Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 2, 2002
Death. Even in a society in which the harsh reality of its personal nature has been diminished by
making it an entertainment element in drama, which moves it a step into the world of make believe, and
by moving those who are dying into the more sterile environments of hospitals and nursing facilities
where professionals deal with the death process instead of us, the word still has a cold, bone chilling
sound to it. Death. As much as anyone might even make a calculated effort to distance themselves from
its reality, it is still there and cannot be removed. The news of the death of someone we do not know is a
distant reality we can set off to the corner of our mind, but what can you do about the people you know
that suddenly are no longer around because they have died. If it be an older relative or friend of the
generation of your grandparents or parents, you look in the mirror and realize that your own generation
will face the same fate. If it be someone of your own generation, denials cannot remove the haunting
knowledge that you could be the next one being lowered into the cold ground. If it be someone younger,
you realize that you are living on borrowed time and it is running out.
The hymn writer put it this way,
Time, like an ever rolling stream, Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream. Dies at the op’ning day.
Why is there death? What is its origin? Has anyone ever conquered it? And if so, can they enable me
to do the same? Paul answers those questions and more in Romans 5:12-21 as he continues to explain
some of the ramifications of being justified by faith in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work.
Follow along as I read through the passage, and then we will come back and look at it in detail.
Before we do, though, let me briefly point out again the context of the passage.
Notice that verse 12 begins with the word, "therefore." Paul uses that to point us back to what he has
already said as the basis for what he is going to say. The purpose of what he is going to discuss next is
directly related to what he has just said. That is an important point, because this is another passage that
is often used by theologians as if it had no relationship to Paul’s previous discussion. If the context is not
kept in mind, then a correct interpretation is impossible.
Paul has already demonstrated that the natural state of all men is that they are under the wrath of God
because they are ungodly and unrighteous (1:18-3:20). Only those who have had been justified as a gift
of God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus through faith in Him and His work of
atonement escape God’s wrath and have a hope for eternity with Him as part of His family. In chapter
4, Paul uses Abraham as the example of this kind of faith.
In chapter 5 Paul begins to detail out some of the ramifications of being justified by faith in Christ
Jesus. Among them are peace with God and being able to take great joy in the hope of the glory of God,
in tribulations because of what God does through them in maturing the believer, and in God Himself for
reconciling us to Himself through the Lord Jesus. The foundation for being able to rejoice in the midst of
tribulations is that God’s love has been proven for all time and eternity in the death of Jesus Christ on
The logical question that would come up now is how could the death of one person, Jesus Christ, be
applied to the many people that believe in him. Paul deals with this issue in verses 12-21 by pointing out
the effect of one man, Adam, in bringing sin and its consequences on all mankind and contrasting that
with what Jesus did.
Romans 5:12-21 (NASB) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death
through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– 13 for until the Law sin was in the
world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until
Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him
who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one
the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ,
abound to the many. 16 And the gift is not like [that which came] through the one who sinned; for on the
one hand the judgment [arose] from one [transgression] resulting in condemnation, but on the other
hand the free gift [arose] from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the
transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of
grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as
through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of
righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s
disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be
made righteous. 20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased,
grace abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through
righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Origin of Sin (vs. 12-14)
Sin’s Entrance into the World (12)
Going back up to verse 12, we find the way in which sin entered the world. Paul expects his readers
to be familiar with the truth of this story from Genesis 3. Most of you know that passage. God created
Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam in Gen. 2:16,17, "From any tree
of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not
eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die." The only prohibition upon Adam was to
refrain from eating from the one tree. Everything else was available to him.
In Genesis 3 we find that Satan uses the serpent (Rev. 12:9) to entice Eve to eat from this very tree.
He contradicts God’s warning that she would die (vs. 4) and then continues his lie saying "For God
knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good
and evil." Eve is deceived and believes the lie and in her desire to be like God, she eats. She then gives
some of the fruit to Adam, who was with her, and he also eats and transgresses the commandment that
God gave to him. It is at this point in time that sin enters into the world, referring to the dwelling place
The origin of sin in the universe goes back to when Satan, also known as the devil, Beelzubul and by
his angelic name, Lucifer (Star of the Morning) was filled with pride and tried to ascend to make himself
like the Most High God (Isa. 14:12f). This occurred sometime prior to his temptation of Eve.
