not only did they seem to be leery of his ministry among the gentiles, but related to this, they were unsure about his commitment to the Law of Moses as a distinctive of Jewish identity, and even more so, as a system to maintain moral order. But as Romans indicates, Paul wants them to understand that this gospel saves all people, Jew and Gentile, and that it does so apart from the Law. As Paul has just explained, we are justified (or acquitted) before God by his grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And so to summarize and drive home the scope of his gospel, he concludes the first section of the book with this, our main passage this morning, 5:12-21.

So what exactly does this passage tell us about the scope of the gospel? It reveals in big, broad brushstrokes how human history and humanity itself are now divided into two, distinct kingdoms. Over one kingdom, death reigns. Over the other, grace reigns... “leading to eternal life”. And each of these kingdoms is connected to the beginning of an era or an age defined by the actions of “one man”. If we were to visualize the parallels Paul outlines here, it might look like this...

One Man” (Adam) who...        “One Man” (Jesus) who...

[was a] sinner, disobedient        [was] righteous, obedient

[brought] condemnation            [brought] justification

     [making us] sinners                   [making us] righteous

     [resulting in] death                    [resulting in] life (eternal)

So the “one man”, Adam, changed everything by introducing “sin... into the world”. But the “one man”, Jesus, brought (v. 17) an “abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness”. Thank-fully, as Paul writes in verse 15, “the free gift is not like the trespass”, in so many ways. As we just saw in those parallels, the key words here are “condemnation” and “death” for those under Adam, but “justification” and “life” for those under Jesus. Adam was “one man” who changed everything. But Jesus alone is the “one man” who changed everything... for the better. Amen?

III. Being Changed by That “One Man”

Now think with me about some of the implications of this passage for our lives; for your life. Consider how these ideas should radically affect our perspective, then practice. For example...

Mankind will never get better on its own. You may not know this, but God's word never really explains how our sin sickness (sometimes called 'original sin') was/is passed down to us from our first parents. We know as v. 12 tells us, “sin came into the world through [Adam]”, but that consequence of spiritual death (then physical, then eternal death) is experienced well beyond our first father. “Death spread to all men because all sinned.” Every single human being now living (that's 7.8 billion), and every human being who has ever lived, has been infected and is willful in this sickness. And if we are not under Jesus, we are still under Adam. That means, that though certain features of human existence can improve and have improved, we simply cannot put our ultimate trust in some idea, some movement, some strategy, some initiative that's built on the belief that people will get kinder and smarter and wiser and less selfish. Only Jesus can undo Adam. Beware of the subtle ways we can be deceived by people who believe otherwise.

Second, the gospel is good news for all people. It seems the Jews to whom Paul wrote in this letter were forgetting that David, Moses, and Abraham all point us back to Adam; that is, that Jesus was not simply the Messiah of Israel, he was ultimately the Savior of the world. Through-out this passage Paul refers over and over again to “all”, to “all men”, to the “many”. Paul's mission to the Gentiles was grounded in Jesus' mission to reverse the curse of Adam. Like those first readers, we also need to guard our hearts, that we also don't slip into that mindset of only being spiritually concerned about people like us. Oftentimes, we are too focused on the ways we're different from others. But above all, our priority must be seeing the way in which we are all similar because of Adam. When that becomes the primary lens through which we look at others, then I believe, like Paul, we will be drawn back to mission in light of the “one man”, Jesus.

Finally, eternal life results from receiving, not doing. It appears some of the Jewish-Christians in Rome were confused about the role of the law in terms of righteousness and eternal life. As I've already emphasized, Paul makes it crystal clear in this passage that our only hope in light of Adam's disobedience and the reign of death is what Jesus did, not anything we do. Five times Paul speaks about God's grace in this passage. Five times he writes about God's “free gift”. Brothers and sisters, friends, here's good news: a gift is not and cannot be earned... a gift is simply received. How amazing is the statement in the second half of v. 16: “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many tres-passes brought justification.” Did you catch that? Adam's trespass was followed by judgment, but, because of (v. 17) God's “abundance of grace”, our trespasses were and are followed by a “free gift” from God! What is this free gift? v. 17... It's “the free gift of righteousness”. That's how you and I, as children of Adam the sinner, how we can be justified (acquitted): with a righteous-ness, a right-standing before God, that comes through faith alone in Christ alone.

Are you resting in that grace this morning? I mean really resting? The “one man” who changed everything... for the better... can change (and continue to change) our distortions about doing; distortions that always lead to either pride or hopelessness. Paul has important things to tell us about doing in the next few chapters (6-8), then later in 12-14. But first, we need to stand in awe of the fact that though we were born in Adam, we can be born again in Jesus. Brothers and sisters, friends, receive... then rest. Come under the reign of grace; then walk in that grace. Rejoice in such incredible love. Rejoice in the stunning extent of what Christ accomplished. And may this vision of human history and divine grace powerfully influence our thinking at all times.

Figure 1:

The Gospel: The Power of God for Salvation (1:1-17)

The Gospel: Our Absolute Need for Salvation (1:18-3:20)

The Gospel: The Gift of Christ for Salvation (3:21-31)

The Gospel: A 'Faith Alone' Precedent for Salvation (4:1-25)

The Gospel: Grace-Filled Reassurance for Salvation (5:1-11)