Sin Increased but Grace Abounded
December 11, 2022 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 5:18–21
(Read vv. 12–21) You all know I am a big sports fan. I enjoy watching games on TV, but it’s a special treat to attend a game. It’s so fun to experience the game with a bunch of passionate fans. Baseball fans tend to be more subdued because the season is so long, but it was something else going to experience hockey with Detroit Red Wings fans because they are very passionate. And the energy at football games is always high because they play so few games.
It's particularly fun to see fans dressed like a Lion or a Bear, a Raider or a Viking. Some people spend a ton of money on their costumes, and they are pretty fun. There’s also the guys who hardly wear anything even though it’s freezing cold. A couple weeks ago, I watched Iowa play at Minnesota. The windchill was zero, but the camera showed a bunch of shirtless college guys with their faces and chests painted. Some of it is crazy, but the costumes, the noise, and the energy are all part of the fun.
But while fans are often very invested in the game, they don’t make any plays which determine the game’s outcome. The best fan base in the world is going to leave disappointed if their team stinks, and the worst fan based will leave mildly amused if they happen to follow a good team. Their joy or sadness depends entirely on what someone else does, not on their performance. They are simply along for the ride.
Similarly, Romans 5 teaches that spiritual passion and effort do not determine where you will spend eternity. Just like a football fan can get dressed up in his team’s gear, get excited, but have no effect on the outcome of the game, people can work profusely at doing good deeds and living a good life, but have no effect in earning salvation.
This is because, as we saw last week in vv. 12–17, when Adam sinned, he chose sin and condemnation for all his posterity. And there is nothing I can do to overcome this. How then can I be saved? The answer is that Christ created a new race when he died and rose again, and all who are in Christ will inherit heaven. Therefore, my eternal destiny is not based on what I do but on whether I am under Adam’s headship or Christ’s.
This morning, we will look at vv. 18–21. They further describe how Jesus fixed the mess Adam made, and they highlight the power of God’s grace. It is an encouraging passage which I hope will push all of us to make sure we are in Christ and from there to rejoice and rest in Christ’s finished work. The outline of these verses is rather simple. Paul begins by noting the differing consequences of what Adam and Christ accomplished, and he concludes with the differences in power between the two. First, vv. 18–19 describe...
I. Different Consequences (vv. 18–19)
It’s worth noting that most of our translations have an em dash at the end of v. 12. This is because v. 12 begins a comparison between Adam and Christ, but it doesn’t finish it. Instead, vv. 13–17 break away to make some important clarifications.
But v. 18 picks up the comparison and completes it. So, v. 18 states the central point of vv. 12–21. It tells us that those who are in Christ enjoy…
Eternal Life instead of Condemnation (v. 18): Verse 18 once again mentions Adam’s “one transgression.”. God gave Adam and Eve one rule. They were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Adam and Eve transgressed when they disobeyed that rule.
As a result, they brought condemnation on all of humanity. We call this original sin. God says we all inherit Adam’s depravity and his condemnation. It’s an important truth because many people think they must do something really bad to disqualify themselves from reaching heaven.
But God says you don’t have to do anything to be condemned. We are born condemned. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
This does not mean that we are not also condemned by our own sin. In fact, Bible consistently teaches that God’s judgment will be based on my deeds.
I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but this is an important point to remember concerning the eternal destiny of small children who die. Dr. McCune states, “While Adamic guilt makes everyone damnable, actual damnation appears to entail…deeds as well” (McCune 2:86). So, he is saying that our own transgressions are also necessary. No one will be finally condemned solely for Adam’s sin.
For example, Jesus warned, “The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt 16:27). And Revelation 20:12 states, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” The emphasis in both passages is on my deeds.
So, Dr. McCune concludes, “Works play a significant role in God’s judgment. As such, since infants do not have such works, it is implied that they may not face this final judgment according to their works.” That’s a fair conclusion. Final condemnation must include willful transgression, which small children and severely handicapped people are not capable of committing.
That said, the truth of our text stands. We don’t have to do anything to put ourselves on a path to condemnation. We are born that way.
This includes you. You may be a relatively good person compared to others, but we have all inherited Adam’s condemnation and his depravity. Therefore, even the best of us have committed plenty of sins and have fallen short of God’s perfection. No matter how good you are, you need salvation.
And praise God that Christ provided the solution through his “one act of righteousness.” Christ did many righteous deeds during his life on earth, but this phrase specifically refers to his sacrificial death on the cross. I love how 1 Peter 3:18 describes the significance of this righteous act, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
Jesus took on himself the punishment for all our sins. He bore the condemnation for Adam’s sin and all of mine. He provided the solution we could never provide for ourselves.
As a result, all who are in Christ will receive a very different consequence. We enjoy “justification of life” or more specifically, “justification that leads to life.” We have been declared “not guilty.” Therefore, rather than facing eternity in hell, we look forward to life with God in the perfection of heaven. It’s a truly radical change.
