A Great Fall and a Greater Grace
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 5:12-17
One of the most famous nursery rhymes of all time is “Humpty Dumpty.” You know how it goes, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.”
If you’ve ever dropped an egg, you know it makes quite the mess. The shell shatters, and the yoke splatters. It doesn’t matter if you have “All the king's horses and all the king's men,” there is no putting that egg together again.
Today’s text also describes a mistake that created a terrible mess. In fact, it’s the biggest mess anyone has ever made. But it also declares incredibly, that Christ can put the pieces together again (read vv. 12–21).
This passage is an important complement to the wonderful assurances that we just celebrated in vv. 1–11. In particular, we enjoy peace with a Holy God. But how is that possible? How can a messy sinner like me be reconciled to God?
Paul answers in vv. 12–21. But you may have noticed that it is a complicated answer, and it is not always easy to follow. It also raises some thorny theological issues that are hard to comprehend and sometimes hard to accept. But it is also filled with tremendous hope because it describes how Jesus can undo the terrible mess Adam created. I love how Sinclair Ferguson summarizes its message, “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you.” Praise God for this hope. But before we get to the hope, we must first appreciate the mess. So, notice in vv. 12–14 that…
I. Adam’s sin was catastrophic (vv. 12–14).
The Entrance of Sin and Death: This passage takes us back to the Garden of Eden, and it gives us some important commentary on what happened there. In fact, this passage is crucial to the Christian doctrines of man, sin, and salvation. It’s very important.
And it’s worth emphasizing that Paul’s argument is built on his assumption that Adam was a real person, and that all humanity descended from him. I say that because we face a lot of pressure to abandon the historical accuracy of Genesis and to adopt some form of theistic evolution. But we must see that this step doesn’t just undercut Genesis, it destroys Paul’s entire argument and does irreparable damage to our doctrines of man, sin, and salvation. These doctrines stand on the historicity of Genesis.
That said, God created Adam and Eve physically and spiritually perfect. They couldn’t get sick or old or even die. They also didn’t sin. And God put them in a perfect world. Life was very good for Adam and Eve.
However, God gave them one rule. They must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Adam and Eve committed the most consequential sin of all time when they disobeyed God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit.
Verse 12 describes the tragic consequences of this sin. First, “sin entered into the world.” Adam and Eve’s hearts radically changed with the fall. Suddenly, they had evil desires, and imagine how stunning it was for them to endure their first fight.
As a result, a second tragic consequence was that death also entered the world. Adam and Eve’s bodies immediately began to age and move toward death. Even worse, they were now spiritually dead and destined for hell apart from divine intervention. I doubt Adam and Eve fully appreciated the extent of the consequences, but I imagine they immediately understand that they had made a terrible mistake. We’re never better off ignoring God and choosing our own path.
The Universal Consequence: And to make matters infinitely worse, their rebellion had drastic consequences for their posterity. Paul adds, “So death spread…” This is a very important statement. It has also been the subject of a lot of controversy going back to the earliest years of the church.
Pelagius was a British theologian who lived from 354–418, and he caused quite a ruckus within the church when he essentially denied v. 12. His disciple, Coelestius, sums up what we now call Pelagianism when he says, “Adam’s sin injured only Adam himself, and not the human race…infants at their birth are in the same state that Adam was before his transgression” (quoted in McCall, p. 282).
So Pelagius taught that we are born a blank slate, neither truly good or evil. We then have the power to determine our own course. While almost all Christianity has rejected his view, our modern world certainly hasn’t. Secular Western philosophy is built on the assumption that man is inherently good and that our problems are fundamentally educational and environmental. It’s hard to overstate how much this sets them on a radically different course from where the biblical doctrine of depravity takes us.
But God is very clear here and throughout the Bible that Adam’s sin brought depravity to all people. Theologians call this original sin. Wayne Grudem gives a simple definition when he says that original sin is, “The guilt and tendency to sin that all people inherit because of Adam’s sin.”
So, our text and the entire Bible teaches that we have all inherited both Adam’s sinful nature and Adam’s condemnation. We are not born inherently good or even as a blank slate. We are born hostile to God and to his Lordship over us. Every toddler is living proof of this fact. You don’t have to teach them how to be selfish, to hit other kids, or to lose their temper. It comes naturally because we are all born depraved.
Now, I doubt many of us would deny that we are depraved, but we might struggle with the idea that we inherited Adam’s guilt. It doesn’t sound fair. But that’s clearly what Paul means when he says, “because all sinned.”
I must note that even among orthodox Christians there is a big divide about what exactly Paul means. Augustine was a contemporary of Pelagius, and he rightly resisted him, but he did so with an idea that is often called Realism or Seminal Headship.
Specifically, he taught that since we all descended from Adam, we were all in his loins, so to speak, when Adam sinned, and in a real sense, we all participated in his decision. So, my corruption and guilt are truly mine because I sinned in Adam.
