It was 45 years ago that Judy and I were sitting in the living room of Missionary Ken Johnson for first time. We had been in Lethbridge, Alberta, for the better part of a year, while he and his family were in living in South Calgary about a hundred miles to the north. Although we had never personally met, we had written a couple of times, and spoken on the phone. I had first learned of Ken Johnson through an article I had read in the “Plains Baptist Challenger,” the monthly magazine of the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Lubbock, Texas. But other than those letters and that phone call, I’m sure that Brother Johnson knew nothing about me. Each of us wanted to know what the other believed about Bible doctrine in order to see whether or not there was any room for fellowship between us. If I remember correctly his first theological question was: “What do you believe Romans 5:12 says?” I think that my answer satisfied him.
To that man of God, a proper understanding of this verse is a basic element of Bible theology. To misunderstand this passage is to send someone’s entire soteriology down the wrong road. I don’t mean to imply that it is necessary to be able to explain this verse in order to be a Christian. But to thoroughly misunderstand this verse may prove someone to be untaught. And for a professed minister of God, the wrong answer could invalidate his message.
I realize that some of these words and concepts are difficult to grasp. My purpose is to help you understand. And to assist us in that I will begin with a paraphrase. Let’s start with verse 12: “So, through one man, the very first man, Adam, sin came into this world, and with his sin came death. In other words, death has come over all mankind, because we all became sinners when Adam sinned. In fact, in the sight of the omniscient God, we all sinned when Adam sinned.” Now, skip over the parenthesis down to verses 18 and 19: “But just as the sin of one man, Adam, condemns us all, The righteousness of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, presents deliverance to us all. For just as one man’s sin, Adam’s sin, made us all sinners, Through the righteousness of one man, Christ Jesus, many sinners are being made righteous.”
Beginning there I want us to look at the four sets of contrasts which we find in these verses.
We begin with TWO MEN.
First there is Adam, the very first human being. Yes, I believe in the reality, personality and historicity of the man named “Adam.” Moses was the first Bible penman to write about Adam, and what he said had been given to him directly by the Lord. There was no doubt in his mind about what he wrote. Then the writer of Chronicles made mention of Adam, as if everyone knew what he was saying. Luke, the writer of Acts and Luke, described Adam as a real person – the great, great grandfather of the Lord Jesus. Jude, the penman of the 65th book of the Bible, refers to Adam, as easily as an American history teacher might talk about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. And Paul wrote often about Adam, doing so as though that first man was at the heart of his theology. The reason for this New Testament assurance about this Old Testament character, is that all these writers were holy men of God being moved to write as directed by the Holy Spirit. And based upon the authority of the Word of God, you and I can be just as sure about Adam and what is written of him as were Paul or Moses.
God says that the very first human being was a direct creation of HIS hand, and his name was “Adam.” The atheistic scientists who say that there was no Adam, haven’t any proof for their hypotheses. They might say the same thing about us, BUT we have the testimony of the Word of God. And that is the testimony of an “expert witness.” Those atheistic scientists have no specific suggestions as to the first man. In fact when they talk about the first man, they usually call her a woman. During the last century, often when they have said that the first man was so-and-so, the next day or the next year they have another suggestion. Science doesn’t have any proof for any of its evolutionary hypotheses, and that is why their theories are in continual flux. But the Christian, on the other hand, has the divinely inspired declaration of God. You and I are obligated to believe it, and we have no real reason not to do so.
Adam, the very first man, was absolutely unique. That’s quite obvious, because for a while he was the only human being. He was unique in his entrance into God’s creation. No one, before or since, has been created in the way that Adam was created. He was unique in his wisdom. He was probably close to 100% mentally developed, unlike us. And he was unique in his relationship to His Creator. With no one else has the Lord ever visited daily, on a face to face basis.