Please note that sin entered through the action of one man, Adam. Eve, who would have received
God’s command through Adam, was deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). Adam had received the command directly
from God and consciously violated it despite the warning about the consequence. It is in Adam that all
die (1 Cor. 15:22).
Sin’s Spread to All Men (12)
The consequences of Adam’s sin are immediately felt. The Serpent is cursed. Eve is cursed. Adam is
cursed and even the Earth is cursed (Gen. 3:14-19). They were then separated from God, which is
spiritual death, and the process of physical death began. God had warned Adam that the wages of sin
would be death, and due to Adam’s sin, death now also enters the world. It then spread to all men
because they receive from Adam a sin nature for which they are also guilty and by which they also miss
the mark of God’s righteousness.
Please note that this requires Adam and Eve to be the first humans. All humans are affected by
Adam’s sin because all humans are his descendants. Any thoughts about man existing prior to Adam and
Eve or there being other humans existing that are not their offspring is foolishness. If there were, then
there would be a race of people who would not be Adam’s descendants and therefore would not carry his
sin nature. But the evidence that all people are descendants of Adam is obvious, for every human suffers
the consequence of Adam’s inherited sin. They die.
Evolution is a foolish idea on every level. First, it contradicts the testimony of the only one that was
there as an eyewitness – God. Second, it contradicts known laws of physics (2nd Law of
Theromodynamics) and math (probability). Third, though those who espouse evolution proclaim
themselves to be scientific / naturalistic, they do not follow the scientific method, for they purposely
ignore and exclude all evidence that does not fit their hypothesis.
Yet, this foolish idea has led many professing Christians to disregard what Paul says here about the
origin and extent of sin in the world. Many claim that Adam was mythical. Some claim that man is
inherently good instead of evil. Their idea of redeeming man is wrapped up in changing his environment,
circumstances or giving drugs or psychotherapy so that this supposed goodness can come out.
Jesus died on behalf of sinners who are that way because of an inherited sin nature which they
confirm by their own sin. The universality of the condition is seen in that all bear its consequence. Death
spread to all men and no amount of environmental manipulation or therapy can change that. Man’s only
hope is in having the penalty of his sin removed and his nature changed.
Sin’s Universality (13)
How widespread was the sin problem? Paul goes back in verse 13 to a point he had made earlier.
While sin is not imputed where there is no law, there has always been law. Though the Mosaic law was
the most detailed giving of God’s commands, God’s law existed prior to the coming of the Mosaic law.
Specific commands had been given regarding sacrifices and such, and God had placed within man what
Paul referred to in chapter 2 as "the law written in their hearts," their conscience. Paul gives the proof of
this universal spread of sin in the world in verse 14. It is the reign of death.
Sin’s Reign of Death (14)
Genesis 5 has always been an interesting chapter to people because of the long lives lived by the
patriarchs. Adam – 930. Seth -912. Enosh – 905. Kenan – 910. Mahalalel – 895. Jared – 962. Methuselah –
969. But as amazing as their length of life is to us, there is something very ordinary about all of them
except Enoch who lived 365 years and then "was not, for God took him." Every other person died. The
truth is that genealogies are records of birth followed by death. Death has reigned over man since
Paul specifically points out death’s reign prior to Moses even over those who had not sinned in the
likeness of Adam’s offense. What is Paul talking about? Again, remember that Paul is responding to the
idea that sin would not be imputed without the law and that the law came with Moses. While Paul would
agree with the first part of the premise, he is showing that sin existed prior to the Mosaic law and
therefore law existed before then as well. Paul has already pointed out the law of conscience that people
violated and confirm themselves as sinners. But now he is showing the universality of Adam’s sin
imputed to all people.
The reign of death is over not only those who have sinned in the likeness of Adam’s offense, but also
those who have not sinned in that manner. What was Adam’s offense? Direct disobedience to God’s
command. Who are those who have not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s offense and yet still die?
Infants. While it could be argued that infants are innocent because they have not consciously violated
any of God’s commands, the fact is that they are not innocent, but sinners because Adam’s sin is
imputed to them. (Ps. 51:5, David said, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother
conceived me"). When a baby is born, a sinner comes into the world, and given the opportunity, that
baby will express that sin nature even before there is a conscious awareness of right and wrong. People
are not sinners because they sin. They sin because they are sinners. People lie because they are liars.
