Part II: The Gospel of Hope

Our eternal security in Christ Jesus (5:1-8:39)


The New Testament message can be summarized by Paul’s famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  He ends this instruction on the way of love by stating:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

The whole New Testament message is about faith, hope and love.[1] We can use these three to create a broad outline of Romans:

Chapter 1-4:    Faith – We receive the righteousness of God through faith alone and not by any good work we do.

Chapter 5-8:    Hope – Despite all the trials and temptations of life, we hope in seeing the glory of Christ.

Chapter 12-16: Love – Our Christian life is a life lived in love.

So, in this part of the letter, from chapters 5 through 8, Paul focuses on the hope of our eternal security in Christ Jesus.  Christian hope is never just a wish but a joyful assured expectation – looking forward to what is sure to happen – because it is always focused on the person of Christ (Hebrews 6:19).  These chapters form a chiastic (ring) structure:

A          We rejoice in hope and are confident in the Spirit of our future glory (5:1-11)

            B          In our union in Christ, we have his righteousness (5:12-21)

C. Sin:  In our union in Christ, we are no longer under the bondage of sin and death but are confident in the free gift of eternal life (6:1-23)

C’ Law: In our union in Christ, we are confident that we are free from law (7:1-25)

            B’         In union in Christ we have the Spirit of life (8:1-11)

A’         We are confident in the Spirit of our future glory (8:18-39)

The two ends of the chiasm are the theme of this section: we rejoice now in hope despite our trials, confident in the Spirit and in our adoption as sons.  As Paul says:

Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (5:5)

And then at the end of this section on hope:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (8:24-25).

Between these two endpoints, Paul next tells us why we have this hope.  It is because Christ, the second Adam, has conquered sin and death. Now the Spirit is working in our lives so that we overcome sin and death.  In the middle, Paul deals with two problems that undermine our hope: sin and the law.  So this whole section, chapters 5 through 8, is about the hope of our eternal salvation that we have in union with Christ.

Lesson 5: Rejoicing in the Hope of Glory (5:1-21)

Rejoicing in peace and hope through Christ (5:1-11)

When Paul first taught about the need for justification (1:18-3:20), he began by stating that the godless and wicked people are all under the wrath of God (1:18).  He went on to explain that these Gentiles included those who had not heard the word of God (1:19-32).  But then he also turned to the self-righteous Gentile and the orthodox Jews who thought they already had salvation because of the covenants and the Mosaic law.  But Paul makes it clear, such “works of the law save no one.”  Moreover, he stated that there was no difference between Gentiles and Jews – all had sinned and had not measured up to the glorious standard of God (3:21).

Then, starting in 3:22, Paul instructs us that God has found a solution for this problem of sin.  It is the way of justification by faith in his Son.  It is not a way of boasting about our good works, no matter how helpful and good they are.  But boasting is only in the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, who has freely justified us by his grace. In chapter 4, Paul provides the foundation of salvation by grace through faith by showing that salvation by faith goes back to Abraham.  And that David also agreed with this teaching (4:6-8).  Now in this section (5:1-11), Paul describes those blessings for whom God credits righteousness by faith apart from works (4:6). 

Paul names seven blessings resulting from our justification.  All these blessings begin with, and are based on, his opening and repeated statement, “Therefore since we have been justified” (vv. 1, 9).  This justification is a free gift of grace made available through the cross and received through faith.  And this is why Paul so often opens his letters with the statement: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7b).  Here is the outline of the passage 5:1-11 (It is worth noting this section is in the first-person plural.):

I.    Foundation: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a)


1.    We rejoice in our peace with God through Jesus Christ   (v. 1b)

2.      We rejoice in the grace of God to enter his presence           (v. 2a)

3.      We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (v. 2b)

4.      We rejoice knowing God loves us through his Spirit       (vv. 3-5)

5.      We rejoice because he proved his love by his Son’s death (vv. 6-8)


II.  Foundation: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood” (v. 9a)


6.      We rejoice in our salvation in Christ (vv. 9b-10)

7.      We rejoice in God (v. 11)

1. We rejoice in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

v. 1b

Because we have been “justified” we now have “peace with God.”  Within human society, peace is often defined as the absence of conflict and war.  In Scripture, it is certainly that, but it is much more.  God’s “peace” includes the reconciliation of our relationship with him.

This is the first blessing of our being justified through faith. To be justified means we have been declared righteous because of the righteousness from Christ.  Although this is a judicial declaration, justification implies much more.  Justification always involves reconciliation of our relationship with God – our peace with God.  Justification and reconciliation always go together. Reconciliation occurs when we are justified and our sins forgiven. Reconciliation means we have been adopted as sons of God (8:15-16), which also means we are fellow heirs with Christ (8:17). And because we have been adopted as sons, Christ now calls us his brothers (8:29). Peace with God implies all these undeserved gifts. This is astonishingly good news!

And this is only possible “through our Lord Jesus Christ”; that is, because of what Christ Jesus has done; who “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (4:25).  This is the great blessing of the messianic age given to us by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Note as well, this peace is already available to those who put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. Of course, there is a future fulfillment of this peace when we will be perfectly united with Christ in his glory.  Then the peace we only experience in part now, because of sin, will be perfect in every way.

