Exposition of Romans 5:20-21, Where grace reigns, Jesus is Lord

Contemporary people live in the swirl and cross-currents flowing in a culture that encourages drift. Whether we consider the ever-changing world of fashion, our most recent text message, the latest news about celebrities, or the long sequence of fast-food outlets, we encounter an endless series of mock-serious choices about how to occupy our minds and our bodies. It all means nothing!

Think harder: if we are drifting with the culture, we are serving the domain of sin by treating the awesome role God has given us without a sense of priority or godly purpose.

Paul tells us: Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:16, NET). Life is not about drift; it is about deciding whom you are going to serve.

Romans 5:20-21

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Greek verb pareiserchomai is translated as the law came in to increase the trespass (5:20). But the standard lexicon says pareiserchomai may also mean slip in,[1] which is the way it is used in Gal. 2:4, where the verse says, the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy (NET). Douglas Moo says, “Negative connotations dominate in the use of this verb during the NT period.”[2]

Those under the law were unaware that the law was working to increase the trespass (5:20) to make them more aware of their danger (Rom. 7:7-8). In other words, the operation of the law within them was making them more aware of the utter sinfulness of sin (7:13). Moo explains: “The law came with a purpose. But its purpose, Paul affirms, was not to change the situation created by Adam, but to make it worse. But this negative purpose in the law is not, of course, Gods final word.”[3]

Paul intentionally uses the verb for increase twice in 5:20a to show God’s first objective in giving the law — to increase trespasses designed to reveal sin — and then to show the result of God’s effort; sin did indeed increase. The work accomplished by the law was like the efforts of a surgeon to expose diseased tissue.

Next the surgeon applies the cure: where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20b). Sin increases ten-fold, but grace escalates one-hundred-fold. Note carefully that the law cured nothing! Grace is what God offered to abundantly deal with sin. That was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament.

So, we learn that the law is not a basis for righteousness, but it is a useful means to the end of a grace-based righteousness.

(ESV) Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes: “In expressing the divine purpose in the triumphant overflowing of grace, Paul has for the last time in this section made use of a comparison — this time comparing the never-ending reign of the divine grace with the passing reign of sin.”[4]

First, we will clarify the clause as sin reigned in death (5:21a). Moo observes: “Paul often thinks in terms of spheres or dominions, and the language of reining is particularly well suited to this idea. Death has its own dominion: humanity as determined, and dominated, by Adam.”[5]

But if sin is a proxy ruler for Adam, grace is a proxy ruler for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul draws the strongly one-sided comparison to a close by showing the utter superiority of Christ over Adam, of grace over sin and death. This Age (dominated by sin) is giving way to the Age To Come (dominated by grace through Christ). We live in the tension between the two.

But the comparison has a lesson, which Cranfield summarizes: “In spite of the vast and altogether decisive dissimilarity between Christ and Adam, there is nevertheless a real likeness between them consisting in the correspondence of structure between the Christ-and-all-men relationship and the Adam-and-all-men relationship, a likeness that makes it possible and appropriate to compare them.”[6]

But Paul does more than compare Adam and Christ; he contrasts them as well. Christ will rule! Sin and death, brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, will vanish into the lake of fire.

Whose kingdom will you serve?

As Paul will make known in Romans 6, each of us will serve either the domain of sin or the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16, NET).

1. As you look back over what you have learned in Romans, whose kingdom have you served in the various stages of your life?

2. What is one thing you intend to do today to begin serving Gods kingdom more effectively? What might you add for becoming a more mature follower of Christ?

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. (Rom. 6:14, NLT). Use your freedom to serve Christ!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] BDAG-3, pareiserchomai, slip in, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 347.

[3] Moo, Romans, 347.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 294.

[5] Moo, Romans, 349.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 295.

Exposition of Romans 5:18-19, Jesus used obedience to bring righteousness

We have said more than once that faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done. Since God has said a lot about what he expects of us, including many explicit commands, it is obvious that obedience plays a central role in Christian faith. Is that not what you would expect since Christ is both Lord of lords and King of kings?

After we trust in Jesus, we still have a lifetime of choices to make about how best to obey our Lord. How will we proceed?

Romans 5:18-19

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

The parallelism built into Romans 5:18 is pervasive, as shown below:

Therefore
as one trespass [led to] condemnation for all men, } Adam

so one act of righteousness [leads to] justification and life for all men. } Christ

The square brackets [ ] indicate that the verb has been supplied to make literary English because the Greek sentence has no verbs. Different English translations have supplied different verbs:
NET (came), NLT (brings), HCSB (is), and NASB (resulted). Each of these choices is reasonable.

By dissecting 5:18 in this way, we can easily spot important points. First, each single act affected all men, a comprehensive expression. As to the scope of all, C.E.B. Cranfield says:

It will be wise to take it thoroughly seriously as really meaning all, to understand the implication to be that what Christ has done he has really done for all men, that [life-giving justification HCSB] is truly offered to all, and all are to be summoned urgently to accept the proffered gift, but at the same time to allow that this clause does not foreclose the question whether in the end all will actually come to share it.[1]

Of course, we have already discussed the gift-nature of the justification and life. The gift was explicitly mentioned three times in Rom. 5:15-17. Not all accept the gift by faith.

