Death in Adam and Life in Christ – Romans 5:12-21


The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast the first Adam and the second Adam as discussed in Romans chapter five. This passage of scripture teaches on the subject of original sin and the results of sin. It also points out the origin of grace, through which those who believe in the source of that grace, may obtain it through faith.

Verse twelve of Romans five states: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” This verse shows how sin entered into the world and the curse of death that sin brought to the world. R.C. Sproul writes: “A widespread and common misconception about original sin is that it refers to the original transgression committed by Adam and Eve, namely the first sin. But, in fact, original sin refers to the result of the first sin, not the first sin itself. Original sin is not a specific sin, a particular act of disobedience; it has to do with the nature of mankind. The Bible tells us that our nature is fallen, that not only do we sin, but we are pervaded by sin, that is, our natures are corrupt. Jesus put it this way: a bad tree brings forth corrupt fruit. It is not that we are sinful because we sin, but rather that we sin because we are sinful. The activity of sin flows out of a sinful nature, a fallen nature, a heart that is out of sync with God. Man is fallen in the depths of his being, and he has a basic disposition towards sin rather than towards righteousness.”[1] The idea of original sin brings about some very serious theological concerns. One question that one may ask is, “Since, I was born in sin and was cursed from the beginning, why would God hold me accountable for my specific sins?” “The Bible makes it very clear that sin entered into the race through one man, by the fall of Adam. Adam was created with no disposition towards evil; yet in some mysterious way, Adam himself commits a sin. God didn’t cause the fall of Adam, but once Adam chose to sin, God’s punishment was to allow Adam to deteriorate into a fallen moral condition, which moral condition is then transmitted to all future descendants.”[2] It is because of this that man has no excuse. We cannot blame God for our sin nature, for God did not put that sin nature in us, nor did He ever intend for us to have a sin nature. We are responsible for our sin because we have inherited a sin nature from Adam, a fallen man, not from God. Verse twelve goes on to explain that just as we have inherited a sin nature through one man, we have also been cursed with death through sin. Therefore, death now exists in the world. It is important to point out that there was no death before Adam sinned. Death came from sin. Sin began when Adam fell. Therefore, there was no death until Adam sinned. That sin nature is now passed on to all of mankind, as a result, death is now passed on to all of mankind.

Romans 5:13 says, “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary states: “Though sin entered human experience through the act of Adam’s sin (in which the entire human race participated seminally), sin expressed itself repeatedly in people’s actions (cf. Gen. 6:5–7, 11–13) from the point of its entrance “until” (not before, as the niv has it) the Law was given. However, as Paul had already said, “Where there is no Law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). This does not mean that sin does not exist unless there is a Law. It means that sin does not have the character of being a transgression apart from Law and therefore sin is not taken into account (lit., “imputed, reckoned”) as such.”[3] The point given is that sin was not considered as a disobedience to the law until the law was written. Only when the law was written, did sin become a transgression of the law. However, sin is still sin. Whether there is a written law to break or not, any act of disobedience to God is sin and therefore is subject to the consequence of sin, which is death.

Verse 14 says, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Here we begin the comparison between the second Adam and the first Adam. Because of the sin of one man, Adam, death has now entered the world. It is pointed out that death reigned from Adam to Moses. This is to emphasize the fact that the law does not have to exist in order for sin to exist. The fact that death reigned, proves that all of Adam’s descendents inherited a sin nature and they sinned in Adam. Remember, sin is any act of disobedience to God with or without the law. It is then mentioned that Adam is a type of Him who was to come, who is none other than Jesus Christ. “A parallelism exists between Adam and Jesus Christ as heads of groups of human beings (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45–49), but the parallelism is more contrastive than comparative.”[4] “The point of analogy intended here is plainly the public character which both sustained, neither of the two being regarded in the divine procedure towards men as mere individual men, but both alike as representative men”.[5] The comparison between Christ and Adam is based on the fact that both Adam and Christ represent mankind. Adam represents mankind in sin and death, Christ represents mankind in grace and life.

