God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002



In this passage Paul pulls together all that he has taught so far. He reaches back to his description of human sinfulness that started in chapter 1:18, and taking up the fact of our common human sinfulness, and our common human condemnation under the wrath of God, he teaches that Adam's sin, not the law, made all men sinners, and brought death and condemnation/judgement on all men. The law came in afterwards, defining and identifying sin, increasing our knowledge and understanding of the nature and power of sin (3:20; 7:7ff), convicting us of sin. Because of the sinfulness of our human ('in Adam') nature, the law actually provoked ongoing rebellion (Compare 7:7-25). Thus 'in Adam' we are under the reign of (or slaves of) the sin/law/death trilogy of condemnation.

At the same time as he sums up the reality of our human 'in Adam' existence under this trilogy of condemnation, Paul describes the contrasting reality that 'in Christ' we are under the more powerful reign of (or slaves of) the (faith)/grace/life trilogy of justification (righteousness).

A. What happened as a result of Adam's action?

Paul teaches that through the one sin of the one man, Adam,

  • Sin entered the world. 5.12
  • Death entered the world. 5:12
  • Death come to all men. 5:12
  • Death reigned. 5:14
  • Many die by the trespass of the one man. 5:15
  • The judgement followed one sin. 5:16
  • And brought condemnation. 5:16
  • Death reigned through one man. 5:17
  • Condemnation for all men. 5.18
  • Many made sinners. 5:19
  • Sin reigned in death. 5:21

[1] These verses assume the reality and accuracy of the Genesis 1-3 records. They assume that there was a time when Adam, along with his wife Eve, existed as the only human beings in a perfect world in which neither sin nor death were present. They also assume that the first humans were created accountable to God and his command, leaving no room for the idea of gradual evolution from one (non-human) species into another (human) species. They leave no room for the long ages of death and destruction and suffering prior to this first, original sin. The presence of other people at the same time, and the existence of suffering and death before this sin of Adam, would negate Paul's teaching in this chapter, for his whole argument depends on the entire human race being the descendants of the one man, Adam. Just as physically every human being that has ever existed was 'in Adam', so Paul says, we were all 'in Adam' spiritually when he chose to disobey God's command and by that choice brought death to himself and every one of his descendants. In his sin we sinned, and each one of us also sins individually, just as he sinned individually. Each one of us is trapped under the power of sin and the consequent death that entered the world through Adam's original sin. Ever since Genesis 3 we have lived in an abnormal world, not the world as it was created by God. There was no sin in the world when God created it. There was no death in the world as God created it. Adam's sin brought both into the world.

[2] We must not understand this 'death' to be speaking only of physical death. In its fullest sense it includes, indeed in Paul's teaching here, it focuses on, death as a severance of the relationship between man and God. Death is severance, separation. At the physical level it is severance from physical life, it is severance of the soul/spirit from the body. At a personal level it is the severance of human relationships - that permanent separation that causes the greatest grief at the time of a loved one's physical death. At a spiritual level it is severance from God: sin separates the sinner from God, from God who is the source and goal of every human life whether we realize it or not; sin separates us from the one and only place where we can be truly and fully human. When Adam sinned, he died. Physically, the process of death and degeneration began at that moment. Spiritually, the death, the severance from God, was instantaneous. The record of Genesis 3 makes that clear. Shame is there. Guilt is there. The perceived need to defend, preserve, and justify oneself in the presence of God is there. Suddenly this man is aware of himself as he never had been before, and it is a destructive, tortured awareness. No longer the peaceful communion that had been between him and God prior to his sin. He, by his choice, severed himself from life with God, and there is nothing left to sustain him spiritually, for man's spirit lives only when united to God. For this reason the Bible teaches that we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1,5; Colossians 2:13). For this reason a restoration of (spiritual) life is possible only in and through reunion with God - a truth that is powerfully presented by Jesus Christ and recorded by John in his Gospel and first letter.

[3] These verses also teach that condemnation and judgement entered the world and came upon all people through the one sin of the one man, Adam. In union with him, in our identification with him, we are all under this judgement and condemnation. No one escapes it. The entry of the law by which sin is identified, confirms this fact of our common sinfulness, indeed, like the one original command (Genesis 2:17) it brings our rebellion against God out in the open - it exposes our sin by provoking it. The whole human race lives under this tyrannical reign of sin, of death, and of law. By this powerful trilogy we are all condemned - banned for ever from the right to live in the presence of God.

