I’ve got a book in my hands here, one my parents read to me as a child and one Holly and I have read to our kids. Harold and the Purple Crayon. Know it? This book is about a young boy who uses a crayon to create a world around him, to go on adventures like climbing mountains, sailing seas, and facing dragons, which eventually lead him back home. At first it might just seem to be a short bedtime story for kids, but I do wonder if this little book has a deeper meaning to it, one that reflects the age we’re living in today. Think about it: here’s a boy who creates his own world, who writes his own story, and who defines and directs all things by himself? Isn’t that just what we do today? ‘Be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do.’ Or, perhaps you’ve heard it like this: the authentic life is lived on its own terms. Which of course implies the opposite, the inauthentic life is one who merely follows what they’ve been told.
I mention all of this to simply say, we live an age of ‘expressive individualism’ where everything around us is aimed at getting us to buy into the pursuit of self-promotion. Our ideas, our thoughts, our image, our pictures, our followers, our social media accounts, our very own cult of personality. In this sense we’re a radically individualistic culture. But think, in the end, we will stand before the throne of God just as individuals? On one hand this is true, we will have to give an account for our own sin. But on the other hand we won’t stand before God as individuals. Rather, in the end we’ll stand before God as one part of a large group that’s represented by the first Adam or by the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. That’s what our passage today is all about.
We’ve now come to 5:12-21. This passage is, no doubt, one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. Why? In big and broad brush strokes Paul describes a massive theme here: all of mankind throughout all of history stands before God in relation to and represented by one of two men: Adam or Christ. Either we’re in Adam and under condemnation and death or we’re in Christ and under redemption and life. Adam and Christ are put forward here as the two representative heads of all humanity.
But remember, though this is one of the most important passages in Scripture it comes to us in a certain context. What’s the context, or how does v12-21 fit into the whole of Romans? I think it’s both an ending and a beginning. It’s an ending in the sense that this passage is something of the final word from Paul on the great theme of justification by faith alone intended to drive home how deep our assurance in Christ truly is. But it also is a beginning, in that Paul brings up many themes in this passage that he’ll spend the next few chapters unpacking. There’s much to see here, let’s get to it.
Adam and Christ: A Preview (v12-14)
“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— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 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.”
As v12 begins we see one action that caused a chain reaction. Sin, which at one time was not in the world, came into the world through one man. The rest of this passage doesn’t leave us in doubt about who this one man is, it’s Adam. What happened because of Adam’s action? Because sin entered into the world, death entered into the world. And once death entered into the world, it didn’t stay contained, no, death spread to all men. This chain reaction in v12 is one of those pivotal verses in Scripture because it explains clearly and simply how the world got to be the way it is today. Don’t miss who v12 has in view. Sin came into the world through Adam. But wait, does Genesis 3 agree with this? Wasn’t it Eve who ate the fruit first? Yes it was. We don’t really know where Adam was, if he was off doing something else or if he was right there with her listening to the serpent as well. Regardless of where he was, regardless that it was Eve who ate first and then gave the fruit to Adam, God lays the blame where the blame ought to be laid, with Adam. Why? He was made to rule as a king, over all things in creation under God the true King. So when the serpent came to tempt Eve Adam should’ve killed it right then and there! How vastly different the world would be if he had done so. But he didn’t, and so the history of the world ever since has been the story of the ‘de-volution’ of man into further and further spiritual and physical death, of the bad infection growing and growing. So we conclude this: that our first parents, using the freedom of their wills, did not continue on in the state they were created, but fell, by sinning against God.
But are we able to just point the finger at Adam and blame him for all our problems then? You might conclude that except for how v12 ends, “…because all sinned…” This deepens the sorrow even lower. Now we see it’s not just Adam and his sin in view, it’s our sin too. Specifically as it puts it here, our sin in Adam is in view. So now, we don’t die spiritually and die physically because we’re like Adam, no, death comes to us because back then in Eden we were in Adam. To put it differently: this not only means that we would’ve made the same choice if we were there instead of Adam, and this not only means that Adam was our representative in the garden, it means that the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed or reckoned to our account before we were born or ever had committed any sin of our own. This is the doctrine of original sin.