And, perhaps more importantly, Adam had a unique relationship to all other human beings. He was the father of every single human who has ever lived. Of only one other man, Noah, could this have ever been said, but his relationship was somewhat different. WE were all created when God created Adam. We all descended from Adam – body, soul and spirit – weakened body, eternal soul and dead in spirit. In another way, Adam is like the government in Washington, DC. When congress passes a law, like it or not, that is a law that affects all of us. And when Adam chose to sin against God, like it or not, it affected all of us who are his children. And one more thing, Adam is a picture, a figure, of the Lord Jesus. Verse 14 says that Adam was a “figure of him that was to come.”
Like Adam, Jesus is unique too, but infinitely more so, if I can abuse that word. Adam was created, but Christ is the uncreated eternal Son of God. They both have their own special and unique relationship to the God-head – the Trinity. This Book of Romans was written concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Chapter 1 says that Romans is “concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Paul often expressed the deity of the Lord Jesus – Christ was, and is, God. Christ “is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” – Romans 9:5. “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” – I Timothy 3:16. He said in Colossians 2 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” And as such – as one of the Persons of the God-head – Christ was absolutely sinless. God “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Paul believed that this Son of God, the sinless Son of God, Christ Jesus, was the Creator of Adam. Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” And finally, just as Adam was the head of a family of people, the entire human family, Jesus Christ is the head of another race or family, the family of God.
Adam was a creature who became sinful, and in the process made all of his descendants sinful. Jesus was and is God who never knew the slightest sin. And yet He was made to be sin for us in order to deliver all of HIS family from their sins.
And that brings up, more specifically, their TWO DEEDS.
Adam sinned. Verse 12 – “by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world.” Living in an essentially perfect environment, Adam chose to rebel against God. Bad surroundings don’t make sinners or criminals; circumstances didn’t make Adam sin. Now, because of Adam’s sin we are all criminal by nature. With only one rule before him, one command given him, Adam disobeyed the Lord. Despite fellowship with Jehovah, he transgressed and broke the unmistakable rule of God. Having heard the penalty for his disobedience, he sinned. Paul teaches us elsewhere that with his eyes wide-opened, he sinned. And remember that he sinned as the father of us all, corrupting both himself and all this children. The Bible teaches – this scripture teaches – Adam made us all sinners.
Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, was born without sin, somewhat like Adam, but he remained sinless. He lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father in Heaven. Not once did He fail to carry out a single divine command. Not once did He criticize or condemn an innocent man. Never did He use his mouth to speak evil or a simple lie. His life was constantly used to teach truth and to do the works of divine righteousness. BUT, He died the death of the very worst of sinners. He died in the place of Adam, in a fashion that perhaps Adam should have died. Christ died as a substitute for Adam and as a substitute for millions of that man’s sinful descendants. II Corinthians 5:21 again – “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” Adam, as the head of his family, died a sinner, making all of his people sinners just like himself. But then Christ Jesus, as the head of His race, died a substitute for His people.
Do you know the story of Willie, his mother and the honey bee? Willie, as a little boy was playing the garden, when he heard a bee. He followed the little insect until he saw it land. Quickly the boy picked up a stick and hit the flower knocking the bee to the ground. Knowing he was in trouble, he ran toward his mother, while the bee gather its wits and flew straight after him. The little boy hid in his mother’s long dress while the bee attacked, but it was his mother that it stung. With the bee imbedded in the flesh of her arm, mother showed the boy the result of his misdeed. The bee tore away and left the stinger painfully imbedded in the lady’s arm. Willie, grew afraid that he too would be stung, but mother convinced him that once the bee had stung and left his stinger, he was no more able to sting again. In a very crude way this is what happened to the Son of God on behalf of all His people.
Adam as the representative of all this children sinned. Christ as the representative of all His elect children, lived a holy life, but died as a sinner. He substituted Himself in order to save a few of us.
Two special men, committed two deeds, now think about the TWO RESULTS of their deeds.
