Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:18-21 in our series titled, “The Gospel According to Paul” (an exposition of Romans) on Sunday morning. Flowing from Romans 5:12 are verses 13-21 which provide an explanation of verse twelve while also comparing and contrasting Adam and Christ. In the final section, Paul drives home the excellency of Christ and points to the gift of eternal life that comes through Christ.
In verses 18-19, we see two comparisons. The first half of verse 18 points to the work of Adam in providing all of humanity with the curse of condemnation by sin. In the last half of verse 18, we see Christ and his work of justification. The next verse follows the same pattern with the first half of verse 19 pointing to the work of Adam in disobeying God and leading all men into sin. The last half of the verse points to Christ’s work of obedience and how he obeyed the law, submitted to the Father’s will, upheld the Word, and accomplished our salvation.
Moving on to verse 20, Paul points out that the law increases the trespass of our sin by pointing to the knowledge and reality of our sin. In other words, the law is incapable of saving us. It can only condemn us and in doing so it points to our need for an alien righteousness—namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We receive this righteousness in the great exchange as God places our sin on his Son and then imputes to our account the righteousness of Jesus thereby making us just before God. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone and we receive eternal life according to verse 21.
Interestingly enough, in the verses that begin this section (18-19), there are two comparisons that provide categories that must be explained properly.
- “All Men” — Romans 5:18 – Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
- “The Many” — 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.
Some people teach that in Adam, all humanity (all men) are condemned as sinners and that in Christ, all of humanity (all men) are justified and receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. While the same words are used in both verses to describe the work of Adam and Christ, we must understand the art of comparison and contrast and furthermore realize that this would lead to a heresy if pressed to the end. If all of humanity receive the guilt of Adam’s transgression and the same exact group without exception receive justification through Christ—that would mean that hell is empty today. Not one person who has received the righteousness of Christ has entered the gates of hell.
This is known as the doctrine of universalism which states that all people will eventually be saved through Jesus no matter what they do or believe in this life. That is heretical and certainly not the teaching of the Bible. Furthermore, sometimes words are used in Scripture to make a point, but we shouldn’t take it to the fullest end. One example is when the Pharisees were becoming angry with the popularity of Jesus, and they responded by saying, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). Obviously, the whole world without exception did not follow after Jesus, but to make the point of his popularity, the Pharisees spoke with that language.
What is happening in verses 18-19 is clearly an example of comparison where Adam and Christ are being contrasted closely by using the same words. So, what Paul is saying is that all of Adam’s people are condemned by his sin while all of Christ’s people are justified by his work of righteousness. Adam condemned the entire human race, and Christ will save every one of his people who were given to him by the Father before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1; John 10:28-29; Matt. 1:21).
Everyone who is in Christ receives their justification by faith and become the heirs of the promise and eternal life. What a reason to rejoice. Christ is far better to save than Adam is to condemn.