They steal because they are thieves. They murder because they were already murders at heart before they
took action. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples in Mark 7:21 – "For from within, out of the heart
of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting [and]
wickedness, [as well as] deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride [and] foolishness. 23 All these evil
things proceed from within and defile the man." That evil is there from conception. The proof? Infants
also die. Death is the penalty of sin, and the death of those who have not consciously sinned
demonstrates that our sin problem is greater than just our own deeds. All humans bear Adam’s sin and
Obviously there will be those that would argue that this is not fair. I agree. If God was fair, he would
have destroyed Adam and Eve while they were in the garden and none of us would exist. Yet, God in
His mercy has allowed us to exist, and in His grace has made a way in which both our sin nature and
guilt can be removed. It comes in a similar way in which we received our sin nature.
Adam is a type of Christ in this. Adam is the one that sinned, but we have his sin imputed to us as his
descendants. In Adam all die (1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus is the one that lived righteously and then willing paid
for our sins. We have our sins forgiven and His righteousness imputed to us in being adopted into His
family. In Him we are made alive (1 cor. 15:22). Yet, as Paul will explain in verses 15-21, that is as far
as the typeology of Adam goes.
The Origin of Hope (15-21)
The origin of our hope for the future is in our justification through faith in the person and work of
Jesus Christ. However, the imputation of His righteousness to us is very different from our
condemnation in Adam. Paul sets out these contrasts starting in verse 15.
The Transgression vs. God’s Grace (15)
The first contrast is the transgression verses the free gift that comes by God’s Grace. The
transgression refers Adam’s sin. The word Paul uses here (cavrisma / charisma) that is translated as
"free gift" is a gift that comes out of grace. It could even be translated as "grace gift." By definition,
every gift is free, but all of us know there are certain gifts we give because there is an obligation of some
sort – Birthday, Anniversary, Christmas, etc. The emphasis here is that the gift is given out of grace
alone. The one receiving it is not deserving. The idea would be expressed in going to the jail and giving
presents to the inmates even though you were recently robbed.
By the transgression of the one, Adam, many died. Even greater than this, the grace of God abounded
to the many through the gift of life that came through the one Man, Jesus Christ. Paul uses "many" here
and in verse 19 and the word "all" in verse 18 as literary parallels, but the meaning of the words were
defined by what Paul has previously said about those included in the "many" and the "all." The many
that die because of the one transgression are all those that are not justified through faith in Jesus Christ.
All humans will die physically, except for those Christians raptured a Jesus’ return, but the second death
of being eternally separated from God and cast into the lake of fire only applies to the many whose
names are not written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). God’s grace gift that comes through Jesus Christ
only goes to the many whose names are in the Book of Life. In Adam, men die. In Christ, men live.
The Judgement vs. The Free Gift (16)
In verse 16 Paul contrasts the judgement with the free gift. Adam’s one transgression brought God’s
judgement and His just condemnation upon all mankind. One sin plummeted all people into sinfulness
and God’s judgement and condemnation. Why? Because all humans were in Adam at the time of the sin.
It was Adam’s personal sin, but our sin because we were in him. What do I mean that? Hebrews 7 gives
us an illustration of this concept.
In that passage the writer is demonstrating the superiority of the priest, Melchizedek, who is a type
of Christ, to the Levitical priests. To prove his case he goes to the time in which Abraham paid a tithe to
Melchizedek from the spoils of a battle he had just won. 4"Now observe how great this man was to
whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi
who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is,
from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not
traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But
without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but
in that case one [receives them], of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through
Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when
Melchizedek met him."
That is the same idea that Paul speaks of here in terms of us being in Adam at the time of his
transgression. We may not like that, but that is the reality of the situation. His one sin brought all under
God’s judgement and condemnation.
In contrast to that, the free gift of salvation that comes from Christ brings about justification for the
many transgressions committed by the many. One sin brought condemnation to all in Adam. One gift in
Christ brings justification of the many sins of the many sinners.