Adam sinned and condemnation came upon us all. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Some people don’t like these thoughts, and say that this is far too harsh – barbaric. But if they say people can die only for their own sins, then what are they going to say about that baby who dies at birth, or a few weeks later with SIDS? Are they going to say that baby died because of its own sins? Although there is some truth to that thought, practically speaking it doesn’t work. That new born cannot be said to have a conscious knowledge of God or the will of God. It can’t be proved that he was acting in rebellion against the Lord. If someone says that the baby dies for crimes it has committed against the Lord, then that accuser is the one who is barbaric. But without question, death IS a result of sin – always has been, and always will be. There would never be death if there never had been sin. The death of the sadistic dictator is a result of sin. And the death of the butterfly and daisy by the side of the road is also due to the effects of sin. But it wasn’t the sin of the butterfly – her death was a secondary result of the sin of Adam.
Guilt is a result of sin, both personal guilt for our personal sins, but also from the federal guilt of Adam. When Adolph Hitler chose to go to war with Europe, he did so as the head of Germany. Even though there were Germans who disagreed with that choice, the entire nation became guilty of Hitler’s invasion of Poland. When Adam sinned, he became a guilty sinner before God, and at the same time so did all the people of his “nation” – humanity became sinful. And judgment is the result of sin. Verse 16 – “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation… For … by one man’s offence death reigned by one… therefore … by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”
Do you say that it’s not fair, and you don’t like the thought of someone else contributing to this equation? Then note again verse 14 – “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” If we do away with Adam’s part in our sinfulness, then we also must do away with Christ’s part in our salvation. If we want to die by our own merits, then we must also live by those merits. But in the sight of the infinitely holy God we don’t have any merits. Our righteousness is not good enough for Heaven.
The contrast to death through Adam is that Christ Jesus comes with justification and eternal life. Verse 16 – “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.” Verse 17 speaks of righteousness; and verse 18 speaks of the free gift. “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Now here is the glorious part of Paul’s message. As the representative of His people, Christ Jesus’ death brings to them deliverance from sin. Justification is due to “God’s imputed righteousness.” Ultimately, it means that my slate is made clean; my sins are blotted out. Adam’s sin brought sinfulness to all his children; Jesus’ death brings salvation to all His children. To everybody? No, not everyone. As Adam’s sin brought death to all his race, without exception. Jesus’ sacrifice brings righteousness to all his people, without exception. As far as the effects of salvation are concerned Christ died only for His people. Adam sinned and made us sinners. He didn’t just make our sinfulness possible – Adam made us sinners. Conversely, Christ died and made his people righteous. He didn’t simply make their righteousness possible; He did it. “He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification.” Jesus Christ didn’t make the salvation of people possible. In His death, He actually, directly and specifically saved everyone He intended to save – His elect. Oh, what praise ought to fill up our hearts; what a flood of joy there ought to be. “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.”
Now, we have just TWO CONCLUSIONS to consider.
The first is death: Are you a child of Adam? You may deny it all you like, but the fact is, you are. And I Corinthians 15:22 says, “in Adam all die.” The moment our first father first nibbled on that forbidden fruit, he spiritually withered and died. And later he physically died from the on-going effect of that sin. Everyone of his children have been born spiritually dead, and nearly all of them have physically died. The only exceptions to that universal death rule are still awaiting a death which hasn’t yet arrived. Man and his science will never conquer death – it will always be there, no matter how long he is able to postpone it.
Do you say that it’s not fair? Do you pout and moan because Adam sinned in your place? Actually, you may be far better off than you think. Because in Christ, we can be made better off than Adam ever though of being. In Eden our forefather stood on his own two untested feet in his untested and imperfect innocence. But today, through the righteousness of Christ, we can stand absolutely perfect in the Son of God. The redeemed possesses Jesus’ life, and righteousness, and glory. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and is coming again to receive us unto Himself.
The remaining question is: which of these two conclusions will be yours? Only one is automatic – hell and judgment await all the natural descendants of Adam. But if you’ll repent before God sin and cling to the Saviour in faith and love, it will prove that you have eternal life in Him. “As many as received Him to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Will you through humble, repentance and faith receive Christ Jesus and His sacrifice for sin?