All summer, we are going to be living in Romans. It is the most well known of Paul’s letters. It is, perhaps, the greatest exposition of the Gospel—aside from the life of Christ himself—that has ever been written.
Paul leaves no stone unturned in describing how every human being, because of Adam, is (what you might call) a natural born sinner. He paints a grim picture of fallen humanity. He reminds both the Jew and the Gentile that they stand equally condemned before God.
But then he paints a glorious picture of the redemption of that fallen humanity through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. The distinctions are erased. Jew and Gentile alike, once enemies of God and enemies of one another, are made one new humanity, a redeemed humanity, in and through Jesus Christ.
It gets complicated at times, but the overarching message is really quite simple: We are dead in Adam, but we are made alive in Jesus Christ.
All are sinners, but all who put their faith in Christ will be saved—made righteous as a free gift of the grace of God.
In these complicated times, that simple message is the one we ought to be shouting from the mountaintop.
I could stop right there—but there is an actual text on which I have to preach.
Let me say, plowing through commentaries on this particular text was not the most edifying task. The whole passage was treated as something of a transition, a collection of summary thoughts that Paul was kind of throwing out haphazardly as he was getting ready to move on to his next point.
Commentators spent way too much time on technical matters—pointing out such things as subordinate clauses and trying to figure out the significance of this or that verb tense. Not much Good News in all of that. You might plan a grammar lesson around it, but not a sermon.
The lectionary doesn’t do this text justice, either. It is truncated, and in a very bad way. It picks up in the middle of the verse 15 and ends with verse 19.
Last week’s reading ended,literally, on a note of reconciliation—“More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:11)—so, if we want to understand the full context here, we need to pick up, where else, but verse 12?
"Therefore, just as death came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come." (Romans 5:12-14)
One man, Adam, sinned. Adam was the first man—he was the one God formed from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life—and when he sinned, he corrupted all who would come after him, and that means every single one of us.
Adam, our great ancestor, sinned—and there is nothing we can do about it.
It corrupted God’s creation
It corrupted each and every one of us.
We are fallen.
We are corrupt.
We are sinners.
We are inclined only toward evil and disobedience.
The destiny of all who have sinned is death . . .
. . . and there is nothing we can do about it.
If we want out of this mess, we have to look somewhere—to look for someone—else.
So, what can be done? And who can do it?
How can we be saved . . . and who can save us?
"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. for the judgment following one man's trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's 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." (Romans 5:15-17)
So, to answer those questions—What can be done, and who can do it? How can we be saved, and who can save us?
I hope we already know that.
But we are living in complicated and chaotic times—and the simple truth of the Gospel is being lost in what might appear on the surface to be an onslaught of lawlessness.
But that’s not where the Gospel is being lost.
When you speak the Gospel into a lawless situation, an amazing thing happens. Light begins to pierce the darkness. Hope overcomes despair.
Death is swallowed up in victory and the love and peace of God drives out all fear and indifference.
If that is not happening right now, it’s because we are not speaking the Gospel into the chaos and confusion of our day.
A lot of what I’m hearing from so-called Christian leaders right now is a new form of legalism—people vindicating themselves at the expense of others based on how much better they check off the right activities, signal the right virtues, and perform the right rituals.
The Pharisee has returned, praying thus about himself, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men!”
Yet, there is still darkness instead of light; despair instead of hope; death instead of life; enmity and strife instead of peace.
“The law,” Paul says (v. 20) came in to increase the trespass.”
The law will not save you. The law can only make you ever more aware that you are very much like other men. You are a sinner—and there is nothing you can do about it.
"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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. (Romans 5:18-19)
“As through one man, so through one man.”
By the way, it is impossible to dismiss Adam as a non-historical or merely symbolic figure when you think of sin and redemption this way.
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, paid a heavy price to make salvation a free gift of the grace of God.
But because he did pay that price—shedding his blood on the cross—the gift is free. We miserable sinners can be justified—made righteous—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
One man’s sin brought death.
One man’s obedience brings justification.
It really is that simple.And in these complicated and chaotic times in which we live, it is the only truth that matters.