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Romans (Series 2)

Christ and Adam

Romans 5:12-21

Lesson audio

Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Arminius, Iraneus, Anselm, Wesley – these are some of the great names in church history. They are also men who do not agree on a very fundamental doctrine: original sin. We shall not settle the debate in this lesson, but we hope to make matters a little clearer – and along the way point out the important things upon which all agree.

Original Sin, etc.


Let’s do a little dictionary defining:

  • Original sin – the doctrine that humanity, individually and collectively, is by nature sinful as a result of the sin of Adam.
  • Concupiscence – the doctrine that the method of transmitting original sin is by sexual lust in procreation.
  • Total depravity – the concept that original sin makes man absolutely helpless to correct the problem.
  • Predestination – the concept that (largely due to total depravity) man cannot determine his own destiny, but is predestined to heaven or hell as God (alone) decides.

You now have a scorecard.

Big Guns

Something as important as this would, one might think, be the subject of majority agreement. It is not. A little history of the big guns in Christian thinking:

  • Augustine – developed the idea of original sin as a response to the Pelagians. The Pelagians held to the idea that man is morally perfectible (in short, Paul got it wrong); in response, Augustine expounded the first clear statement of original sin. From this, Augustine concluded that infant baptism was necessary – otherwise dead babies go to hell. This later became a point of argument. Iraneus used the concept against the Gnostics as well, but in the context of the fallen nature of the world. He also decided that concupiscence was the mechanism by which original sin is transmitted. This, ultimately, was said to imply the immaculate conception. (Gets complicated, doesn’t it?)
  • Aquinas – rejected the doctrine of concupiscence. This eventually blossomed into full debate as to whether or not sex is inherently sinful. Aquinas himself barely touched on the subject – but the rest of the church picked it up for him.
  • Luther – picked up Augustine’s idea of concupiscence. This was enormously influential in determining Protestant ideas and attitudes toward sex (and the inferiority of women).
  • Calvin – extended Luther’s concept to the point that mankind was so consumed with original sin as to have “total depravity” – and therefore was unable to do anything about it. Even the act of faith had to come from God; therefore you are predestined to heaven or hell by Almighty God.
Christian Churches (Restoration Movement)

And what of our little denomination? Stone and Campbell rejected original sin; contending that we each die for our own sin. (This is why there is no infant baptism in our church). Many such churches now accept original sin in some form or another.

One particular change arising recently comes from the “Emergent Church” movement. Theologically a bit fuzzy, it contends that (like the Semi-Pelagians of old) man is morally perfectible in this life – at least, after baptism. Man does not need the aid of God beyond baptism (though he may seek it), but by virtuous acts can rise to moral perfectibility. Regular listeners will recognize the characteristic ideas that people have problems, not sins, which can be solved by a set of easy rules to follow.

Where on earth did all this come from???? From three little verses.

What Paul really said

Romans 5:12-14 NIV 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-- (13) for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. (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.

The nature of sin

We need to start simply in this. What is the nature of sin? In the original, it means “to miss the mark.”

Which implies that there exists a mark to miss – a commandment, a sense of right and wrong. But Paul has already shown us there are two kinds of “marks:”

  • There is the explicit standard – a commandment from God, to violate which is known sin.
  • There is the implicit standard, inferred from nature. This applies to those who don’t have the explicit kind. As we have seen, all mankind has this.

Obviously, the original explicit sin was Adam’s – as before that there was no commandment. (Hence the name, “original sin.”) That doesn’t mean that there was no implicit sin before Adam; the Scripture is almost silent on that point. But as Paul points out here, if there is no commandment, then God doesn’t take sin into account. We might see this as no additional consequence. We still do much the same; we are much lighter in judgment on those who were ignorant than those who are not.

The nature of death

One source of conflict about this in the modern world is the idea, popular in the early 1900’s, that before Adam there was no death. The fossil record seems to indicate to the contrary (to put it mildly). How can we understand this?

  • First, remember that Christ is the source of life. When he proclaims that he is “the life”[1] the word used for life means biological, not spiritual, life. So if you are to live, God must continue to sustain it.
  • But sin separates man from God.
  • Ultimately, therefore, sin means death because it separates you from “the life.” Whether that sin is against the explicit or implicit law would make no difference.
Adam as pattern

Adam, as we have said, committed the first explicit sin. That kind of sin is always taken into account by God.

Paul therefore tells us that Adam is a type of Christ. The word “type” means something like a model, a figure or even a statue. Suppose you took your grandchild to Washington, DC, and your grandchild pointed to a statue and asked, “who’s that?” You might reply, “That’s George Washington.” You don’t mean that the statue is literally George; rather, it’s a picture of George in three dimensions. Paul’s language means the same here.

He is going to compare Christ and Adam in the next section. But here we see an example of imputation: because of Adam, God imputes sin to us. Because of Christ, he imputes righteousness. How this works is explained next.

Compare and Contrast

Romans 5:15-21 NIV 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! (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. (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. (18) Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (19) For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (20) The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, (21) so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you know why there are no one-armed Bible teachers? Because we have to be able to say, “On the other hand…” Paul does that here: he performs a logical analysis known generally as “comparison and contrast.” Two options or ideas are compared, usually point by point, to show the differences. We can do that more graphically than Paul. Consider the ubiquitous T-chart:


Chocolate Ice Cream



Can be eaten by tortoises

Usually rejected by tortoises

Can be used as a highway flare

Doesn’t burn, even with gasoline on it

Highly tasteless and woody


Well, you get the idea (I hope). Paul does the same thing here, comparing and contrasting Christ and Adam, the trespass and the gift:



One man’s sin

One man’s sacrifice

Many died as a result

Many live as a result

Chronologically, followed one sin

Chronologically, followed many sins

Result: condemnation

Result: justification

Cause: disobedience

Cause: obedience

Sin increases

Grace increases more

Sin reigns

Grace reigns

The point, then, is startling: everything that could go wrong did when Adam sinned – but how much greater is the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Just how much greater, we will expound next lesson.

[1] John 14:6

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