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—
(Romans 5:12 ESV)
This verse is like landing on the head of a snake when almost at the end of a ‘snakes & ladders’ game, and in fact both a snake and a ladder will feature in this post.
Any Bible verse beginning with ‘Therefore’ is instructing us to consider whatever was written before it in building up the argument. I have found this particular ‘Therefore’ to be very hard work because it’s topic actually throws me all the way back to Genesis 2:16-17. The more immediate context is Romans 5:1-11. In summary, that passage assures us of the unshakable hope we have in Christ because He chose to die for us even while we were enemies of God, so how much more can we be confident that we will be saved through his life now we are reconciled to God by his death.
But the context of Romans 5:1-11 does not fully explain the shift in topic of verse 12, and besides, the first word of Romans 5:1 is another ‘Therefore’, so I need to keep digging. My conclusion is that Paul is using chapter 5 to transition into chapters 6 to 8 from what he has written right through from the start of the letter up to the end of chapter 4.
Romans 1: God can be known but everyone has pushed this knowledge aside. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
Romans 2: Whether we have the law of Moses or not, all have disobeyed God’s decrees. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
Romans 3: Nobody is justified by the law — what the law brings is knowledge of sin. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
But: We can be justified by the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Then we get to Romans 5:1-11, which builds upon that entire foundation with:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
(Romans 5:1-2 ESV)
Paul goes on to show that since Christ died for us while we were sinners and enemies of God, then we can be sure that God will save us from wrath now that we are reconciled (i.e., not enemies) through the blood of His Son. Paul now starts talking about sin, death and Adam.
Before I look at Genesis, what is the big deal with sin? Why does God get so grumpy about it? To understand this we need to consider what God is like.
Despite the many biblical references to human-like aspects of God’s nature, He is fundamentally not like us. God is holy. In Isaiah 6:3-5 the prophet has a vision of God and it is the holiness of God that is most prominent. Holiness is a fundamental attribute of God — if He were not holy He would not be God. Being holy means that He is utterly separated from sin. It is impossible for the slightest bit of sin to get into God — if that could happen He would cease being God. This is why Habakkuk says God cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13 ).
Because God is holy and sin is totally foreign to His nature, sin is destined to be a temporary thing. All sin will ultimately be obliterated, in fact, that is what the cross of Christ was all about — in Christ our sin was killed on the cross.
So, back to Adam. In Genesis 2:16-17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if he does he will die. What does Adam do? I guess I’m not the only one who would like to give him a good kick! (The snake also enters the picture here.)
Adam disobeyed a direct command of God, the first sin, and as promised he died. Through Adam two things that were previously not a part of human experience became inescapable and universal human experiences — sin and death. Both have been passed on to every human (with only a single exception).
The origin of sin and death through Adam explains how the realities that Paul has been discussing in chapters 1 through 4 of Romans came into being. Adam is the father of the entire human race. As Abraham is the father of all who believe and are fully convinced that God can do as He promised, so also Adam is the father of all of us who disobey God.
But there is another man, one who fully trusted God and full obeyed God. The man Jesus Christ obeyed God even to death on a cross. Through his death we are reconciled to God — the Holy God. The furious wrath of God at sin was poured out on Christ, so now we stand righteous before God through the obedience of Jesus Christ. (Here is our ladder, see Genesis 28:12 and John 1:51).
It is worth reading through Romans Chapter 5 and paying attention to the mediators of our sin and salvation (look for the word ‘through’) and note the superiority of what Christ has achieved over Adam’s disobedience (look for words such as ‘much more’, and ‘abounding’). It becomes clear that while we may feel angry at Adam for being the mediator of sin and death to the entire human race, we have no grounds to stay angry at him. God’s grace is far greater than Adam’s sin, or our sins — where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Through Jesus we receive reconciliation to the holy God, an abundance of grace, the free gift of righteousness, and eternal life.
Because it is through Christ that we receive salvation, there is nothing we have to do to earn it. There is also nothing we can do to lose or destroy it. In this we are in a far better place than Adam started — we are reconciled to God, have been given righteousness, and cannot lose it through disobedience as he did!