Romans Bible Study (The Righteousness of God Revealed)

Romans 5:12-16, The Gift of Grace

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In chapter 5 the apostle Paul has taught that the love of God demonstrated in sending Jesus gives us confidence about where we stand before God. (1) Because we are justified we know God has made peace with us through the atoning work of Jesus. (2) Because we are justified we know God has brought us into a place of grace through which we stand. (3) Because we are justified we know we have hope while enduring sufferings in this life. (4) Further, we know God sent Jesus to die for us while we were sinful, ungodly enemies. Therefore, we know that we are saved from God’s wrath. (5) We know that the death of Jesus reconciles us to God, giving us the ability to rejoice and celebrate.

Death Spread To All

“Therefore, just as sin 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.” (Romans 5:12–13; ESV)

The connection to Romans 5:1-11 seems to be that Paul is explaining why we need reconciliation with God. Notice that Romans 5:11 ended with that thought. We rejoice in God through Jesus because through Jesus we have now received reconciliation. Verse 12 begins with the word, “Therefore.” Paul is connecting back to his previous thought and reconciliation is the most natural connection to his discussion about where we stand before God.

Notice that verse 12 appears to be a broken comparison. Paul starts with “just as” but never gives a “so also” in this verse. The completed comparison is most likely found in verse 18. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” I think we can see this would have been the contrast that Paul was beginning to draw in verse 12. Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so also life came into the world through one man. Paul never finishes that statement in verse 12, rather giving an explanation about sin and death from verses 13-15.

With Paul relating the effects of Adam and his sin, it is important for us to know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The garden is a picture of perfection, a picture of paradise. There is no sin. Everything that God has created has been good. Genesis 3:8 reveals that God was dwelling with Adam and Eve in the garden to some extent that God is considered walking in the garden and Adam and Eve could hide themselves from the presence of God. But with Adam and Eve, sin was introduced into the creation that did not exist before. Since Adam sinned, the immediate consequence of sin is separation from God. Immediately, Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, picturing a separation from God and his presence. A person cannot be in the presence of God with the problem of sin, so they are expelled from the garden to keep them from the tree of life. One cannot have eternal life and have sin. Sin has the consequence of spiritual death, which is separation from God.

This point is reflected in Romans 5:12. We are all spiritually separated from God because all of us sin. We are under condemnation because of our own personal sins. Each one of us has broken God’s law and for this reason we experience spiritual death. We do not physically die because each one of us sins. We spiritually die (are separated from God) because of our sins. We only can be condemned for our own sins, otherwise God is unjust to charge us with crimes we did not commit. This fits the very words of God to Israel:

“The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezekiel 18:20; NLT) We are going to be rewarded and punished based upon what we do, not what others do. As Paul says, death has spread to all people because all people sinned.

Paul continues in verse 13 by pointing out that sin was in the world before the Law of Moses. It is not possible for Paul to say that sin was in the world before there was any law. Paul taught earlier that where there is not law, there cannot be transgression (Romans 4:15). The context of our study in Romans has been about the Law of Moses and Paul continues speaking about the Law of Moses here. Even before the Law of Moses was given, sin was in the world. The implication is that there were laws given before the Law of Moses because 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 5:14; ESV)

But spiritual death reigned from Adam to Moses also. Sin was in the world. Therefore there was law, but not the Law of Moses, of course (Romans 4:15). The transgression of Adam was not like the sinning of others. Why? There are two reasons that we can observe that makes the sin of Adam different than the sinning of others. First, the command to Adam was certainly different than the commands given to everyone after Adam. Adam lived in paradise and there was only one command: do not eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This law was different than the moral laws that came later. One law is given to Adam. After Adam, there were all sorts of moral laws against immorality and impurity. The reason is that Adam lived in a different world, a point that we will explore later. But notice that Paul does not say that the command was different, even though it was. Paul is working a greater point. The second reason that Adam’s sin is not like the sins of those after Adam is because Adam’s sin affected all humanity. Adam’s sin had a completely different effect on the world than any one else’s sin. It is this second point that Paul is going to speak about particularly and this is how Adam is a type of the one who was to come (speaking about Jesus). What Adam did and what the one to come did (Jesus) affected the whole world. It is in this way that Adam is a type of the one to come (Jesus). The one act of both men affected the whole world. The rest of these verses are going to explain how Adam is a type of Christ.

The Gift of Grace

“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.” (Romans 5:15; ESV)

In our previous lesson we talked about the tension that exists between verse 12 and verses 15-19. Verse 12 says that death spread to all because all of us sin. Verses 15-19 says that we were made sinners because of Adam’s disobedience. So which is it? Verse 14 was a very important verse that must be applied to verses 15-19.  Paul said that Adam was a type of the one to come. Both the action of Adam and the action of the one to come (Jesus) affected humanity. The good news is that what Jesus did was not like what Adam. The effect was the same, but the act was not the same. The free gift of Jesus is not like the trespass of Adam.

Adam’s affect on humanity was that many died (spiritual death). But Jesus has done something of greater weight and impact. Jesus’ affect on humanity was grace. Grace has abounded for many. Because of what Adam did, many died. Because of what Jesus did, many have grace abounding. We need to soak up this beautiful thought in for a moment. We sinned, but through Jesus grace is overflowing. In fact, much more grace overflowed! The gift overflowed! Only by the grace of Jesus has our sins been counteracted! Paul has been clear that this is not because of our righteousness or our doing. Paul calls what Jesus did a gift. Further, it is by the grace of Jesus that the gift of grace overflowed to many. Sin and death have overcome us. But grace is overflowing.

