Romans 5:12-21 is a intricate and complex portion of Scripture. It is pregnant with mystery. It’s all about RUIN and RESCUE. It is one of the hardest passages for our modern mind to understand because it deals with SOLIDARITY and IMPUTATION.
The Jew never really though of himself as an individual but always thought as part of a clan, a family, or nation apart from which he had no real existence. In Joshua 7, we find at the siege of Jericho, Achan kept certain spoils in defiance of the commandment of God that all the spoils should be destroyed.
The next city in the campaign was the siege of Ai, which should have fallen without trouble. The assault against it, however failed disastrously. WHY? Because Achan had sinned, and as a result the, the whole nation was branded as sinner and punished by God.
Achan’s sin was not one man’s sin but the nation’s. The nation was not a collection of individuals; it was a solid mass. What the individual did, the nation did. When Achan’s sin was admitted, it was not he alone who was executed but his whole family. Again, Achan was not a solitary, self-responsible individual—he was one of a solid mass of people from whom he could not be separated.
If we are to understand Romans 5:12-21, we must understand that God does not see ADAM as an individual. He was one of mankind, and because he was one of mankind, his sin was the sin of all men.
The theme of this passage is: By the sin of Adam, all men became sinners and were alienated from God. By the righteousness of one man, all in Christ become made righteous and restored to a right relationship with God.
The key word in this passage is ONE. It is repeated thirteen times and is ascribed to both ADAM and CHRIST. ONE conveys the idea of SOLIDARITY. When God looks at the human race, He sees but two men: ADAM and CHRIST.
The solidarity of the human race divides under two heads. The two heads are set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47—
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.
We read about the first man Adam in the opening pages of the Bible. The first two chapters of Genesis discloses certain details about the creation of Adam and Eve—
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them . . . The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being . . The LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The Creator placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it—
And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it dying you shall die.”
Along comes the Serpent, who is the Devil, and deceives Eve. Genesis 3:6 records—
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
1 Timothy 2:14 states—
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Eve was led astray and frustrated by underhandedness of the Devil. The Scripture says that she became a sinner before Adam. Yet, God did not impute Eve’s sin to the human race but Adam’s. The sin that caused the ruin of the race was willful, determined rebellion on the part of Adam.
Adam was not deceived! He was not tempted or beguiled by the Devil—Adam chose of his own free will to rebel against God! What happen when Adam ate the forbidden fruit? Romans 5:12 tells us that God imputed his sin and its penalty to the entire human race—
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
Was there one original man? Did God create only one pair, and are all descended from them? Were Adam and Eve historical personages? Did they have not contemporaries? The nineteenth century began with an assault on the Bible by the liberal theologians, scientists and educators. The liberals dared not attack Christ directly but came at Him through the back door.
From academic settings, they announced that the early accounts of the OT were nothing more than mere myths, folklores or legends. The result was that multitudes of people do not believe that God created the world, and especially man. Satan is very crafty being who knows that if man rejects the Biblical accounts of creation and the fall of man in Adam, Christ becomes meaningless.
Scripture puts the full blame for human sin on the shoulders of Adam, the father of the human race. All the unborn generations of men were IN ADAM when Adam fell.
Theologians speak of man as being IN ADAM federally and seminally. That is, Adam both represented us and contained us. He was created in the image and likeness of God. However, when Adam’s family began to arrive after the fall, we are expressly told that in Genesis 5:3—
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
Man is created in the image of God. Adam was endowed with the powers of personality that made possible knowing, loving, worshiping and serving the Creator. The created powers of personality were marred and damaged when Adam sinned.
People say, “John gets his blue eyes from his mother’s side, or Mary gets her red hair from her father. Sometime people even say, “he inherits his sour disposition from his grandfather. Shakespeare wrote in
Where the cow and bull are both milk-white, They never do beget a coal-black calf.
So to speak, what happens in physical genetics happens in the spiritual realm. When certain genes disappear from the DNA coding of our ancestors, they can only be replaced in the ancestorial line by one who carries the missing genes. What took place in Adam genetically when he sinned we do not know. But we do know that day the process of death began. Possibly, God altered the DNA coding by restricting the reproduction of cells to specific numbers.
The Bible, however, does tell us what happen to Adam’s spiritual condition—it died! Therefore, Adam could only pass on to his descendant what his image and likeness had become. Adam passed on to every human being a depraved, sinful nature that did not exist at creation. King David realized this truth when he confessed to God in Psalm 51:5—
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
David confessed that his sins sprang from what he is and has been from conception. He sets down for the record the basic fact that the sinful nature was his inheritance as a human being. He was a son of Adam, therefore, a member of a fallen race. As David looked at himself in Psalm 51, he saw a DISEASE—the dreadful and deadly disease of the sinful nature. He cried out to Yahweh—
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
David understood that he was dead in transgressions and sins, that he was following the ways of the world and of the ruler of kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. David realized that he could do absolutely nothing to wash away his iniquity and cleanse himself from sin—only God could do that!