It is sobering to consider God’s hatred of sin expressed in this verse. It is so great, that it only took
one sin to bring about the condemnation of all mankind. At the same time, what a thrilling truth to also
see in the same verse that God’s love is so great for the sinner that He provided for the redemption of all
men in Christ. The love is greater than the hatred, for the love must cover a multitude of the hated
Reign of Death vs. Reign of Life (17)
In verse 17 Paul contrasts the reign of death with the abounding reign of life that comes through
Christ. Again, Paul points out the universal consequence on all men that Adam’s sin brought. "By the
transgression of the one, death reigned through the one." Contrasted to this is the abundance of grace
and its consequences that are received by those justified by Christ. They not only have their sin problem
taken care of, but as Paul points out here, they also gain the gift of righteousness in Christ and will reign
in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
The idea of reigning in life through Christ is expressed in several passages. In John 10:10 Jesus said,
"I came that they might have life, and might have [it] abundantly." This life is not just existence, but a
quality of life that can be experienced when you know and live for the Lord. It is a life in which the very
purpose of your existence is fulfilled in glorifying God and in which you cannot be lonely and will
always be secure because Jesus has promised to never forsake you and has sent the Holy Spirit to
indwell you as proof of that promise. It is a life in which the power of sin is broken and in which we can
live in righteousness. We will see more on that in Romans 6. It is a life that looks forward to the future
in which we will be blessed by God the Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for us before the
foundation of the world" (Mt. 25:34). It is a life in which we will reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12).
In Adam, death reigns. In Christ, life reigns.
Condemnation vs. Justification (18)
In verse 18 Paul parallels the condemnation that comes through Adam with the justification that
comes through Christ by showing their similarities as well as their divergent results. "So then as through
one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness
there resulted justification of life to all men." One sin brought condemnation. One act of righteousness
brings justification. As pointed out earlier, Paul’s usage of "all" in this verse is a literary device of
parallelism. The meaning of "all" in each phrase has already been defined by what Paul has said earlier.
This verse cannot be properly used to teach the idea of universal salvation.
In Adam all people are condemned. Every human is "born dead in trespasses and sin" (Eph. 2:1).
Christ’s act of righteousness is sufficient for the salvation of every human, but only those who believe in
Him are justified by it (Rom. 3:28).
Paul explains further the nature of the transgression and act of righteousness in verse 19.
One Man’s Disobedience vs. The Obedience of the One (19)
"For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the
obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." The nature of Adam’s transgression was
disobedience. Transgression means to trespass. It is to step off the path into a place you don’t belong,
hence, a deviation from truth and righteousness which is sin. The nature of Jesus’ act of righteousness
was one of obedience. He remained on the path and true despite all the obstacles placed before Him. The
"act of righteousness" referred to in verse 18 encompasses all of Jesus’ acts of obedience to the Father’s
will. It is His coming to Earth and becoming a man (Phil. 2:5f). It is living a sinless life (Heb. 4:15). It is
suffering and dying in atonement for our sins and as the propitiation (Rom. 3:24,25).
Adam’s disobedience brought death. It separated man from God. Jesus’ obedience brought life and
enabled man to be righteous so that he would no longer be separated from God.
Consequence of Law vs. Consequence of Grace (20,21)
Paul concludes in verses 20,21 with a contrast of the consequences of law verses the consequences of
grace. "And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace
abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness
to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Those that still wanted to live according to the law must face the fact that the law can only condemn
them. Its very existence promotes sinfulness more than righteousness for people are inherently sinful and
the law only defines out for them new ways to be disobedient. Who wants to touch the door until there is
a sign on it that says, "Wet Paint, Do not Touch"? The speed limit is set at 55 and most people drive 60
to 70. Change the speed limit to 65 and most people change with it and now drive 70 – 80. The law was
never meant to be a means by which a person could establish themselves as righteous. Rather, it always
has been a tutor (Gal. 3:24) to teach us the holiness of God and our unholiness so that we might cry out
to Him for mercy. The law is not the problem. Our sinful nature is the problem.
We must praise the Lord that where sin increased, His grace increased even more, for it was out of
that grace that we have been extended righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Why are people evil? Because of the sinful nature they inherit from Adam. They confirm it with their
own actions. The only hope to break sin’s grip on our lives is being justified through faith in Jesus
Christ. Are you under Adam’s condemnation or God’s grace?