As we noted last week, but need to note again, we have to consider the parallel and hold that parallel intact. What Adam did, Jesus did to counteract it. Paul cannot be saying that everyone is lost because of Adam’s sin because the answer would be that everyone is saved because of Jesus’ grace. We know that this does not fit the rest of the scriptures. In the same way, Paul cannot be saying that what we did brought our sin and what we did brought our salvation. This will not work either. In Romans 5:6 Paul taught that Christ died while we were helpless. We could not do anything to bring about our salvation. So what is the parallel? How is Adam a type of Jesus? How did Adam’s one act affect the whole world while at the same time being able to say that death spreads to all people because all people sinned?

Here is what happened: Adam’s transgression introduced sin and death into the world. Until Adam’s disobedience there was no sin and there was not any separation from God. The hope of humanity for a glorious future living with God ruling over creation was dashed. Now everyone who enters the world would be in a world where sin and death rule. When Adam sinned, everything changed. Humanity’s relationship with God changed. The creation changed as it was placed under a curse. The world was not longer perfect. We were no longer perfect. Ruin entered the world. Paradise was lost. We cannot have a relationship with God like Adam did. God seems to have been with Adam in the garden. We do not have that proximity to God like Adam had. We do not live in the same world that Adam lived in. We cannot live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world, a world full of sin, corruption, and ruin. Paul is going to say this about the creation in Romans 8:21. Further, each of us have perpetuated the problem because all of us have sinned as well.

But Paul is impressing upon us the undeserved nature of Christ’s work. Adam’s transgression introduced sin and death into the world. But Jesus introduced grace into the world. The grace of Jesus reverses the power of sin. God is displaying his glory over judgment and over condemnation. God’s purpose is not to destroy us with his wrath. God’s overwhelming, overflowing purpose is to save us. Sin and death do not triumph or reign over us. Paul will expand on this thought as he continues through chapter 5 and keep teaching about it in chapter 6. One point that we see throughout this section is Paul emphasizing the “one man” against the “many.” Instead of saying, “Adam” or “Jesus” repeatedly, Paul says, “one man.” One man affected many. Notice that it is through one man that grace flows. It is not through two men or many men that one is finding the grace of God. God’s grace flows only through one man, Jesus, and no one else. Grace does not flow through other humans. Grace does not flow through a church. Grace only flows, it overflows, through Jesus.

“And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” (Romans 5:16; ESV)

Adam’s act of disobedience brought condemnation into the world. Adam introduced sin. Adam introduced death, separation from God. Adam introduced condemnation to the world. In the garden there was no condemnation. Adam and Eve were able to be in the presence of God. Not so now. Adam’s act has brought the crushing weight of sin into the world, and because all sin (Romans 5:12), all of us are under condemnation. But Jesus brought something else into the world that is greater than Adam’s act of disobedience. Jesus’ obedience brought justification into the world. Without Jesus there was no hope for being declared acquitted by God. There was not a shred of hope to avoid God’s wrath. But when Jesus comes in obedience, he introduced justification to the world.

This should change our outlook when we look at Jesus. We often read about Jesus in the gospels, like we are doing in our Luke study, and simply see Jesus as an example for our lives. This is absolutely true: Jesus is the example for the lives of everyone. But there is more! When we read the life of Jesus we need to see him laying the foundation for justification. Jesus is living his life so that we can be pronounced righteous. What Jesus is doing in showing humility, in being peaceable, when enduring persecution, when allowing himself to be spit on, mocked, and crucified is laying the foundation for our justification. Jesus is doing all of this so that we can be declared acquitted by God.

The appropriate response of God to our one trespass is condemnation. God has the right and must execute wrath on us when there is even just one trespass in our lives. But how many of us have only committed one trespass? We have committed many sins. We have made many mistakes. We missed the mark repeatedly. What should God do to us because we have committed many sins when only one sin is worthy of condemnation? Read verse 16 and notice what God did with our many trespasses. God sent the gift of grace to us through Jesus to bring us justification. Our many trespasses has brought justification! Justification is not the appropriate response for our sins. But that is exactly God’s response toward us. Think about the billions and billions of sins that were just committed around the world today that God stands ready to forgive today!

The work of Jesus is shown to be greater than the work of Adam. God is not defeated by our sins. God wants us reconciled to him and he will not be thwarted by sin and death. Even in our many trespasses God brought grace through Jesus.


  1. We are separated from God because of our own actions, not Adam’s. We can’t blame Adam for our sinful state. We are sinners and we are separated from God because we chose to sin.
  2. We can blame Adam for the world we live in. We live in a world of corruption, ruin, and depravity because Adam allowed sin and death to enter the world by his disobedience. But don’t be too hard on Adam because we have already noted that we have sinned too. We are not any better than him. But we do not live in paradise and in presence of God like he did. The world changed when he sinned.
  3. But the world changed again with Jesus. Adam introduced sin and death, but Jesus has introduced overflowing grace for our many trespasses. Jesus is greater than any sin we have committed. Justification can be found in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.
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