Do you feel the rub of this? The big question that this leads to is, ‘How is it fair for God to condemn me to eternal death for something Adam, not me (!), did so long ago? I didn’t vote for Adam to represent me! I wasn’t even there and I wasn’t even born yet!’ On one hand this is an understandable question, especially for modern people like us steeped in such an individualized culture. But on the other hand, that the question exists at all is proof of our fallen condition and how much we by nature fight the sad reality of our own sinfulness. Think of this in a political manner. Elected representatives hold a large amount of power. For example, even in most of the world’s democracies, the national leader can declare war. No one votes on whether or not their nation should go to war, such a decision could never be made fast enough. And so, we expect our elected representatives to act for us, or on our behalf. So let’s imagine a situation. Say our nation declared war on Canada. Maybe they’re hoarding all the maple syrup or something. It’s farfetched I know, we love our neighbors to the North. But imagine that’s the case and imagine you’re in a discussion with a Canadian about the war and they said, ‘Why are you at war with us?!’ You could respond and say, ‘Well, I’m not at war with Canada! I didn’t even vote for the President, my candidate lost!’ Such a statement is understandable but it doesn’t make sense, because even if you voted for the other candidate who lost, the moment a candidate is elected they become our representative…for better or worse.
Come back to v12. See what’s happening? Adam is our representative head. This is even seen in his name, Adam means man or mankind. So though we may fight against it and say it’s not fair, we need to remember that in His infinite wisdom, God not only chose but created Adam to be our representative. If we think we could’ve done a better job than Adam or that God could’ve made a better choice than Adam… we’ve got far bigger issues. Bottom line: what’s true of Adam is true of us. Adam’s disobedience is our disobedience. Adam’s guilt is our guilt. Adam’s fall into death is our fall into death. And death, notice in v13-14, began to reign and continued to reign from this point on. Even in the time between Adam and Moses before the law had been given.
Is there then no hope? There would be none, except for the last phrase in v14. “…Adam, who was a type of the One who was to come.” This word ‘type’ is an important one. It means pattern or preview and shows us that Adam, as our representative head, is a preview of a similar but greater representative Head who will one day come! As the passage doesn’t leave us in the dark as to who brought sin into the world, it doesn’t leave us in the dark as to who this greater One to come is, it’s the Lord Jesus. But that raises questions: how is Adam a preview of Christ? How are they different? How are they the similar? This is where Paul turns next…
Adam and Christ: How they’re Different (v15-17)
“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. 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. 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.”
Adam and Christ are indeed the two representative heads of all humanity. But here in v15-17 we see three differences between them.
First, the motivation is different. Right away in v15 we see this. Adam’s action is called a trespass, while Christ’s action is called a free gift. Compare these two motivations. Adam’s task was a simple one. He was to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with God’s image, subduing the earth, and exercising dominion over all living creatures. Christ’s task, in contrast, was to perfectly obey the entire Law of God and willingly give up His life as a sacrifice for sin. Adam was placed in the perfection of Eden, in paradise. He had everything he could ever want, richly provided for him by God. While Christ came into a fallen world, and from the moment of His birth the world rejected Him and made no room for Him. Adam could eat of any tree in the entire garden, including the tree of life. There was only one tree he was to refrain from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While Christ was often hungry and thirsty, and had no place to lay His head. In the context of Eden’s perfection Satan came to tempt Adam, to abandon the command of God and do what he thought was best, and he gave in. While Christ, in the context of His humiliation was tempted by Satan to do the exact same thing, and despite all His suffering He stood firm and did not give in. Adam desired self-exaltation and glory for himself. While Christ humbly sacrificed Himself for the glory of the Father. The motivation could not be more different between Adam and Christ.
