The Nature of Christ’s Gift (5:15-17)
Paul is bridging the gap between verses 14 and 15 when he goes on to explain that the effect of Adam’s sin was so damaging that it sent the whole of humanity into condemnation. Paul makes the inference that it took just one sin to send humanity into the tailspin of sin. Why just one? The problem of sin must be viewed in its proper light if we are to understand the seriousness of it.
An individual’s view of God will affect in kind that same individual’s view of sin and vice versa. Millard Erickson provides a framework for how this basic argument should be understood. If the view of God is high, so that He is seen as a God who is holy and perfect and worthy of worship, then any deviation from that reality will demonstrate the gravity of sin. If the view of God however is not high, then what is the problem in offending him? Millard Erickson’s discussion is quite good because it helps us to understand that the seriousness of the offense is based not on the offense itself, but on the virtue and worth of the one offended. (See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 580). When you see sin this light we begin to understand that the value of God, as the offended one, was what necessitated the imputation of Adam’s sin on the whole race. But Erickson provides two alternative views to that of Federal and Natural headship.
The first alternative is where the sin of Adam is ratified when an individual sins for the first time (See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 656). Erickson sees this as a legitimate alternative, but posits the second as more in line with the testimony of scripture regarding what happens to the human race in both Adam and Christ. The second alternative, the one that Erickson appears to prefer, is that:
“we become responsible and guilty when we accept or approve of our corrupt nature. There is a time in the life of each one of us when we become aware of our own tendency toward sin. At that point we may abhor the sinful nature that has been there all the time…But if we acquiesce in that sinful nature, we are in effect saying that it is good. By placing our tacit approval upon the corruption, we are also approving our concurring in the action in the Garden of Eden so long ago. We become guilty of that sin without having committed any sin of our own” (See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 656).
When one sees that Paul places the discussion of sin within the framework of idolatry, the reason for God’s contempt toward sin can be better understood (Colossians 3:5, c.f., Exodus 20:3-6). Even John in his first epistle ends with this simple admonition, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:1). God is holy and perfect and to therefore exchange His glory for anything else is to replace God from God’s proper place in the universe. This is the very definition of idolatry.
Paul contrasts the trespass of Adam with the free gift of Jesus Christ which is able to cover a multitude of trespasses. This is why the “gift is not like the trespass.” The grace of God is so powerful that it is able to cover, not just multiple screw ups, but the eternal offense of human sin against His very nature. This is why the free gift is not like the result of one man’s sin. The grace of God is able to withstand the continuous assault of multiple trespasses. The fall of Adam could be understood as an act of “unfaith”. If Adam and Eve had continued to trust in the God’s provision in the Garden they would have remained under God’s care. But, by succumbing to the temptation of the serpent they were cast out. That is why faith is the necessary condition of salvation because it is an attempt at restoring the order that was disrupted in Eden. When we place our faith in Jesus we are returning to the intended order of relationship that God desired to exist between Father and Child.