Christ’s Obedience Brings Righteousness (5:18-21)
Paul returns to the thought that he began in verse 12 about the source of humanity’s sinful nature. Let’s look at the complete thought here.
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—…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. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:12, 18-21, KJV)
Here is Paul’s full theological statement about the relationship between Adam and Jesus, between sin and redemption. In Adam all were found guilty of falling short of God perfect standard, God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It cannot be stated too often, that the nature of sin’s offense must be measured against the perfect nature of God’s character. Paul then gives us the opposite reality found in Christ. In Jesus, all who believe will be restored into right relationship with God. God will no longer require payment for the offense of sin, but will rather count the righteousness of Christ to the account of all who place their trust in Jesus. What we often fail to realize is that what Adam did in the Garden was to place his faith in himself. This is the ultimate reality. Pride is the springhead of all sin. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they withdrew their trust from God and placed it on their own understanding and wisdom. Did the devil play a role in this? Absolutely. But the responsibility for falling into sin rested at the feet of Adam and Eve who committed the sin. The devil has his own sins to answer for, but the fall is not one of them.
In Jesus God is reestablishing the proper object of faith. This is why faith is the required means for salvation. When we do not believe in God we are believe in something else to be the source of our lives, and this is the sin that cast humanity from the Garden of Eden. When we come to grips with the fact that the universe is guided by the principle of faith we will understand why Adam’s sin affected all of his descendants. Verses 20 and 21 help us to make sense of the parenthetical statement found in verses 13-17. The law came to let all know why God was upset with our actions. The law is what provides man with accountability to God. Culpability is found in the act of sin. We sin because we are sinners. And it is also true that we are sinners because of sin. Just look at what happens in Genesis, specifically the generation of Noah and during the time of the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 6, 11).
This is why Paul says that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (v.20). When we understand the terrible offense of our sin (through the law’s revelation); we can see why grace is so much more powerful and wonderful. When sin looks as if it has had its final victory, grace comes and reveals the true weakness and impotence of sin. God loves to show that He can lift us up from the most desperate of places if we would jut trust in Him. But the power of God’s salvific work in found in the work and person of Jesus Christ (v. 21). To turn to any other place is to place our faith in the wrong object, i.e., ourselves.