Romans Bible Study (The Righteousness of God Revealed)

Romans 5:17-21, The Gift of Grace – Part 2

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In our last lesson we observed the overflowing grace offered to the world. Adam introduced sin and death into the world. But Jesus has introduced grace and justification. In this way Adam is a type of the one to come. Both Adam and Jesus were going to affect humanity by a single act. With Adam, his one act brought sin and death into the world and we are separated from God because we sin as well (5:12). Now that sin is in the world, and death through sin, we also are dead to God because we sin. Adam’s sin has ruined and corrupted everything. But through the one act of Jesus, grace has been poured out and is overflowing. Our many trespasses has brought about justification in Jesus, rather judgment and condemnation that was deserved to us.

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. (5:17; ESV)

Verse 17 presents an amazing contrast that we can easily miss because it is not a logical parallel. Paul begins with a condition. “If death reigned through that one man” is the condition. Because of Adam’s sin, separation from God has ruled. We pointed out last week that before Adam’s sin we read of Adam and Eve in a close relationship with God and God in a closer proximity to humanity than after their sins. Once Adam sins, humanity is forever separated from God. So this condition is true: one man’s trespass (speaking of Adam) led to death ruling over the world.

Now think about what we would expect the contrast to be in Jesus. We would expect Paul to say that death (separation from God) reigned, but now life (eternal life, reconciliation) reigns. But that is not what Paul says. Paul chooses not to contrast death and life. Notice what Paul does say. First, he says, “much more.” This is the fifth time in this chapter that Paul has described Christ doing “much more” (5:9,10,11,15,17). Christ is not simply counteracting the sin and death, but is going far beyond it. Since one condition exists because of Adam, now a greater, better condition exists because of Jesus.

So what is the “much more” that we have? Again, Paul does not say that death reigned and now life reigns. Rather, death reigned and now we reign in life. Death reigned. But now we reign.

Again notice that the life Paul speaks about is not physical life. We are not reigning in physical life. We are reigning in spiritual life, that is, eternal life no longer separated from God’s presence. Thus, the death that used to reign in spiritual death. Physical death still does reign because we are all going to die, even if we are Christians or not. But spiritual death, that is, separation from God, no longer reigns for those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Chapter 6 is going to explain fully how we reign in Christ. So I will leave that explanation for Paul when we come to the study of Romans 6. For now, Paul simply asserts his point that he will prove shortly. Death reigned, but now we reign in life in Jesus. Those who receive the “overflow of grace” (HCSB) are those who now reign in life. I just want to also note that speaking about “receiving the grace of God” is a perfectly scriptural phrase, as Paul describes here in Romans 5:17. This is not passive salvation. We have to receive the overflow of God’s grace to reign in life in Jesus. Again, Paul will better explain how we do this in Romans 6.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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. (Romans 5:18–19; ESV)

One of the things that is important to notice as we go through Romans 5 and especially Romans 6 is that sin is personified by Paul. Rather than talking about sin as an act, Paul speaks of sin as a power. Sin enters the world and sin is described as reigning, like a king would reign on a throne. We will see this language continue in chapter 6 where Paul will describe the need to be dead to sin and to not let sin have rule over us. Keep this in mind as we move through the final three verses of chapter 5.

The sin of Adam introduced condemnation to all. The righteous act of Jesus introduced justification to all. As we have mentioned before, but need to point out again: if Paul is saying that we are made sinners because of what Adam did, then we are made righteous because of what Jesus did. Neither require any effort on our part. So we formerly were universally lost outside of our own actions, and now we are universally saved outside of our own actions through Jesus. But this idea flies completely against Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-4. The one act of Adam did not make us condemned. Rather the one act of Adam leads to condemnation because sin and death rule. Adam brought sin and death into the world that did not exist before. If the world were still the paradise and perfect that God created, then there would not be sin and death in the world and we would not be separated from God. But Adam’s act brought sin and separation into the world and we are also condemned because all of us sin also. Adam’s sin made it possible for us to sin and die. We participate in Adam’s disobedience.

Jesus’ one act of righteousness did not automatically save the world or automatically make us righteous, but introduced grace and justification to the world. Jesus’ act made it possible for us to be justified. What Paul is beginning to show, and will show more fully in chapter 6, is that when we are linked to Adam by sinning, we stand under judgment. But when we are linked to Jesus by faith, we stand in grace. We are either under the power and reign of sin, or we are under the power and reign of Jesus. We are either in sin or in Jesus.

20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21; ESV)

Paul now returns to the nature and impact of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was part of Paul’s discussion in chapter 4. He brings in some thoughts about the Law of Moses to help us understand what Moses’ law did. To understand verse 20, I believe it will help us significantly to understand how the Jews perceived Moses’ law. The ESV Study Bible points out, “The typical Jewish view in Paul’s day was that God gave the law to counteract the sinful human impulse. In Judaism there was the proverb, ‘The more Torah the more life’ (Mishnah, Aboth 2.7).” Paul has worked out this point previously in the letter to Romans that the Law of Moses did not bring life and did not bring justification. Remember that the Jews were relying on possession of the Law of Moses as their ticket to justification. Recall Paul’s points earlier in this letter:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20; ESV) In the next verse Paul says that the righteousness of God was revealed apart from the law. In Romans 4:15 Paul reminded his audience that the law brings wrath, not life. So here also in Romans 5:20. The Law of Moses came in, but it did not make things better. In fact, it made things worse. There was no hope built within the Law of Moses. We have noticed this frequently throughout our study of Romans. The Law of Moses showed us and taught us about sin. But it did not offer any lasting remedy. The blood of bulls and goats did not take away sins. The Law of Moses was given to reveal sin, not as a means of justification. But that is what the Jews thought. They thought life was in the Law of Moses, and failed to recognize that death was in the Law and they needed a Savior for their shortcomings. Now, I do not believe Paul is saying that God gave the Law of Moses with the intention that sins would increase. That would violate God’s character to say that it was God’s purpose to have more sins committed. The NRSV carries the idea rightly, “But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied.” Paul is going to explore this point further in chapter 7, but the point is sufficient to understand is this: when there is no law, there is no sin, because sin is transgression of God’s law. Therefore, when law increases, sin increases all the more. The giving of the Law of Moses only increased sin. Law does not bring justification.

But notice the beautiful picture of verse 20. Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more. Using the word “abounded” or “increased” is somewhat insufficient to describe the overflowing of grace. Earlier, Paul said in 5:15 that grace abounded or overflowed for the many. But Paul did not use the same word in 5:15 that he used in 5:20. Paul says that the grace “super-abounded,” “super-increased,” or “super-overflowed.” Perhaps the NEB captures the intent well, “Where sin was thus multiplied, grace immeasurably exceeded it.”

Therefore, grace now reigns. Previously, sin reigned in death. But in Jesus grace reigns. Grace is ruling through God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness) in the life of Jesus, and the result is eternal life (true life with God). Notice that sin is described again as a power. This will be helpful in chapter 6 especially. The power of sin is overshadowed and broken by the power of grace. Sin reigned by leading people to death (separation from God). Grace reigns by leading people to eternal life (reconciliation to God). To sum up, now we have grace that is greater than all our sins is the great thought. Grace is not withheld because of sin. Grace abounds and overflows because of our sins.

Final Thoughts:

  1. We need grace.
  2. Grace is overflowing. It does not run out.
  3. God has revealed his righteousness. He sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins, bringing grace into the world, so that those who receive this abundance of grace will be declared acquitted. We must be in Jesus to receive this grace.
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