He got this idea from the last phrase of v. 12, “because all sinned.” However, the rest of the passage doesn’t support his view. In particular, the parallelism between Adam and Christ is central to our text, but we are not justified by being in the loins of Christ when he died on the cross. As well, it’s simply nonsensical to claim that we all willfully participated in Adam’s sin. Genetic potential and willful action are very different.
Therefore, the superior view is often called Federal or Representative Headship. According to this view, when Adam disobeyed, he made his choice as our representative on behalf of all of humanity.
It’s sort of like the coin toss in a football game. When the team captain chooses heads or tails, he acts on behalf of the team. The whole team must live with the consequences of his decision. Similarly, when Adam made his choice to sin, he chose sin for all of us. As a result, the effects of his sin are imputed to all his descendants just as vv. 15–19 will say that Christ’s obedience is also imputed to those who are in Christ.
Most people take this view because it fits the parallelism with Christ much better. We were imputed with Adam’s guilt, but through faith we can be imputed with Christ’s righteousness. We are all born under Adam’s headship, but through faith we can transition to Christ’s headship.
As well, the preposition translated “because” in v. 12 can have several meanings depending on the context. We should probably understand it here as communicating result rather than cause. So, the idea is really that Adam’s depravity and guilt were imputed to us with the result that all sin.
Now, you might struggle with how any of that is fair. That’s why most liberals reject the doctrine of original sin. But we must remember that God doesn’t impute depravity to us. Adam disobeyed God. He brought sin into the world, and we inherit guilt from Adam, not God. So, don’t get mad at God over the evil in the world. Sin destroyed what God created. Get mad at sin.
The Universal Evidence (vv. 13–14): As well, vv. 13–14 follow by noting that regardless of how we feel about what has happened the evidence for inherited depravity is overwhelming. They make this point, by looking back on the period between Adam’s fall and the giving of the Law. These people had no written law of God and very little revelation. So, were these people really sinners? And if they couldn’t break an objective law, were they truly guilty before God.
Paul answers that we know they were sinners is because they all died. “Death reigned from Adam until Moses.” So, Paul’s point is that the presence of death in the world even over those who did not break a specific command of God proves that we all live with the consequences of Adam’s sin.
And we all understand that those consequences are truly catastrophic. We live every day with the pain, sorrow, and violence that Adam brought on the world. And let’s never forget that the worst consequence is condemnation.
So, maybe you are still holding onto the conviction that you are a good person, and you cannot possibly be condemned to hell. “There’s no way I need salvation.” God is very clear. You don’t have to do anything to become guilty before God, even though we all do plenty.
We all need salvation. Adam made a catastrophic mess. This world is broken and so are we. But there is nothing we can do to put the pieces together. We sometimes dream that with the right education, we can create peace both locally and globally, but sinners can’t get there on their own. If there were nothing but the first Adam, humanity would have no hope for a future of anything but sin, violence, destruction, and death. But praise the Lord that there is a 2nd Adam! Verses 15–17 tell us how…
II. Christ overwhelmed the catastrophe (vv. 15–17).
Verses 15–17 contrast Adam’s disobedience and its consequences with Christ’s obedience on the cross and it’s wonderful blessings. The first contrast is in v. 15, where Paul asserts that…
Christ’s obedience is greater than Adam’s disobedience (v. 15). This verse begins by emphasizing once again that Adam made a terrible mess. His transgression brought death to all his descendants. And remember that this death is not only physical. It is also spiritual. We are born separated from God and condemned to hell. Again, Adam created a terrible mess.
And I don’t know about you, but I have never broken an egg and then given any thought to putting it back together. It’s not possible. It would take some serious skill to restore a broken egg. It’s not hard to break an egg (anyone can do that), but it takes next-level talent to fix it.
And on an infinitely greater scale, v. 15 makes the point that Jesus fixed Adam’s catastrophe. Specifically, Jesus brought the “grace of God” into the world. The Bible teaches that he provided this grace through his perfect life, his death, and his resurrection. Never before and never since has anyone displayed such kind, loving, and powerful grace as Jesus did in his perfect obedience and powerful resurrection.
But Jesus didn’t just show off his grace; he also offers “the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ.” This incredible grace is available simply by faith. So, Jesus provided the means for us to escape the mess that Adam made—the sin, death, and judgment which he brought into the world. He fixed the mess.
Now, sometimes we sort of fix breakable items. Have you ever broken a vase, and then glued it together? I’m terrible at that sort of thing, but even if you are much more skilled than I am, a broken vase is never the same even if you do a decent job of gluing back together.
But v. 15 emphasizes the fact that Jesus didn’t just “bubble gum and baling wire” sinners together. He provided “abounding” grace which is far greater than Adam’s sin and it’s consequences.
