Christ Delivers from Adam’s Death

Romans 5:12-19

October 22, 2006 | Brian Bill

We’re going to begin a bit differently today.  I’d like you to turn to the person next to you and first introduce yourself if you don’t already know each other and then share your answer to this question: “Other than Jesus, who has had the greatest influence in your life?”  

Now let’s hear from some of you.  Who has had the greatest influence in your life?  So as to not embarrass anyone here this morning, you could just share in general terms, and not use any specific names. 

[After listening to answers]  Without minimizing the impact that any one individual has made in your life, there’s one person that has influenced you more than anyone else you’ve mentioned.  If you wonder how I know this, it’s because he’s affected me as well.  His name is Adam.

The section of Scripture we will be looking at today is complex and complicated and contains some of the deepest theological truths in the Book of Romans.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia refers to this passage as “the logical center of the epistle, the central point to which everything that precedes has converged, and out of which everything else will flow.”  The Presbyterian preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse preached 25 sermons on these verses alone!  I plan to preach only two, with next week’s focus on “The Greatness of God’s Grace.”  

Paul’s argument is a bit challenging to follow and the verses themselves are not easy to outline.  One person referred to this passage as the most difficult part of the entire New Testament.  At first glance, perhaps this was what Peter meant when he said this about the writing of Paul in 2 Peter 3:16: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures to their own destruction.”  While this is a deep section, and I don’t want to distort it, these verses are actually fairly easy to understand.  We may not like what we learn, but I think we can all comprehend what is written here.

In essence, Paul is comparing and contrasting Adam with Christ and how we either have a legacy of guilt or of grace, depending on how we respond to Jesus.  Adam and Christ are different in many ways but similar in the sense that they both represent a multitude and they both have passed along the effects of their actions to others.  Before we look at some of their dissimilarities, let’s go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible and take a refresher course.  

As we were reminded by the little girl who quoted Psalm 8 at the start of the service, human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the apex of all His creativity.  In the beginning, God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Adam was king over all creation and the head of the first human family.  He and Eve were given great gifts, and were encouraged to enjoy the pleasures of paradise.  God gave just one restriction to Adam in Genesis 2:16: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Not content to be in close community with God, Adam and Eve want the one thing they can’t have.  

Eve is tricked into eating the fruit and gives some to Adam, who ate willingly.  But here’s the difference: Eve was deceived while Adam sinned deliberately.  We see this in 1 Timothy 2:13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived…”  It was through that fatal choice that sin entered the world.  Adam chose the wrong path, and in so doing, plunged people everywhere into the depths of depravity and despair.  Theologians refer to this as the Fall, for when Adam ate the fruit he fell from grace into guilt; from communion with God to chaos; from sweetness to shame.

Romans 5:12 summarizes the entire section: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned –.”  We know from verse 14 that the “one man” is none other than Adam.  Loved ones, before we go much further, allow me to make the obvious point that Adam was a real person, not the fabrication of some myth or legend.  

Related to this, the opening chapters of Genesis are to be taken literally, just the way they are written.  If you hold to the theory of evolution, and discount God’s account in Genesis, then you’ll never understand where sin came from and you’ll miss the whole meaning of why the Savior came.  Not only is Paul’s argument wrapped up in the historicity of Adam, Jesus Himself held to the literal account of creation in Matthew 19:4: “Haven’t you read, he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?’”  Destroying or distorting Genesis undermines and eventually unravels the Gospel message.

It’s Adam’s Fault

Let’s look at what Romans 5:12 is saying

1. Sin is present. 

The word “therefore” is connecting this section to what we just finished studying in the first eleven verses.  Sin “entered” the world through Adam, which means that it was introduced into the world through his deliberate act of disobedience.  The word “enter” means to spread, or to go through, like a contagious virus spreading through the entire population.  It’s like Adam opened a huge container of anthrax and the spores of this deadly sin virus have been inhaled by each of us.

This verse deals with what is commonly called “original sin.”  G.K. Chesterton said it this way: “Whatever else may be said about man, this much is certainly true: He is not all that he could be.”  This sermon is almost too easy to illustrate because the evidence for the sorry story of our sinfulness is plastered in the headlines everyday. 

Sin is not just “out there” in the headlines but is also present in our own hearts as Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  Jesus put it this way in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  No one is immune from the virus of sin because it has spread everywhere.  No one is exempt from its excruciating grip and no one is innocent.