2. We rejoice in the grace of God to enter his presence

v. 2a

It is by the Prince of Peace, we “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”  Usually, “grace” refers to God’s unmerited, undeserved, and unconditional gift or favour to us. But here, “grace” emphasizes “our privileged position of acceptance by him.”[2]This grace,” therefore, refers to “justification” in the previous verse. Two verbs relate to “this grace”: “obtained access” and “stand.”  The literal meaning of the verb “obtained access” means the right or opportunity to come into the presence of a person with higher authority.  So here the imagery is of being brought into the holy of holies to the very mercy seat of God. As is written in Hebrews:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:18-22)

And as Paul states, we have this access “by faith.”  Only by faith in the person and work of Christ can we enter with boldness into the very presence of the perfect, sovereign and holy God.

Second, we “stand” in this grace. That is, we are confident in his presence. We do not need to shrink back, nor are we those who wonder if God’s acceptance of us varies with our ability not to sin and to do enough good work.  Since we are his adopted sons, we live forever, confidently, in his presence.  We do not fall in and out of his love.  As Paul states elsewhere:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).

3. We rejoice in our hope of the glory of God

v. 2b

Recall, again, that Christian “hope” is not just a wish.  Rather, it is a belief in something that is guaranteed to occur.  It is guaranteed because it is based on the promises of God who is both able and faithful to accomplish what he has said.  So, our hope is a joyful expectation that his promises will be fulfilled.  The word “rejoice” literally means “boast” (2:17), but here it “denotes exultant rejoicing, jubilation.”[3]  Specifically, Paul says we are jubilant in this hope in “the glory of God.” The glory of God is the visible display of his perfect beauty, revealing his infinite worth.  This glory is already partially revealed in his creation.

      The heavens declare the glory of God,

      and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

And it certainly has already been displayed in the incarnate Son of God. As the apostle John proclaimed:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

All of this glory has already been seen in the person of Jesus and is now being seen through faith (1 Peter 1:8).  There will come a day when we will no longer see as in a mirror dimly but face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).  On that glorious day, Jesus will be revealed in great power and glory (Mark 13:25; Titus 2:13).  It will be a day when every knee will bow before him and confess that he is indeed Lord of lords (Philippians 2:9-10).  It will also be a day when we will be changed into his glory. For:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

And best yet, we will be with him:

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)

Even though we have now fallen short of his glory, on that great day, we will not only see his glory; we will be transformed into it:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But it will not only be us who are transformed; it will also be all of creation. For although creation is now under “bondage to corruption” it too will be “set free” and “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21).  All of this is amazing good news!  And it is all because “we have been justified by faith” (v. 1).  This result of justification is past, present and future.[4]  Past because we now have peace with God; present, because we now stand in the most privileged position before God himself; and future, because we rejoice, exult and boast in the hope of seeing God’s glory.  All this already sounds perfect.  But “not only this,” for now, Paul surprises us with the fourth aspect of justification.

4. We rejoice because we know God loves us by his Spirit

vv. 3-5

Paul states, because of justification, we will also experience suffering.  But it is our response to suffering that is so surprising.  Paul says we will “rejoice” in it.  Again, the word “rejoice” used throughout this passage can also mean “exult” (nasb) or even “boast” (niv).  Although Paul speaks of suffering, his emphasis is on rejoicing because we know that God our Father loves us. The meaning is to express trust in God to do what he has promised.  We know this because he has “poured into our hearts” this love “through the Holy Spirit.”  Because of this assurance of the Father’s love, we have hope in the glory of God. 

We have this hope even though we suffer because of our faith in Christ.  For Paul is not speaking here about ordinary human suffering all people experience. Instead, he is talking about the suffering we experience because we are adopted sons of God (8:15-16).  And, because we are adopted sons and Christ is our brother (8:29), we also share in his suffering and the suffering of his church.[5]  It is only then that we are also “gloried with him” (8:17).  However, before it leads to glory on that last day, it leads to spiritual maturity today because it produces steadfast endurance in the face of opposition.  And this endurance helps in maturing our Christian character.  All this is done in the present, so we have hope in the future.  And we will never be shamed or disappointed by this hope because it is based on the person of Christ Jesus.  We will never be let down because God will never let us down.  His love is secure because he is both able and faithful to bring us into glory.  His loving kindness endures forever. For we are sure of this, God who justified us will perfect us, carrying us through to the great day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

We rejoice because we are assured that God indeed loves us.  But how do we know this?  Paul gives us two reasons: first, the love of God had been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” and second, God has proven that he loves us by sending his own Son to die on the cross for us (vv. 6-8).  Without the assurance that God the Father loves us, it is impossible to rejoice in our hope.  Because our hope is tarnished, we wonder if God loves us since we often do not live up to our understanding of the Christian life.  So, joy and hope are strongly connected.  Yet we can be assured of the Father’s love because the Father has given us the Holy Spirit.  It is the work of the Spirit to assure us of the Father’s love.  But is this some exceptional charismatic experience?  It is undoubtedly the case that many believers have experienced such extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit over the years.  However, this is not what Paul is referring to here.  He is stating all persons that have been justified have “obtained access by faith” to the love of God. Paul now points us to the cross to give us tangible, certain proof of this love. The work of the Spirit convinces us of the truth of the cross.