In verse 15 we read, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” There is a sharp contrast between the offense of Adam and the gift of grace that comes through Jesus Christ. There is really no comparison to the greatness and scope of God’s grace. Warren Wiersbe writes: “The word “many” (literally “the many”) means the same as “all men” in Romans 5:12 and 18. Note the “much more”; for the grace of Christ brings not only physical life, but also spiritual life and abundant life. Christ did conquer death and one day will raise the bodies of all who have died “in Christ.” If He stopped there, He would only reverse the effects of Adam’s sin; but He went on to do “much more.” He gives eternal life abundantly to all who trust Him (John 10:10)”.[6] As believers in Christ, we should be forever grateful for the ‘much more’ that Christ has given to us!

Verse 16 continues with this thought: “And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.” Notice the contrast here between that which came from Adam and that which is given to us by Jesus Christ. The one offense of Adam brought about the condemnation of the entire world. However, the gift of grace which came through Jesus brought justification to many who would believe in Him. “Adam’s sin brought judgment and condemnation; but Christ’s work on the cross brings justification. When Adam sinned, he was declared unrighteous and condemned. When a sinner trusts Christ, he is justified—declared righteous in Christ.”[7] The basic idea here is that through Adam we are all condemned in our sin, but through Jesus, we are justified. In Adam we are declared unrighteous, yet, through Christ we are declared righteous.

Romans 5:17 says, “For if by one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Praise God! Through one man we are condemned to death. On the other hand, through one man, we are given eternal life! The first Adam brings death; the second Adam (Jesus Christ) brings life. Notice the term ‘much more’ again. We are given so much more through Jesus. Eternal life is just the beginning of the blessings bestowed upon the soul that confesses Jesus as Lord.

Verse 18 tells us, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Calvin states: “He makes this favour common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.”[8] All are condemned in Adam and all have the potential for justification through Jesus Christ. The only prerequisite to justification is the choosing to receive the free gift of grace offered by God through Jesus Christ.

Moving on to verse 19, we read: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by on Man’s obedience many will made righteous.”  Adam was disobedient to the command of God and thus, all of mankind inherits that sinful nature. However, Jesus was obedient in His coming to the earth and going to the cross. Through His obedience in the death of the cross, those who believe in Him are made righteous. The better wording here would be ‘declared’ righteous. We will never be righteous in our actions until Christ returns and the sin nature is no longer in us. However, we are declared righteous in our standing before God. This is made possible by the obedience of Jesus to die on the cross for our sin.

Verse 20 tells us, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” The question is raised as to where the Mosaic law fits into all of this. The law was given so that the transgression may abound, demonstrating our plight and our need for a Savior. The Holman New Testament Commentary states: “Finally, Paul contrasts law with grace. Content-wise, this is ground the apostle has already covered (Rom. 3:20–31). But he summarizes the place of the law in the discussion in anticipation of one of his readers asking, “What about the law?” In other words, he has already said that those living from Adam to Moses (those without the law) are as guilty as those living after Moses. Jews saw the giving of the law, and its corollary impact on the moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects of the nation, as the single most important distinctive of their nation. And Paul seemed to be saying that it was irrelevant in the current discussion. “Not so,” Paul will say. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But the law did not make anyone more or less righteous, because all sinned in Adam.”[9] Again, it should be understood that the purpose of the law was to reveal our sinfulness, not to make us righteous.

The final verse of Romans 5 says, “So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “God’s goal (hina, so, introduces a purpose clause) is that His grace might reign through righteousness (the righteousness of Christ provided for people) to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [10] It is at the very heart of God that all of mankind be saved from the curse of sin. He has wonderfully and graciously provided a way by which we may be saved. The gift of salvation is given. God has provided a way. The responsibility is ours to receive that gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

The first Adam brought sin and death. The second Adam (Jesus Christ) brought grace and life. It is implored to us that we no longer remain in the first Adam, but that we would be brought into the second Adam through faith and by His grace.

[1] Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (pp. 100–101). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (p. 101). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[3] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 458). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 459). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ro 5:14). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 5:12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 5:12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 211). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[9] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (Vol. 6, pp. 171–172). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 460). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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