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Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ February 16, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 5:12-21.

Summary: In this passage, Paul summarizes his argument from the preceding passage – we have been justified by one man, Jesus Christ – and drives it home with a well-reasoned analogy between Christ and the first man, Adam. To start things off, Paul asserts that Adam’s sin was the cause of

  • man committing sinful acts
  • man being born with a corrupt nature
  • man’s condemnation and punishment by God.

Clearly those who violated the Mosaic law were subject to punishment for their sins; thus, to prove this claim, he notes that people were sinners and were regarded as sinners by God before the appearance of the Mosaic law. Also, during that time period, some were subject to the penalties of sin even though they had not sinned; since we cannot ascribe these penalties to their violation of either the Mosaic law or the natural law that was written on their hearts, we must conclude that Adam’s sin is the basis for the penalties that they – and, by extension, all mankind – are subject to. Now, by providing this illustration, Paul has placed the reader in a better position to understand the work of Christ; just as Adam’s sin was imputed to us, so Christ’s righteousness is also imputed to those who put their faith in Him. This, in a nutshell, is the analogy between Adam and Christ, yet it should be stressed that the work of Christ was even more awesome than the devastation that was caused by Adam’s initial sinful act; by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam effectively brought condemnation to all men, while Christ’s righteousness and sacrifice effectively cancelled out the sins that were committed by all mankind. We can then infer that just as Adam’s sin caused us to be regarded and treated as sinners, so Christ’s righteousness allowed those who trust in Him to be regarded and treated as being righteous. Paul concludes this passage by referring back to the Mosaic and the natural law; he states that they existed to show people the enormity of their sin and to direct them to God as the sole source of their hope for salvation. By being confronted with the heinousness of their sin, people could truly cling to and appreciate the saving grace of God, which is demonstrated through Christ.

Thoughts: The church has witnessed countless debates over the centuries regarding the primary cause of mankind being subject to condemnation and punishment – including physical death – by God for sin. Some, including Pelagius, say that the sins that we personally commit are the primary cause of our condemnation and punishment. Others, including Calvin, assert that the corrupt nature that we inherit from Adam is the cause in question. A third group claims “that all men actually sinned in Adam,” and Hodge summarizes their position as follows:

…and that his act was not merely representatively their act, but theirs in the strict sense of the word. He was not simply a man, one among many, but the man, in whom humanity was concentrated as a generic life. His action was an action of that generic humanity and was the action of all the individuals in whom human nature subsequently developed.

Finally, a fourth group that includes Hodge asserts that Adam’s trespass in the Garden of Eden is the cause in question; that is, Adam’s sin is imputed to us and is the basis of our condemnation and subsequent punishment. Hodge furnishes several well-reasoned arguments to support his position, including an explanation of how it meshes with Paul’s exposition thus far.

Verse 14 contains an interesting statement that Hodge employs in support of the doctrine of imputation of sin – that even those who did not personally follow Adam’s sinful example were still subject to condemnation and punishment for sin. Hodge explains this somewhat nebulous statement as follows:

Paul says simply that the people referred to did not sin as Adam did. Whether he means that they did not sin at all, that they were not sinners in the ordinary sense of that term, or that they had not sinned against the same kind of law, depends on the context and is not determined by the expression itself.

Now, if Paul is actually stating that a certain class of people did not personally sin before the revelation of the Mosaic law, yet were still subject to punishment for sin, that would be quite confusing; who were these people? Eventually I concluded that he would be referring to infants, who by general agreement are not conscious of their inherent sinfulness and do not personally sin.

Verses 15-17 and 20-21 effectively illustrate not just the analogy between Adam and Christ but the awesomeness of Christ in comparison to Adam. Hodge states Christ’s awesomeness as follows:

That is, great as is the prevalence of sin, as seen and felt in the light of God’s holy law, yet over all this evil the grace of the Gospel has increased. The Gospel or the grace of God has proved itself much more efficacious in producing good than sin in producing evil…that is, in the sphere in which sin abounded – there, in the same sphere, grace superabounded.

Aside from Hodge’s use of the word “superabounded,” which delighted me to no end, it is clear that Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice was the most awesome act of all time. It cannot be overstated that Christ’s sacrifice achieved a great victory over sin, including the initial sinful act of Adam and the sins of all humanity for all time. He broke the power of sin over mankind, cancelled out all of the sins that have been and will be committed, and restored those who trust in Him to the original purpose for which they were designed.

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