B. What happens as a result of Christ's action?

Paul teaches that through the one man, Jesus Christ, all of the above is reversed. Paul refers to:

  • Gift. 5:15
  • God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflows. 5:15
  • Justification. 5:16
  • God's abundant provision of grace. 5:17
  • The gift of righteousness. 5:17
  • We reign in life. 5:17
  • Justification that brings life for all men. 5:18
  • Many made righteous. 5:19
  • Grace reigns through righteousness. 5:21
  • Eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 5:21

[1] A recurring concept in Paul's description of what happens as a result of Christ's action is the 'gift' and 'grace' nature of it (5:15 = 4 references, 5:17 = 2 references, 5:21). What happened as a result of Adam's one action was earned, deserved and merited. It is a tit-for-tat' justice thing: God had said 'if you do this, that will happen' (Genesis 2:17). It is a pay-out, it is strict legal justice. It is not that God is punishing the whole human race for Adam's sin, but that God is punishing us, as he did Adam, for a choice that was then, and is now, our choice. As Paul clearly demonstrated in 1:18-3:20 all are guilty, all are condemned, the wrath of God justly falls upon all. Conversely, what happens to us because of Christ's action, is sheer, unearned, undeserved, unmerited gift. No act of ours caused God to do what he did through Jesus Christ; there is no meriting or deserving on our part here. It is absolute gift. Absolute grace. Because it has no dependency or contingency or conditionality it is sure and certain. Not only is this so, but, Paul teaches, it 'overflows' (5:15) and it is an 'abundant provision' (5:17). There is no shortfall. There is no lack that we have to make up to pay for some of our sins, to merit some aspect of life with God: what God accomplished in and through his Son covers everything from the most horrendous sin we have committed to the least significant omission, including those sins which we commit without even realizing they are sins. As we read in Ephesians 1:8 and 1 John 3:1, God has 'lavished' his grace and his love on us. He is a God of strict justice, as we saw in chapter 3, but he is no mercenary God. When he gives he gives abundantly, lavishly, far more than we could ask or think, so freely that we find it almost impossible to believe. As Paul states in verse 21 grace reigns.

For your study: To follow through on the thought of God's abundant grace study these verses: Numbers 14:18a; Psalm 103:1-14; 145:8; Joel 2:13; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 4:15 (check a variety of translations for this one); Ephesians 2:4; 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14; James 5:11; 1 Peter 1:3.

[2] A second contrast that Paul points out is in the results of the actions of Adam and Jesus Christ. Whereas the one action of Adam brought death to all, the one action of Jesus Christ brings life(5:17, 18, 21). In other words, the death which entered the world in Genesis 3 is reversed by the one action of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, at the return of Jesus Christ, physical death will be removed, but, at this present time, the spiritual aspect of death is overpowered and overthrown by Jesus Christ, so that those who are united to him by faith are spiritually reunited with God and life. He paid the sin-debt, he took the death, so that we can live in the presence of God.

For your study: open a concordance at 'life' and check out all the references, especially in John's Gospel and first letter in which 'life' or 'eternal life' is intimately associated with Jesus Christ. Make a written list of them so that you can refer to them at any time, for these verses are of extreme importance for your understanding of Jesus Christ and your understanding of what believing in him actually means. In our acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord and God our rebellion of Genesis 3 is reversed, we are reconnected with God, the source and goal of our life. As Paul states in verse 17, we reign in life. No longer under the power and dominion of death.
For further study: discuss the relation of this 'life' of which Paul and John speak to the concept of being 'born again' (John 3).

[3] At the same time, and making this reconnection with life legally possible, the judgement and condemnation under which our sin has placed us, is borne by Jesus Christ in his dying, so that, as Paul has already pointed out at length in Chapter 3, God can justify us, that is legally acquit us, while at the same time remaining true to his justice. Instead of the condemnation and judgement that is ours in and because of the one man, Adam, there is now, 'in Christ', justification/righteousness (5:16,17,18,19,21). It is because of this legal acquittal, this gift of righteousness, by which the sin/law/death trilogy is robbed of its authority, that we now, through the one man, Jesus Christ, reign in life. We must note that Paul draws attention to the fact that the perfect obedience of Christ is an essential factor in our salvation (5:19). Without it his death would achieve nothing, indeed without it he would have had to die the death penalty for his own sin, and would be therefore disqualified from paying for ours.

[4] Paul's affirmation here of the great contrast between our 'in Adam' condemnation under the tyranny of the sin/law/death trilogy and our 'in Christ' justification/righteousness under the authority of the faith/grace/life trilogy draws attention to the radical nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It cuts right across the mentality of world religions and false cults, and it cuts right across the expectations of our sinful, human minds. Our minds automatically function with sin/law/death presuppositions. We expect to receive, and we mete out, condemnation and judgement. We do not automatically know how to receive grace for ourselves, and we do automatically know how to dispense grace to others.