He was powerless, for like all other human beings, he was joined to Adam. He had been born spiritually dead! Like ourselves, what David really needed was to be born again! He needed Titus 3:3-7—
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
You see, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly—- while we were still sinners Christ died for us so that we might be born of the Spirit. REBIRTH is REGENERATION—to be made alive spiritually. RENEWAL is becoming a NEW CREATION in Christ. At the moment of faith, God’s Spirit is restored within us. What Adam ruined, Christ rescued!
The entire human race is joined to Adam. We dare not forget that God’s dreadful decree, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” embraces all mankind. Had there been no sin, there would be no death. Babies die, the good die, the mentally irresponsible die. WHY? Because we are ONE in Adam.
Death was imputed immediately from Adam to each individual descendant of his. All sinned in Adam and death was imputed immediately and directly from Adam to each individual human being that would be born into the world from His seed.
For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Here we have God’s dealings with men during the period from Adam to Moses, until the Law, when there was no Ten Commandments. During this period of history it was demonstrated that death reigned, not because the Law had condemned them to death, but simply because they were the offspring of fallen Adam, and depraved by nature. James 1:15 outlines our sinful nature—
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
We cannot dissociate ourselves from Adam any more than the branch can separate itself from the tree, or the tree from it root. In fact, Adam’s one sin has become full-grown in millions upon millions of sins.
What are we to conclude from God’s instant and utter condemnation of the one act of man’s disobedience? In the face of all the evidence, we must conclude that God wished to manifest His immediate, instantaneous, and complete hatred of sin in any form, even in that which might be considered a minor degree. In the final analysis, there is not first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree sins. Sin is sin, and has potentialities beyond the power of human calculation.
In pre-Civil War days, there was a slave, named Joe, who continually cursed Adam as he worked in the cotton fields, saying, “I don’t deserve this, it’s all Adam’s fault.”
His owner, growing tired of Joe’s constant complaining, decided to teach his slave a lesson. He brought him into the house, dressed him in the finest clothes money could buy, and gave him a place at his own table. Then one day, he said to him, “Joe, everything I have is yours to use as you please. But do you see that little box on the mantle, you may not have it or look in it.”
Within a few days, Joe scummed to his desire to know what his master was withholding from him—what did that little box contain that was so important that he could not see it or have it. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, then made a dash for the mantle and opened the little box. Inside was a note, “Joe, stop you’re blaming Adam, you’re just like him. Now get back to the fields and pick cotton without complaining!”
That’s Paul point—we’re just like Adam— BECAUSE ALL SINNED! For at least 2,500 years people died, entirely apart from the Ten Commandments for sin in its very nature corrupts and destroys. It doesn’t take long for parents to discover that the cute new born baby they hold in their arms is a selfish, self-centered rebel—one in Adam.
When these degenerate children of degenerate parents are detected in their sins, they act just as their parents did; each makes excuses, and lays the blame on another. Just Adam and Even in Genesis 3:11- 13—
And [God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Adam endeavored to be independent of God even when he was caught and all his offspring act in the same way. Isaiah 53:6 declares—
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Notice that verse 14 states that Adam is a PATTERN, literally a TYPE of Christ. How is Adam a type of Christ? Like Adam, Christ is head over the family of God, its Progenitor.
Adam is a type, or picture of Jesus Christ. Adam was tested in a garden, surrounded by beauty and love. Jesus was tempted in a desert, and He died on a cruel cross surrounded by hatred and ugliness.
Adam was a thief, and was cast out of Paradise, but Jesus turned to a thief and said, “Today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The OT is the book of the generations of Adam and it ends with a curse. The NT is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ and it ends with no more curse.
Adam is a type of Christ because of the similarities as well as exact opposites. So Paul writes in verse 15—
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Adam was given dominion over the old creation, he sinned, and he lost his kingdom. Because of Adam’s sin, all mankind is under condemnation and death. Christ came as the King over a new creation. By His obedience on the Cross. He brought in righteousness and justification. Christ not only undid all the damage that Adam’s sin effected, but He accomplished MUCH MORE by making us the very sons of God.
Skeptics sometimes ask, “Was it fair for God to condemn the whole world, just because of one man’s disobedience? The answer, of course, is that it was not only fair; but it was also wise and gracious.
