A gift wrapped in a white box.

The Great Contrasts Between Adam and Jesus in the Book of Romans

The history of Adam’s sin, and the consequences that follow it, are tragic for us all. Thankfully, they are not the only things that the apostle Paul writes about in the fifth chapter of Romans. The last couple of paragraphs from that section shares a number of contrasts between Adam and Jesus. They speak of the great blessings that are available to us through Christ.

This is first seen in verses 15 through 17 with the repeated references to a gift. The beginning of that portion of Scripture starts with the words, “But the free gift isn’t like the trespass.” These are obviously two different things, with one being positive and the other negative. This is just one of many contrasts that we find up to verse 21. You’ll see what I mean as we go along.

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.

Romans 5:15

The above speaks of the sin of Adam resulting in many dying, but something greater happening later. There was one who sinned before, but the gift came by the grace of Jesus Christ. This is magnificent, but it is even more than what we may first think. The verse actually refers to both “the grace of God,” and also “the gift by the grace” of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they are prefaced with the words, “much more,” and conclude with “abound to the many.” The greatness of the grace of God far exceeds the trespass of the one.

In fact, the blessings of God are often spoken of as being to a greater degree than the corresponding sins. This concept of there being something greater needs to be remembered. It is even noticeable in the very next statement,

The gift is not as through one who sinned; for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift followed many trespasses to justification. 

Romans 5:16

This verse contains some rather negative ideas, just like many others. The most pivotal is judgment coming by one to condemnation. Adam broke the law given to him by God. The result was condemnation because of a single sin. However, the free gift is better because it followed many trespasses. Murder, lying, hating what is good, and fornication are all just the tip of the iceberg. Despite all of that, the gift still came, and that after an incredible number of trespasses. Not just one!

The result? A truly magnificent blessing that is only available through the Lord Jesus. Justification!

Without Christ none of this would be possible. The gift came by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, and it is through Him that we are justified in the sight of God.

This is awesome, but that’s not all. It gets even better!

Death No Longer Reigns, but We Can Reign in Life Through Christ

A couple of articles ago I mentioned how death reigned from Adam until Moses. We’re told this in Romans 5:14. However, that isn’t the only place where the apostle writes of that idea. He brings it up again a few verses later.

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.

Romans 5:17

As it explains, death reigned through one, by the respass of a single individual. Again, the person in question is Adam. We’ve seen that before. Another similarity is the mention of both grace and a gift. The latter of which is used in a little different way than before. Unlike previously, it is now connected with righteousness. That means that the gift of God is related to at least three different things: 

  • Grace, 
  • Justification, and
  • Righteousness. 

The sheer number of times that these are related to a gift highlights just how mindful we should be of them. We cannot take them for granted or consider them as something that we have earned. Instead, we should praise God for them often. Perhaps we can use these verses to remind ourselves of such glorious gifts from God when we are in doubt.

Another thing worth noting is that Romans 5:17 brings us back to the idea of greatness. The superiority of the blessings over the wickedness of Adam is truly magnificent. Christians who are blessed with grace and the gift of righteousness will receive an abundance that is so much more. In fact, we have been blessed to such a degree that we reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.

Such an idea is incredible to me, and something that is admittedly difficult to comprehend. It isn’t like when I resist a temptation I think, “I really reigned in life through Christ right then!” However, I believe it is safe to say that when we become a Christian we are no longer dominated by the reign of death. While we do sin, wickedness is no longer our focus, and instead, we reign in life through the Son of God.

Because the number of Scriptures that describe this concept are so few, it is prudent for us to be careful about it. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions where the Word is not very specific. Especially since the only other verse that discusses the concept is Romans 5:21. Through it, we know that reigning in life is connected to grace and righteousness. This relationship is easier to see when we just read the end. It says, “…grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

Through our Lord, we are righteous to eternal life. If we consider other verses in Romans, we find that righteousness is related to faith and service (Rom. 4:5-8, 6:13-19). As such, when we are righteous in those ways, grace reigns and we are walking in the life of Jesus Christ. For me, that is the most straightforward way I can understand the concept. By the way, just to be clear, I believe that any righteousness that we do is through Him. It is not by our own strength or power. 

From Being Condemned to Being Justified to Life

In verse 16, the apostle Paul encouraged his readers by mentioning the gift of justification. He brings that up again two verses later. Take a look at what it says at the end. It reads,

So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.

Romans 5:18

Paul tells us that “all men were justified to life.” One thing that is interesting about that is the challenging conundrum that it brings to our attention. At  the beginning of the verse it describes how all men were condemned through one trespass. That really seems like a statement concerning Original Sin.

But then the second part appears to reverse all that because all men were justified to life. That’s confusing! If we want to be consistent, we need to take both of the parts of the verse together. When we hold to the teaching that all of us inherited the guilt of Adam separate from any of our actions, then we should also inherit justification to life apart from our own faith. The result being that everyone in the world is already justified to life and that nobody is dead in sin. Such a position makes the sharing of the Gospel of Christ a vain activity because everyone is already justified in the sight of God. That is incredibly ludicrous, and nonsensical.

Thankfully, Paul elaborates on the points he is making. The next sentence reads, “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” (Rom. 5:19).

He explains that many were made sinners through Adam’s disobedience, but through the obedience of Jesus, many will be made righteous. This change in tense of the second half of the verse is rather intriguing. It reminds us that the first action was done at a different time than the latter. The only way I can understand this is to relate it to Paul’s comments made earlier.

In verse 12 he said that sin entered the world through Adam, and that death passed to all men because we have all sinned. This seems to be the mechanism in which many were made sinners through Adam’s disobedience. Centuries later, Jesus was obedient to the Father to the point of death (Heb. 5:8). He died on a cross, was placed in a tomb, and then resurrected from the dead. As Hebrews also teaches, He became perfect, and the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). When we do that which He commands in faith, we are made righteous in His sight.

That’s the only way I can make sense of Romans 5:18-19. I have to use other passages to explain aspects of what they are teaching.

The Contrast Between Sin and Death, and Grace and Eternal Life

In summary, this great passage concludes with the final contrast being between sin and death, and grace and eternal life. This is wonderful because it highlights the incredible transformation available to us in Christ. Without Him, we would face sin and death in Adam. Take a look at what it says in the last two verses:

The law came in that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly, 21 that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:20-21

The beginning of this reminds us of the connection between sin and the law, and how the latter is required for someone to disobey something. The last portion of it also refers to a topic that we have already discussed. That being grace reigning through righteousness to eternal life through Christ.

At various points of this study I have been stressing the superiority of the blessings of God over that of the sin of Adam. That was especially prevalent in verses 15-17. It happens again when the apostle Paul writes of grace abounding more exceedingly. He will address that again in his next chapter. Of all that we’ve considered, that is a fabulous way to lead us toward the end of this article. In conclusion, let’s recap the greatness of the things of God over that of the sin of Adam:

  • By the trespass of one, many died, but the grace of God abounded much more (vs. 15).
  • Judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift followed many trespasses (vs. 16).
  • Death reigned through one, but we receive grace so much more and reign in life (vs. 17).
  • Many were made sinners, but many will be made righteous (vs. 19).
  • Sin abounded, but grace abounded more exceedingly (vs. 20).
  • Sin reigned in death, but grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ (vs. 21).

Image Used

A Gift in a White Package  by blickpixel from Pixabay.