But I do want to emphasize as v. 17 states that this gift only belongs to those who “receive…the gift of righteousness.” I say that because some people have used vv. 18–19 to argue that all people will eventually be saved (universalism). This is because v. 18 says Christ provided “justification of life to all men,” and v. 19 says, “the many were made sinners,” and “the many will be made righteous.” They argue that all who were condemned in Adam will ultimately be saved in Christ. That would be everyone.
But we know that cannot be what Paul means based on v. 17. Chapter 4 was also clear that we are justified by faith alone. Therefore, vv. 18, 19 are not saying that the two groups are identical but that Adam and Christ certainly affect all who are under their headship.
As such, we all must receive the gift of salvation that Jesus provided. And praise the Lord that if we do, v. 18 promises that instead of facing eternal condemnation in hell, we can anticipate eternal life in the glory of heaven. Then v. 19 notes a second change in consequence…
Righteousness instead of Sin (v. 19): Verse 18 focused on the final consequences of either heaven or hell, and now v. 19 turns to the present consequences of being in Adam or Christ.
First, Adam’s disobedience made all of us sinners. It’s important to note that the verb translated “made” both here and at the end of the verse has a range of meanings including, “I bring, appoint, ordain, make.” As well the entire context is concerned with legal, not practical standing.
Therefore, while those who are in Adam are enslaved to sin and those in Christ grow in righteousness, the point in v. 19 is that Adam and all who are in him have a legal standing of “sinner.” It’s similar to how we call someone convicted of murder, a “murderer.” He forever has a legal status of murderer.
Similarly, no matter what good deeds those who are in Adam may do, their standing before God is defined by sin. And there’s nothing they can do to change that standing.
But God provided a solution through the obedience of Christ. We don’t typically think of Christ’s death as obedience, but Jesus had to submit to the Father’s will. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8). We should never take for granted the challenge for Jesus’ human nature to submit to the Father’s will and to the misery and shame of the cross.
Jesus made an incredible sacrifice, but in the process, he became the head of a new humanity, and he opened the way for all who are in him to “be made righteous.” Again, Paul is not saying that God makes us righteous right now. Even the best of us still sin. However, if you are in Christ, God no longer sees you based on your sin but on the righteousness of Christ. God sees Christ’s perfection rather than our sin. Instead of being known as sinners, we are known as righteous. It’s a wonderful gift of God’s grace.
So, whose headship are you under? Does the Bible say you are under Adam or Christ? Verse 17 says that one issue divides the two groups. Have you “received the…”? If you have never humbled yourself to trust in Christ alone, it doesn’t matter what you have done or not done; you are a condemned sinner on your way to hell.
But if you have received Christ by faith, it doesn’t matter what you have done or not done, you are declared righteous, and you are headed to life. I hope all of you have received Christ.
And if you have received Christ, never forget, “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you” (Sinclair Ferguson). Christ is greater than all the brokenness of your soul or anything you have ever done. He can forgive every sin. He will not abandon you through any temptation or struggle. And he will sustain you through every hardship. God’s grace is greater than all our sin! Rest secure under Christ’s headship. In sum, vv. 18–19 describe two radically different consequences for those who are in Christ and those who are in Adam. Verses 20–21 follow by describing two radically different powers.
II. Different Powers (vv. 20–21)
These verses compare two powers—sin and grace. We don’t generally think of sin and grace as powers. In particular, when we think of a gracious person, we may think of a pushover. Maybe you think of a substitute teacher who never gets angry and lets you do whatever you want. That kind of grace is weak, not powerful. But Paul presents a very different picture of God’s mighty grace. He makes his point in two stages. First, v. 20 asserts that…
Grace overpowers sin (v. 20). To this point, Paul has said nothing about how the Law of Moses fits within his contrast between Adam and Christ. Paul’s Jewish readers were certainly curious because the Law covered a lot of history, and it clearly plays a major role in the development of God’s plan.
Paul agrees, but his Jewish readers were surely shocked by the role that Paul says the Law played. Verse 20 says, “The Law came in…” The verb translated “came in” has a negative connotation. It pictures an intruder with evil intentions. So, Paul pictures the Law as intruding the world and bringing great harm.
Specifically, it caused “sin (to) increase.” Once again, when “sin” is used in the singular in Romans, the focus is on sin’s reigning power, not on individual acts of sin. So, Paul is saying that the intrusion of the Law heightened sin’s power.
To be clear, the Law itself was not evil. It was a good gift of God, which Israel celebrated. That’s because it defined what pleases God and what doesn’t, and it pointed Israel toward a right relationship to him. The Law also restrained sin by both defining sin and defining penalties for disobedience.