This actually explains a lot, doesn’t it?  When I was an associate pastor to Ray Pritchard in Oak Park, I used to come into his office on occasion and lament someone’s lack of love or wonder why a ministry event didn’t match my expectations.  After listening to me vent for awhile, Ray would invariably lean forward in his chair and in his signature southern drawl would say, “Brian, we live in a fallen world.”   That’s good theology and a good reminder that I find myself still quoting on a regular basis.

Our world doesn’t make sense without the doctrine of original sin.  Something has gone wrong; terribly and wickedly wrong.  The Bible is clear that we live in a fallen world and even secular studies show how savage our sinfulness is.  Listen to these words from the Minnesota Crime Commission:

Every baby starts life as a little savage.  He is completely selfish and self-centered.  He wants what he wants when he wants it—his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch.  Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless.  He is dirty.  He has no morals, no knowledge, no skills.  This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent.  If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist”  (As quoted by Ray Stedman, “From Guilt to Glory,” I, p. 131).

These words were written 80 years ago, though they sound like they could have been penned yesterday.  Our slant toward sinfulness starts even before we were born as David details in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  C.S. Lewis got it right in the Chronicles of Narnia when he referred to young men as “sons of Adam” and young women as “daughters of Eve.”

2. Sin’s penalty is death.  will die.” 

1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die…” Death didn’t take long to make an entrance when Adam’s one son Cain killed his other son Abel. Sin is present because it entered the world through one man.  And because sin came in, death did as well: “…and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…”  The word “death” is used seven times in this passage.  Adam was told very plainly that his disobedience would result in death.  He died physically but more importantly he died spiritually because his sin separated him from a holy God.  Ezekiel 18:4 says, “The soul who sins is the one who

Because of the power of death, we are in its grip and according to Hebrews 2:15 are “held in slavery by [our] fear of death.”  The dynasty of death is traced all the way back to Adam.  We learned two weeks ago that we were weak, wicked and wayward.  Last week we added that before we came to Christ we were at war with Him.  Now we see that those without Christ are without life because they are dead.  

3. The Pervasiveness of Sin. 

Sin is pervasive because it is everywhere and it is in everyone

Sin is present and death is its penalty.  What does the number 300 million mean to you?  That’s right; the U.S. population has now reached that milestone.  That’s amazing.  But even more astonishing is that out of 300 million people in our country, 300 million of them are sinners.  Sin is pervasive because it is everywhere and it is in everyone.  Notice the last phrase of verse 12: “Because all sinned.” This echoes back to Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”   

Drew and Timmy were brothers and one day their parents gave them a list of jobs to do while they went to the store: “Clean your rooms, do the dishes, and mow the lawn.”  When the parents returned they saw that nothing had been done.  Dad was obviously not very happy and so he asked Drew a question: “What have you been doing while we were gone?”  Drew replied in a quiet voice: “Nothing.”  Dad then turned to Timmy and questioned him, “And what have you been doing, young man?”  To which Timmy replied, “Helping Drew.”  We can sin even when we do nothing. 

I got a kick out of a letter Dear Abby received several years ago.  Her response shows that she clearly understands the pervasiveness of sin.  

Dear Abby: “I am 44 and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits.”

Dear Rose: “So would I.”

When Adam sinned, somehow you and I sinned because our lack of holiness is hereditary.  I heard one person put it this way: When Adam sinned it was if he was the bus driver of humanity and when he drove over the cliff, we all crashed and burned with him.  Because Adam is our ancestor and he is the head of the human race, when he fell you and I fell with him.  Paul is not saying that we all sin because Adam sinned, though this is certainly true.  Paul is saying something even stronger: We all sinned when Adam sinned and death is in our DNA.

Maybe this doesn’t sound fair to you.  How could Adam’s sin be counted against us?  It’s because He represents each one of us.  There’s biblical precedent for this.  Do you remember the story of David and Goliath?  When the battle lines were drawn, the deal was that David would represent Israel and Goliath would represent the Philistines.  Depending on which man won, the nation he represented would win.  And whoever lost, then his nation would lose.  When Goliath was toppled by a pebble, the Philistines went down with him.  When Adam sinned, we sinned.

 A Relevant Rabbit Trail

I want you to notice something structurally about this section of Scripture.  Verse 12 serves as a summary statement but Paul’s thought is not really finished.  We see this in many versions with a hyphen at the end of the verse.  The verse begins with the phrase “just as” but it’s not completed with the “so also” until we get to the second half of verse 18.  Paul begins his argument about our lineage to Adam and then thinks about a few other things that he needs to say.  It’s almost as if he interrupts himself. 