This is the main point of v. 15. It’s why the verse begins by saying Christ’s work is “not like the transgression.” It’s different because it is infinitely more powerful. Jesus overwhelmed the devastating consequences of Adam’s sin.
Sometimes we talk about the fact that Christ came to restore all that was lost through the curse. And this is certainly true. Many of our Christmas songs acknowledge this. For example, “Joy to the World” says, “No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Christ didn’t come merely to give us eternal life but also to reconcile people to each other, to bring “peace on earth,” and to fix every place that the curse reached.
But v. 15 notes that Christ will do more than simply restore pre-Fall conditions. Revelation teaches that the New Heavens and the New Earth will be far better than the Garden of Eden. And I will be better than Adam was. I won’t just be without sin; I won’t have the capacity to sin. And through the story of redemption with all of its highs and lows, I will know God’s glory and be able to worship him with a depth that Adam could not possibly enjoy.
God’s plan is truly incredible. And we should all rejoice today that the grace of God is infinitely more powerful than curse of sin. “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you.” The 2nd contrast is in vv. 16–17, where Paul asserts that…
Christ’s work brings better consequences (vv. 16–17). Verse 16 begins by again noting that Christ’s work is very different from Adam’s. Paul then contrasts two consequences of Adam’s sin with two consequences of Christ’s death. First…
We can receive justification instead of condemnation (v. 16). Paul begins by again stating that Adam brought condemnation on all his descendants. There’s simply no Pelagianism in Paul. He strongly believed in original sin, and he believed that Adam’s “one transgression” brought condemnation to all his posterity.
But once again, as consequential as Adam’s sin was, Paul declares that the work of Christ was even greater. When Jesus was born, he didn’t merely need to resolve “one transgression” because that one sin turned into infinite sins.
But Jesus provided an infinitely valuable atonement on the cross. And through his death, he offers a “free gift” that can answer every sin and provide justification. He is able to completely cleanse the every trace of our sin and replace it with the declaration, “not guilty.”
I hope that we will never grow so familiar with the gospel that we lose sight of how amazing that is. We’re going to sin in a bit about the fact that, “Our sins they are many.” Apart from Christ, I am a mess, and I make a terrible mess. But Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cleanse it all. “His mercy is more!”
Maybe you came into church today burdened with guilt and discouraged about your spiritual progress. Be encouraged that no matter how great of a mess you have made, God’s mercy is more. “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you.” So, run to him, confess your sin, cry out for strength, and keep going.
And if you have never received Christ, please believe on him today. No matter what you have done and no matter how broken you are, God’s mercy is more than your sin. Repent of your sin, and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord. The 2nd consequence of Christ’s death is that…
We can dwell in life instead of death (v. 17). This verse teaches that death and eternal life are not just consequences that we will face someday. Paul says that death is a power that dominates the life of every unbeliever. Chapter 6 will say the same about sin. The unbeliever does not just commit sins; sin and death reign over his life. He lives for himself, he is blinded to God’s truth, and he is marching toward hell.
Similarly, spiritual life is not just an inheritance that comes after death. Instead, we receive life the moment we are saved. The Holy Spirit lives inside us. We have joy and peace. We love God and live for what is truly important, and we are progressively becoming more and more like Jesus.
And incredibly we who were once under the reign of death, will one day “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” We won’t just be citizens of the Kingdom; we will rule and reign over the Kingdom under Christ. It’s incredible to ponder.
I think of Joseph. One day he was in the bottom of a disgusting, cruel Egyptian prison—dirty, unkept, and foul. The next day he was ruling one step below Pharoah in glory and power. It’s amazing what Christ provided. All of us who are in Christ should be incredibly grateful for “the abundance of grace.”
But I do want to emphasize that everyone does not possess this grace. Someone might interpret the universal language of this passage to mean that just like Adam’s sin corrupted everyone, so also Christ’s obedience will save everyone. The Bible repeatedly teaches that this is not so and even that most people will end up in hell.
But Paul also makes this point explicit in v. 17 when he says that the only people who will “reign in life” are those who “receive the abundance…” You must receive Christ as a gift. That takes humility. You must admit that you need saving and that you can’t do it yourself. And then it takes faith that Christ is able to save. If you have never received Christ, please receive his gift of salvation today. You can leave knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you will reign in life with him someday.
In conclusion, this passage begins with darkest news imaginable. Adam created a catastrophe. But it ends with the best news possible. Christ overwhelmed the catastrophe. It’s great news even for us who are saved because we are all a mess. But don’t get discouraged. “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you.” God can forgive every sin. He can help you overcome every struggle. He can sustain you through every hardship of life in a sin-cursed world. Someday, you will reign in life with Christ, and every hardship of this life will fade into insignificance. So remember what Christ did. Stay encouraged. Keep fighting. Tell others about the hope they can enjoy. And keep a clear vision of the future grace that is sure to come.