Using the interpretive principles of salvation history (see Introduction), we point out that Adams deed came first, to the undoing of humanity’s privileged position in Eden and much more. The act of Christ came later and contained such grace as to overwhelm the damage done by Adam. James Dunn says: “The inaugurating act of the new epoch [i.e. the Age To Come] is thus presented as a counter to and cancellation of the inaugurating act of the old [i.e. The Present Age], Christs right turn undoing Adams wrong turn.”[2] Wrong turn is just another term for disobedience.

(ESV) Romans 5:19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Once again, Romans 5:19 has strong parallelism, but this time with actual Greek verbs:

For
as by the one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, } Adam

so by the one mans obedience the many will be made righteous. } Christ

It is clear from the parallelism that the major difference between what Adam did and what Jesus did is the difference between disobedience by Adam and obedience by Christ.

Sin wears many masks in life and in Romans, and Paul used a variety of terms to refer to it. In 5:12 we have the Greek noun hamartia meaning “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness . . . sin.”[3] In 5:15, 17, and 18 he switched to paraptoma meaning “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”[4] Here in 5:19 Paul switched to parakoemeaning “refusal to listen and so be disobedient, unwillingness to hear, disobedience.”[5]

We could say that hamartia means: violating a revealed standard of God. The term paraptoma is used figuratively of making a false step; think of hitting your bare toes against a chair leg and put that pain in the context of a false step in some moral situation. The word in 5:19 gives us the interesting insight that Adam failed to listen to God’s actual voice! God told him explicitly what must not be done (Gen. 2:17), and he did it anyway. Unfortunately, many people can identify!

Cranfield makes one clarification about 5:19 when he says, “The many have not been condemned for someone else’s transgression, for Adam’s sin, but because, as a result of Adam’s transgression, they have themselves been sinners.”[6]

But the good news outshines the bad news by far: Jesus obeyed to bring righteousness to all who put their faith in him! The author of Hebrews says about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9, NET).

Following Jesus

Surely it is plain that to follow Jesus means we are obedient to the Father just as he was. As the old hymn says, “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you think about it, trusting and obeying are very similar because trusting is faith and obeying is faithfulness.

1. How many of us have heard God's voice about something, but, like Adam, we come to a point at which we do not listen? When have you made that error, and what did you learn from it?

2. What do you consider a difficult thing about obedience? How do you get around that obstacle?

It is no accident that Paul begins the letter to the Romans with the phrase obedience of faith (1:5) and ends the letter with the same phrase (16:26). There is no such thing as faith without obedience!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 290.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 297.

[3] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, paraptoma, offense, q.v.

[5] BDAG-3, parakoe, unwillingness to hear, q.v.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 290.

Exposition of Romans 5:17: One man has done it all

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How would you like it for people to say about you death reigned through that one man? Surely no one even wants to think about having that role.

But one man could rightly hear those words: Adam. It is fair to say that no man ever had more and did less with it than Adam. Adolf Hitler killed fewer than he did.

But God had an answer for Adam and all the harm he did. The answer was Jesus — one man above all others!

(ESV) Romans 5:17

For if, because of one mans trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

In some ways Romans 5:17 acts as a summary of this section of Romans. Paul is contrasting Adam and Christ, and C.E.B Cranfield notes the limits of this comparison: The one real point of likeness between Christ and Adam [is] the fact of one mans action being determinative of the existence of the many.[1] Adam affects all related to him by infecting them with sin and death; Jesus affects all related to him — by faith! — by giving them the free gift of righteousness and an abundance of grace.

Note carefully the two uses of the verb reign (Greek basileuo). Death reigned through Adam, because of his sinful act. But notice who reigns in the contrasting clause: those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. That was unexpected! What would have been expected was for life to reign, but God had a better idea.

Adam sinned and caused the unraveling of humanity made in Gods image. As Genesis 1:27-28 demonstrate, humanity was designed to rule on earth under God. But Adams sin led to the rule of sin and death instead. Through Jesus, believing people are restored to reign as was originally intended. So, we find that death reigned over us through Adam, but we reign in life through Jesus Christ.

Douglas Moo draws attention to a qualification: The reign of life is experienced through choice and personal decision; it is for those who receive the gift. The importance of this qualification can hardly be overemphasized.[2]

Paul uses the future tense will … reign to describe the effect of believing in Christ. While this may be a reference to the Age To Come, the interpretive structure of salvation history leads me to think it begins with our salvation (already) and reaches full development when we are finally with Christ in the Age To Come (not yet).

Your legacy

We all start out like Adam; we are spreaders of sin and death. But God graciously gives us the chance to take advantage of what the man from heaven, Jesus, did. If we give Jesus our allegiance, we can become spreaders of his life.

1. What events or influences in your life moved you toward spreading death like Adam? Which ones still present problems for you?

2. What events or influences in your life moved you toward spreading life like Christ? What would it take for you to become more effective in doing so?

God gave you a chance to make a living legacy. Even if you have chosen life through faith in Christ, you still have a chance to expand your legacy by helping others find him. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975)287.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996)340.