I think this has a simple explanation.  Those from a Jewish background saw themselves as superior to other people because they were children of Abraham.  They bragged about their descent from Abraham the saint; Paul reminds them that Adam the sinner is their most important ancestor.  Now that he’s made that point, he anticipates another objection that goes something like this: If you’re going to skip Abraham then what about the impact that Moses made?  

While he leaves his initial argument dangling, Paul now goes down a relevant rabbit trail in verses 13-17.  This is not just a tangent however, because he is actually piling on more evidence as he goes.  Let’s walk though these verses and make a few observations:

Verse 13: “For before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.”  Paul makes the obvious point that the Law did not bring sin, but instead revealed sin.  Like a magnifying glass, it shows us what was already there. 

Verse 14: “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.” Death is pictured as reigning from Adam to Moses, a time period of about 2500 years.  Like a King, the dynasty of death had its beginnings with Adam and continued through the time of Moses.  This verse introduces the idea that Adam was a “pattern” of Jesus.  Jesus came as a man, though He was fully God, to reverse the ruin unleashed by Adam’s sin.  1 Corinthians 15:45 refers to Jesus as the “last Adam.”

Verse 15: “But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”  Paul is now starting to compare and contrast Adam with Jesus.  One man (Adam) brought guilt to all.  One man (Jesus) brings grace to all.  The gift that Jesus offers is for everyone, just as the sin of Adam has infected everyone.  The phrase “how much more” is used in verses 9, 10, 15, 17 and 20.  We’ll speak more about God’s amazing grace next week but suffice it to say that the grace of Jesus Christ “overflows or super abounds.  Jesus gives us much more than we expect and certainly much more than we deserve. Remember this truth: Grace is always greater than sin.

Verse 16: “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”  Would you notice that God’s gift is so much different than the judgment that came from Adam?  Adam’s one sin brought condemnation.  The gift of grace follows “many trespasses,” which means that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or how much you’ve done it, you can be justified by Jesus.

Verse 17: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”  This is an amazing verse.  The dynasty of death has been reigning unabated since Adam plunged us into the sea of sin.  When we “receive God’s abundant provision” we will reign in this life.  One commentator captured this well: “Adam’s sin brought life to an end; what Christ did dethrones death and enthrones righteousness, which is evidenced in life.”

The word “abundant” means to exceed a fixed number so as to have enough, and more to spare.  It’s the idea of running over.  Friends, Christ’s one act of obedience was immeasurably greater that Adam’s one act of condemnation.  We could say it like this: “The sin of Adam brought death—a decaying degenerative force.  But grace brought a far more dynamic power—life…the trespass of Adam brought death once, the sacrifice and death of Jesus brings life a thousand times.”

God’s Remedy Must Be Received

Once again we see that the gift of grace must be received.  It’s not automatically applied to your life like Adam’s sin has been.  We died because of Adam but we can live and reign because of Christ, provided we receive what He offers.  No longer conquered by King Death, believers are now conquerors because of what Christ has done.  Romans 8:37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” 

Verse 18 completes the thought from verse 12.  The first half summarizes Paul’s argument: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men…” And the second half finishes it: “…so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”  This is the greatest “gift exchange” in all of history!  The word “gift” is found five times in just three verses, reminding us that salvation is not something we can earn.  When we receive reconciliation we will be released from blame (condemnation) and bondage (the reign of death).

In the movie called “The Last Emperor,” a young boy is anointed as the last emperor of China and lives a life of luxury with 1000 servants at his command.  One day his brother asks, “What happens when you do wrong?”  The emperor answered, “When I do wrong, someone else is punished.”  He then demonstrates by breaking a jar, and one of his servants is beaten.  In Christianity Jesus reverses that ancient pattern.  When the servants (that’s us) make a mistake, the King is punished.  Instead of us being condemned eternally for our sins, Jesus is condemned instead.

Verse 19 reiterates and reinforces these astonishing truths: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”  David Dykes has helped my understanding here.  When Adam sinned, he died:

  • Immediately in his spirit.  His community and intimacy with God was fractured.
  • Gradually in his soul.  More and more he became aware of how rotten he was.
  • Eventually in his body.  930 years later, he died physically.

