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Through One Man (5:12-19)

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Regardless of whether we are rich or poor, whether we are highly educated or have no schooling at all, no matter where we live or whatever our background and culture happens to be, we all have one thing in common: we die. How did death come into the world?

The Bible records how it happened. “The Lord God took the man (that is Adam) and put him 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 you will surely die.”” (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV) Sure enough, Adam ate from the forbidden tree and from that day forward, we all experience death.

However, this raises a question. Why do we die when it was Adam who sinned? In chapter 5 of his inspired letter to the church at Rome, in verses 12 through 14, the Apostle Paul explains it this way, “Therefore as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned. For until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not charged when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those whose sins weren’t like Adam’s disobedience, who is a foreshadowing of him who was to come.”

An important principle of law is that punishment must be appropriate for the crime and only the guilty should receive punishment. If someone is punished for something he didn’t do, then injustice has been done. Adam disobeyed God’s specific command. Therefore he deserved to reap the consequence of disobedience. He died, just as God said he would if he disobeyed, but why must others also die? In this passage Paul provides one answer. Other men than Adam die because they have also sinned.

Paul acknowledges, however that this is only a partial answer. Earlier in his letter he pointed out that those who do not have God’s commandments will not be judged by them. Instead, they will be judged by whether they lived according to the knowledge of God’s will that they had. Here he writes that where there is no law, sin is not taken into account. In spite of this, everyone dies just as though they had broken a commandment.

Earlier Paul wrote that God is just. God must also remain just while He rescues us from the consequences of our sin. This is one reason why Jesus came and sacrificed Himself. Sin must be paid for. Jesus paid our debt. Here we see another reason why Jesus came. God had to overturn the injustice that even those who have not sinned by breaking a command, still die.

In verses 15 through 19 of chapter 5, Paul writes, “But the free gift isn’t like the trespass. For if by the trespass 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. The gift is not as through one who sinned: for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification. For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life. For as through the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.”

Paul writes that there is both a similarity and a contrast between the result of Adam’s action and that of Christ. The similarity is that their one action affected many people. Adam’s sin brought death to many. In the same way, Christ’s sacrifice has given life to many. The contrast is that the condemnation of death came after only one sin. However, Christ brought God’s gift of grace and justification after many trespasses.

From the time of Adam until now death has reigned. It is as if that one man controlled the destiny of the whole human race. From an earthly point of view it looks like death’s reign is absolute. As far as we can see, there is no exception to the fact that all die. Throughout history mankind has sought for something which will overcome death, or at least prolong life. The search has been in vain.

But now in Christ, a new factor has entered in. Death may reign over mankind, but Jesus reigns over death. He said, “...a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out...: (John 5:28-29 NIV) The death sentence we face because of what Adam did will be overturned.

There is another sense in which Christ has broken death’s grip, If we accept God’s gift of grace we will reign in life. In other words, we can have victory over death. One of the reasons Jesus came was to, “...free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:15 NIV)

In Christ we can have victory over death not only in this life, but also in the one to come. In reference to the resurrection, Paul writes in another place, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV)

One sin brought condemnation to us all. One act of righteousness brought life to us all. Have you accepted God’s gift of life?

Though, by giving us life, Christ has done away with the injustice that we die as a consequence of Adam’s sin, we still must face the consequences of our own sin. Though we do not deserve to die because of what Adam did, we certainly do deserve to die because of we have done. If you would like to know more about how we can pay our penalty, then be sure to listen to our next program.