Second, the results are different. The results of these two heads of men are opposite in every way. In v15 Adam’s trespass brought death to many, while Christ’s free gift made grace abound for many. In v16 Adam’s sin brought condemnation through his one trespass, while Christ’s free gift brought justification despite many trespasses. And in v17 Adam’s one trespass resulted in the reign of death, while Christ’s free gift of righteousness resulted in an abundance of grace. Simply put, Adam’s work results in ruin while Christ’s work results in rescue.
Third, the power is different. This third difference is more of an implication from the others. Notice in v15 and in v17 Paul uses his ‘much more’ phrase he’s used before in Romans. Notice also in v17 that the many who receive the righteousness of Christ and abundance of grace will ‘reign in life’ because of it. All of this taken together leads us to say the power of Adam and Christ are different. Yes, Adam unleashed a terrible power in man when he sinned, but Christ is the very power of God to save those who believe. This means, “Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam is to destroy.” This means in Christ we regain everything and more than what we lost in Adam! This means when God saves us, or when we come to be in Christ, God takes us not just simply back to what we were before the fall, He takes us farther on in Christ!
Church, only God could write a story that begins perfect in Adam and gets better in Christ! Adam destroyed, Christ delivers. Adam brought sin, Christ brought salvation. Adam ruined mankind in the fall, Christ rescues all who believe in Him and raises them up to reign in life. In Adam all mankind are born sinners, but in Christ anyone who believes can be born again and made righteous. Adam as the first man was great, but Christ as True Man is greater.
Adam and Christ: How they’re Similar (v18-19)
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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.”
v18-19 gives us one massive similarity between Adam and Christ. This one similarity is stated in both v18 and v19 in different ways but both verses are speaking of the same thing. Both show us that Adam and Christ’s work led to something and made something. Did you see that? Adam’s trespass led to condemnation for all and made many sinners through his disobedience while Christ’s one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all and made many righteous through His obedience.
You should be aware that many use v18 to teach what is called universalism, that all will be saved in the end regardless what they do in life or who they put their faith in. As if God were on top of a mountain and while all mankind might take different roads, all roads lead to the top. This is mistaken. And to use v18 to try to prove this is even more mistaken. Why then does Paul use the word ‘all’ in v18? Because all men, every single human is included in Adam’s fall. But the ‘all’ who justified doesn’t refer to every single human, but only those who believe. All of them have life. And see that what’s present as ‘all’ in v18 is present as ‘many’ in v19 making the same point.
But what’s in view here in the similarity that both Adam and Christ led to something and made something? Well remember earlier I said, “What’s true of Adam is true of us. Adam’s disobedience is our disobedience. Adam’s guilt is our guilt. Adam’s fall into death is our fall into death.” If our connection to Adam leads to this and makes sinners of us, do you see what our connection to Christ leads to and makes of us? All who believe in Christ God unites us to Christ, puts us in Christ such that…what’s true of Christ is true of us. Christ obedience is our obedience. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness. Christ’s victory over death is our victory over death.
Or we could say, in Adam all humanity fell into death and the bad infection spreads. But in Christ a new humanity has dawned and in Him we see all that man is intended to be. And through Him and for Him the good infection is now spreading! I love how Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts this when he says, “Paul seems to stand back and take a grand view of the whole ‘panorama of redemption.’ There we were in Adam, here we are in Christ. And because we are in Christ we are in Him forever and ever, safe and secure.”
Three closing words, getting at the ‘so what’ of this passage:
First, on doctrine … (if you deny a historical Adam you deny sin, Christ, and redemption too)
Second, to those in Christ … (realizing who we are, praise God He has so worked in Christ to bring us out of Adam)
Third, to those in Adam … (if you’ve not embraced Christ, you’re still in Adam, and will be judged as such, turn I pray!)
 The irony in this thought is that it’s self-defeating, because it’s something others tell others.
 J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 133.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 343–344.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q13.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 125.
 Reformation Study Bible, notes on 5:12, 1987.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 127.
 Ibid., 128. Also, see Fesko, 135.
 Ibid., 130.
 Fesko, Romans, 139.
 Calvin’s Commentaries, notes on 5:15, accessed via Accordance Bible software, 2.12.21.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 4 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 182.