To begin with, if God had tested each human being individually, the result would most likely have been the same—disobedience. But even more important, by condemning the human race through one man— ADAM, God was then able to save the human race through One Man—CHRIST.
Each of us is racially united to Adam, so that his deed affects us. Biblically, the connection to our ancestors goes far beyond what we might like to think. Hebrews 7:9-10 gives this example—
One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Levi was seminally contained in semen or seed of Abraham, his forefather. Likewise all mankind was in the body of Adam, when he sinned and fell, and so we sinned and fell in him.
The fallen angels cannot be saved because they are not a race. They sinned individually and were judged individually. There can be no representative to take their judgment for them and save them. But because you and I were lost in Adam, our racial head, we can be saved in Christ, the Head of the new creation. Yes, God’s plan was both gracious and wise!
Those who died before the Law, died because they were in ADAM’s sin! Man do not die because of their own acts of sin—otherwise, babies would not die. We die, some younger, some older, but sooner or later we die. Man dies because he is untied racially to Adam.
It would seem that being united to Adam is all BAD NEWS! But not so—it’s really GOOD NEWS according to Corinthians 15:22—
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Of course, everyone who sleeps in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. There is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust. But the Good News is that ALL, that is those who are in Christ, will be raised to everlasting life.
Two gifts are contrasted in verse 16—
Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
Adam’s gift to the human race is sin, judgment, condemnation and death. When Adam sinned, he was declared unrighteous and condemned by God. On the other hand, God’s gift of grace to the human race is Christ. For Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross—thereby God exchanged His blood and righteousness for our sins, judgment, and condemnation. Christ died for us!
Two reigns are contrasted in verse 17—
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Because of Adam’s disobedience, death reigned. Read the Account of Adam’s line in Chapter 5 of Genesis and you’ll find the repetitious phrase THEN HE DIED.
Because of Christ’s obedience, life reigns. Jesus announced in John 10:10— I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Not only do believers in Christ receive eternal life, but they also receive abundant life that is beyond measure. Instead of being enslaved by the old sin nature inherited from Adam, we receive a new nature from Christ that is free from the reign of sin. The next four chapters of Romans are among the most important of all the Bible since they tell us how to let the gift of righteousness reign in our life.
Two acts are contrasted in verses 18-19—
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Adam did not have to commit a series of sins to become a sinner. In one act, God tested Adam, and he failed. It is termed a TRESPASS. The Greek term means to to fall beside or near something—a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness.
The consequences of Adam’s fall concern all, just as the free gift through the work of Christ concerns all. The Gospel can thus be applied to all; it goes out to the whole world, to all sinners.
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
One purpose for the LAW being inserted into the human program was to bring man’s sin out in the open where he could see it. As soon as sin could be defined in terms of specific violations, the extent of man’s ruin became apparent. Yet, the more sin was multiplied, the more grace abounded so that it surpassed man’s evil immeasurably.
GRACE was not an addition to God’s plan—grace was from the beginning. God dealt with Adam and Eve in grace; He dealt with the patriarchs in grace. He gave the Law through Moses, not to replace His grace, but to reveal man’s need of grace.
Throughout this section of Romans, there is a sorrowful unfolding of things that proceed from the first Adam to his race. There is sin, trespass, disobedience, condemnation, judgment and death.
Just as all the evils of the human race have sprung from one man and one act, all the blessings of redemption have come from one Man and one act. From the last Adam, there is obedience, grace, a free gift, justification, righteousness, life, and eternal life.
Whenever sin flourished, grace exceeded it. Though sin has exercised a rule to death, grace overcame it and reigned through righteousness to eternal life.
This section of Romans deals with the doctrine of IMPUTATION. In doctrinal language:
- The sin of Adam is imputed to all his descendants—his sin it is reckoned as theirs, and they are dealt with therefore as
- The righteousness of Christ is imputed to all who believe in His righteousness is attributed to them so as to be considered their own.
- Our sins are imputed to Christ as He assumed our “place” in judgment and condemnation and answered the demands of divine justice for
In all these cases the nature of imputation is the same, whether it be imputed sin or righteousness. In this way, God remains holy and just when He declares in Christ an ungodly sinner righteous by the act of one man—whether it be Adam or Christ!
The one-man-method of salvation works on the same basis as the one-man-method of sin. Were it otherwise, God could not save a multitude of sinners with just one Savior. It would take a separate Savior for each sinner!
Thanks to Adam—we are born BANKRUPT—with sin and death reigning in our mortal bodies. But thanks to God—Death has been swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness and life now reigns in us.