Sin and forgiveness. 5:18-21


In chapter 5:12-21 Paul explains how Christ's saving death has affected all humanity. Paul does this by comparing the saving work of Christ with the condemning work of Adam. He begins this comparison in v12, but then in v13-17 he qualifies it. Finally, in v18, Paul makes the comparison, repeats it in v19, and then in v20-21 he notes the part the law plays.

The passage

v18. Paul resumes the comparison between the condemning work of Adam and the saving work of Christ which he had introduced in v12. His point is simple: just as Adam's transgression has led to the condemnation and doom of all God's people, in fact, all humanity, so Christ's faithful obedience to the cross, his atoning work, has led to the vindication of all God's people, and as a consequence, life in all its fullness, now and for eternity.

v19. The point made in verse 18 is repeated. Just as Adam's disobedience has affected all God's people, so Jesus' obedience has affected all God's people. As one man's disobedience made all sinners, rebels before God, so one man's obedience (ie. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross) has made all God's people right before him (ie. achieved a divine acquittal for sinners, a setting right of rebels before God). The eternal reality of our standing before God is such that we can properly say we are eternally "ranked as being righteous", Heinz Cassirer.

v20-21. Paul now clarifies his argument by explaining the function of the Law of Moses in the business of condemnation and reconciliation. The Law was added to increase human transgression, yet where sin increased, God's grace overflowed all the more in the gift of righteousness for sinners (justification - God's setting right a people in his sight) and thus, as a consequence, life eternal through Christ - the eternal gift of new life in Christ. The Law of Moses came many years after Adam. When it came it served to show up sin for what it is, and so made sinful acts conscious and willful acts of disobedience against God. Yet, as this rebellion against God continued, culminating in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, so also the grace of God overflowed all the more from this very act of ultimate evil. The cross served to displace the reign of sin, resulting in death, with the never-ending reign of God's favour. God's favour (his grace) is seen in the gift of right-standing in his sight, which gift results in new life, life eternal.

Made righteous

My father, in his seventies, had a gall operation that didn't go so well for him. In the middle of the operation he died. Only later were we told how he only just survived the knife. When he came around he announced that during the operation he had died and found himself walking up the stairs of a temple flooded in light. At the top of the stairs he saw ..... well, lets say The Ancient of Days. "He beckoned me, but I didn't want to go, and then I woke up." I know my father was totally convinced of the reality of his experience, an experience many testify to.

I don't really know what to say about this type of experience. I remember reading of one theory where in a death experience our mind goes into shock and we relive our birth. So, the visage in white is the doctor who delivered us. Well, it's an idea! What I do know is that one day we will have to face The Ancient of Days and his piercing stare will expose our corruption and, unless there is a way to divert that stare, we will be consumed.

The Bible tells us that Jesus identifies himself with sinners through his death on the cross. He makes himself one with us so that he can stand before the judgement throne of God on our behalf. We can stand approved before The Ancient of Days if we share the righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ we are incorporated in, united with, Christ, and so in Jesus we can receive the long-promised blessings of God, "well done thou good and faithful servant." In Jesus we are treated as faithful sons of God.

Thankfully, the stare of the Almighty does not pierce the goodness of Jesus.


1. What did Adam's disobedience achieve, and what did Jesus' obedience achieve?

2. Discuss the meaning of the phrase "made righteous".

3. What is the function of the Law of Moses?

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