“As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans 5:18
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul spells out some of the most crucial theological and doctrinal truths of Christianity. Romans is the longest of the letters found in the New Testament, and Paul fills this letter to the brim with solid teaching for the Roman congregation. Centuries later, the Roman Epistle would inspire a German monk named Martin Luther to speak out against the doctrinal malpractices of the Catholic Church and initiate what would become the Protestant Reformation. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is an essential work theologically, doctrinally, and historically.
The church in Rome was composed of many Jews and Gentiles. We know this because Paul spends a great deal of time and attention in the Letter addressing various issues surrounding both camps of believers; for instance, Paul spends quite a bit of time discussing the role of the Law and how it is surpassed by faith. Paul’s main focus, however, are universal truths that apply to both the Jewish and Gentile believers: that all humans—Jews and Gentiles alike—are sinners. Humanity is fallen and in rebellion against God. “For all have sinned,” writes Paul, “and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It makes no difference if one had the Law or didn’t, humans are sinners and need redemption.
In Chapter 5 of the Letter, Paul traces the origin of this sinful nature back to its starting point: man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Through Adam’s willing disobedience to God, he brought forth sin in upon all of humanity and all of creation. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned”(Romans 5:12). Adam’s original sin plagues all of humanity to this very day. This is evidenced in numerous things, but most significantly through the existence of death. The consequence of sin is death, and death serves as a constant reminder that we live in a fallen and broken world—all of this becauseof one man’s sin. If this seems harsh or unfair, consider this: you either have a low view of the severity of sin, or you have a low view of the holiness ofGod.
There is hope. Paul uses the model of sin coming into the world through one man to present something equally, if not even more, remarkable. Through Adam, we have death, but in Christ, we have life. Christ’s act of righteousness—his sacrificial death on the cross—paid the price for our sins. He atoned us; he justified us. Christ settled the debt between God and man. Christ undid what Adam had done. Where Adam failed in disobedience, Christ thrived in obedience. Just as the world was damned through the action of man, the action of another man—God Incarnate—brought hope and forgiveness. As if that weren’t enough, wrap your mind around this: Christ did this for you and for me while we were still actively rebelling against him. Paul wastes no amount of paper or ink communicating this point:
“Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
“God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)
Paul wanted to Roman Christians to know that Christ did something amazing for them even while they were actively sinning and rebelling against him. That still holds true for us today. For every sin that you and I have committed or will commit, Christ went to Calvary. He endured every lash with the whip that tore and ripped his flesh; he endured being mocked and beaten and spit upon by the Roman soldiers; he endured Pilate’s questions and Herod’s chides; he endured the crowds crying out for Barabbas—whose name means ‘Father’s Son’—to be freed while he knew that he was the true Son of the Father; he endured the chants of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” from the religious leaders who claimed to know the scriptures, while he was the author and embodiment of those scriptures. For these sins, for your sins, and for mine he was marched through Jerusalem while being cursed, he was stripped naked and nailed to the cross. For all of our sins, he languished upon the cross while the cynics taunted and tested him and told him to prove that he was the Messiah by coming off the cross, while each of his friends and disciples deserted him. For you and for me he endured being condemned and forsaken by God.
Christ died so that we might live. He died for us while we were actively living in opposition to him. There is no greater love than that.
photo courtesy of blog.oup.com