So, the Law itself is good, but in the hands of sinners it also caused sin’s reigning power to increase. How is that? Notice what Paul said in 4:15. Paul’s point is that the Law defines righteousness. And once God defines his standard, sin becomes more severe because it becomes rebellion against the standard God has established.
Every parent or teacher gets this. Kids are foolish sometimes. You must correct foolishness, but we generally have far stricter punishments for outright disobedience. Afterall, disobeying an objective rule includes a level of rebellion that is not present in foolishness.
And Paul says the Law opened the door for this sort of rebellion among people under sin’s dominion. It put a magnifying glass on human depravity. It demonstrated how desperately we need a Savior.
BTW, that’s good to remember when you read OT stories about human failure. David’s failure with Bathsheba is not just in the Bible to warn you about the danger of sexual temptation, though that point is certainly there. But it’s also there to show you that even David was a sinner. He wasn’t Israel’s ultimate Savior. David needed a Savior, and so do we.
So, v. 20 states that the Law created a terrible mess. The OT emphasizes this. Israel failed far more than they succeeded. They spiral from a mighty people filled with tremendous hope to a tiny community clinging to life by the end of the OT—all because of the reign of sin. The rest of us are no better. The reign of sin is oppressive and destructive. It leaves people miserable and hopelessly condemned.
But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Paul adds, “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” You could also say, “Where sin abounded, grace superabounded.” Yes, sin is a powerful master with devastating consequences. Every human civilization is a testimony to sin’s destructive power. They’re all filled with hatred, narcissism, violence, and suffering. The mess is overwhelming.
But “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you” (Sinclair Ferguson). Jesus overwhelmed the darkness in his death and resurrection. All who are in Christ have been declared righteous. And someday, he will return, and “No more (will) sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Christ will overpower every reach of the Fall and every consequence of sin.
We should be so thankful for the mighty grace of God. “Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.” God’s grace has already overpowered my damnation. And God’s grace will fix every consequence of sin and will someday eradicate sin from God’s creation.
Therefore, it’s worth emphasizing that the gospel is not just a strategy to better your life or to help you feel better about yourself. It contains the mighty power of God’s grace which overwhelms all spiritual darkness. Praise the Lord for the superabounding grace of God in the gospel. The 2nd stage of Paul’s argument is…
Grace replaces death with life (v. 21). This verse finishes the thought of v. 20, and it also puts a bow on the entire argument of vv. 12–21. It does so through a powerful contrast. First, ever since the Fall, sin has “reigned in death” over the entire created order and especially over those in Adam.
I like how Frank Thielman summarizes the point, “Sin reigned in the sphere of death. Sin generates death and rules as a harsh taskmaster over the morbid kingdom it has created.” The reign of death really is morbid. We don’t have to look far to see the destructive effects of sin on people’s lives and society as a whole. But even though destructive effects are obvious, sin’s enslaving and blinding power keeps people marching toward destruction.
And eventually people die, and those without Christ will face eternal death and damnation in the Lake of Fire. So, the reign of sin is powerful, and it is most evident in the reign of death over the unbeliever.
But we can be thankful that God’s grace is infinitely greater. As powerful as sin is, “Even so…” We must not miss the fact that “Jesus Christ our Lord” is the key to all this. Sin and death exerted a ruthless, cocky power. But then Jesus entered the world, and he overpowered sin and death when he paid the price for our sins on the cross and shattered the chains of death in his resurrection.
As a result, his perfect righteousness became a sword that Christ can wield against our sin. When we believe on Christ, he credits his perfect righteousness to us. This righteousness overwhelms our condemnation and makes us acceptable to God. I now belong to him.
As a result, instead of anticipating death, I eagerly await eternal life. I’m going to live with Christ in a perfect world forever and ever. I have a great inheritance and certain hope.
And all of this is summed up in the reign of grace. God’s grace is not weakness. Many gracious people are simply people pleasers with no backbone. That’s not what God’s grace is. It is powerful and effective, but it is also filled with compassion and love.
Praise God for the reign of grace! We should all be so thankful that God provided a 2nd Adam to undo the 1st Adam’s mess. And we should all be thankful that “There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in you.”
So, please make sure that you are truly in Christ. You can’t fix your own mess, but Christ can. So “receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.” You can belong to Christ, you can be forgiven of all your sin, you can live under the reign of grace, and you can look forward to eternity with him. Please be saved.
As we celebrate Christmas, give thanks that Jesus left the glories of heaven to become a man of us so that he could be a 2nd Adam, a Savior for all the world. We don’t usually think of this as a Christmas passage, but it sums up beautifully the significance behind it all. Because Jesus Christ our Lord became a man and died in our place sin no longer reigns in death. Instead, grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life. And that grace will always be greater than all our sin and every other force of Satan. Praise God.
More in Romans
March 19, 2023Bewildered by Legalism
March 12, 2023The “I” of Romans 7
March 5, 2023The Holy and Helpless Law