Listen.  What Adam ruined, Jesus restored.  As sons of Adam or daughters of Eve, when we receive Jesus Christ, His redemption reverses the ruin of Adam: 

  • We receive spiritual life immediately in our spirits and are instantaneously justified.
  • We receive grace to become more like Jesus through the gradual process of sanctification.
  • Eventually we’ll receive a renewed and resurrected body.  That’s glorification. 


I see some implications that flow from what we’ve learned this morning.

1. God takes sin very seriously and so should we. 

Some may say that what Adam did was no big deal since all he did was munch on some fruit.  But it was a big deal because he disobeyed God’s command.  Let’s not minimize sin.  Adam did, and he died…and so did we.

2. No one is inherently good. 

If you’re here today and you think that you’re really a pretty good person, think again.  Some of us hesitate to share the gospel with people because we may think that they’re just nice people who don’t do bad things.  That may be true on the outside but everyone apart from Christ is in a precarious predicament.  Only Jesus can extricate from sin, death and condemnation.

3. We don’t become sinners by sinning; we sin because we are sinners. 

Sin is not what we do; it’s what we are and is evidenced by what we do.  Sin is more than just an act; it’s an attitude and a condition.  We do what we do because of who we are

4. You are either “in Adam” or you are “in Christ.” 

There’s no middle ground.  Adam is your ancestor or Jesus is your advocate.  Either Adam is having the greatest influence in your life; or Jesus is.  It all boils down to just one question: Are you “in Adam” or are you “in Christ?”

5. Birth is both the cause and the cure for our sin.  

You don’t need to make a new start in life; you need to receive a new life to start with

Don’t leave here thinking you just have to be a better person.  Listen very carefully: You don’t need to make a new start in life; you need to receive a new life to start with.  The cure for the curse is to transfer your lineage from Adam to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must exchange our identity with Adam which leads to condemnation to an identity with Christ in order for us to be justified.  Since we were born in sin; the only one to be saved from sin is to be born again.  There is no more important decision to make.  Jesus emphasized this truth to a religious man, who looked pretty good on the outside in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Look at it this way.  There are two men, two gardens and two trees.  

  • Two Men.  You are in Adam or you are in Christ.  
  • Two Gardens.  Adam chose to follow his selfish desires and disregarded God’s command; Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will and fulfilled His purpose.
  • Two Trees.  Arthur Pink draws some contrasts between the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree upon which Christ died, the cross.  The first tree was planted by God in the Garden, the second was planted by man at Golgotha; God forbade man to touch the first tree, but all are invited to embrace the second tree; the punishment for eating of the first tree brought condemnation, the eating of the second tree brings life and justification; Adam was sent out of Paradise for eating of the first tree, when we receive the fruit of Jesus’ work on the second tree we enter Paradise.

You may still be saying, “It’s not fair that I should be punished for Adam’s sin!  This isn’t right and so I’m going to reject God.”  Son of Adam or daughter of Eve, that voice has been heard before in human history.  The voice of the viper told Eve to question God and to ultimately reject Him.  The voice you hear today is the voice of the evil one, the enemy of your soul.  Satan is seeking to destroy you.  Flee to the tree of Calvary before it’s too late.

Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, aren’t you glad we’re not stuck with the sin of Adam?  The only way to be cured from the curse is through Christ.  The only way to be set free from sin and break the dynasty of death is by having the death of Jesus applied to your account.  He doesn’t just want you to confess your individual sins, but for you to say as an individual that you are a sinner.  He doesn’t want your stuff; He wants yourself.  Are you ready to surrender to Him and let Him own you?

Let’s watch this video now about the centrality of the cross.  The song you’ll hear is called, “Own Me” by Jesse Owens.  Let me read some of the lyrics so you don’t miss them.

Got a stack of books,

So I could learn how to live;
Many are left half-read,
Covered by the cobwebs on my shelf.
And I got a list of laws,
Growing longer everyday;
If I keep pluggin’ away,
Maybe one day I’ll perfect myself.
Oh, but all of my labor,
Seems to be in vain;
And all of my laws,
Just cause me more pain;
So I fall before You,
In all of my shame;
Ready and willing to be changed-
Own me
Take all that I am,
And heal me
With the blood of the Lamb.
Mold me
With Your gracious hand;
Break me till I’m only Yours-
Own me

God is pleased when we give our sins and idols to Him but what He really wants is for us to surrender our sinfulness to Him and to give our very selves to Him.  Does He own you?  Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, it’s time to surrender all by leaving everything at the cross, including ourselves.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?