Before we move to the fifth result of our justification, it is worth reflecting more on God’s love for us. Christians will agree we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  Our justification is entirely a work of God and has nothing to do with our work or efforts. So, we “get in” to his love by grace.  We know this because, in the following assertion, Paul tells us that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (v. 8).  John is even more specific when he says, “We love because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19). But we often think we can only “stay in” his love by our good works and efforts.  So, we believe God will love us more when we do good things (pray, read our Bible, go to church, help the poor, and witness to co-workers). And, of course, we often think God loves us less when we do bad things or neglect to do good things.  In other words, we believe our good or bad actions somehow affect our salvation. This thinking results from confusion between justification and sanctification. But the gospel does not describe God’s love this way.  His Fatherly love is unconditional – he does not love us more if we do good or less if we do bad. Our actions have nothing to do with God’s love.

The reason is that his love is based solely on his own will and not on us.  Of course, we can please or displease our Father.  But this does not change the degree to which he loves us.  He has adopted us as his sons, so he loves us as his sons (John 17:26). A good father – and only God is good (Mark 10:18) – does not love his son less or more, depending on behaviour.  And God is a perfect Father whose love for us is unconditional. So we “get in” his love by his grace and “stay in” his love by his grace. 

Still, it is easy for us to think we must complete our Christian life by works, even though we began it by grace.  Paul dealt with this problem when he wrote his letter to the Galatians church.  There he reprimands them on this very problem when he says:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

Good works after our conversion do not keep us in God’s love; his love is always an undeserved gift of grace from now to eternity. It is because God loves us that our greatest desire is to please him by doing good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).

5. We rejoice because he proved his love by his Son’s death

vv. 6-8

Paul now explains to us the proof of God’s love.  He states in verse 8, “God shows his own love for us”(v. 8).  The word “shows” is a weak translation.  Other translations use the word “demonstrate” but this does not bring out the whole meaning.  The emphasis is “to provide evidence of a personal characteristic or claim through action” (bdag).  In other words, amazingly, it means that God is proving to us his love for us.  And the action he does as a demonstration of this proof is “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

To fully grasp this meaning, we must remember that at the heart of love is action which is the complete giving of one’s self.  The intensity and purity of the love are revealed by the degree of self-sacrifice and the unworthiness of the recipient of the love.  Although this is only partially true for human love, it is perfectly true for God’s love.  Measuring love by this standard, God’s love is immeasurable.  For he sent his own Son to become one of us. And not only that but also to die on the cross with our sin imputed to him. We know this gift of self-sacrificial love came at an unfathomable cost. 

As well, this gift was given to us while we were “ungodly” (v. 6) and “still sinners” (v. 8).  We were “weak” or better, “helpless” or “powerless” (v. 6) to reconcile ourselves to God.  This means we have no ability or strength in ourselves to do it.  We did not expect or even ask for this gift.  But even more unworthily, “we were enemies” (v. 10) of Christ.  This means we were in rebellion against him (8:7).  We resented his authority, so we suppressed his truth in our ungodliness and unrighteousness; that is, we did not believe his gospel to be true (1:18).  And that resulted in God’s wrath. 

How then can God’s wrath and love be reconciled?  It can certainly not be because we turned from our hostilities, repented and turned to him.[6] It can only mean God first reconciled himself to us “at the right time” through the self-sacrificing gift of his Son.  God the Father put forward his Son as an atoning sacrifice to reconcile himself to us (3:25).  And now – only after God’s act of love – can we receive this reconciliation by faith in his Son. 

6. We rejoice in our salvation through Christ

vv. 9-10

Up to this point, Paul has told us what God has done for us.  We have received the righteousness of Christ; we have been justified and now stand righteous before God.  Paul has also taught us how we respond to this good news.  We can keep God’s moral laws by the indwelling Spirit. And so we rejoice in what he has done, but we also rejoice with all our brothers and sisters in Christ in suffering for him.  We see, therefore, that salvation is both past – what God has done for us – and present – what God is doing for us.  And now, in these two verses (vv. 9-10), Paul tells us salvation also has a future. Although we have already been justified, we have not yet been delivered from our sinful condition and given new glorified bodies.  Paul then explains this future salvation in both negative and positive terms.

Although we have been justified in a legal sense and have the indwelling Spirit to help us mature in our Christian life, we still sin. And so, there is coming a day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed (2:5). And for those who have rejected Christ’s offer of his righteousness, there will be “wrath and fury” (2:8).   But because “we have now been justified by his [Christ] blood” we are already saved from that future day of judgment.  As Jesus himself said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

Paul repeats this wonderful promise later in his letter:

There is, therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)

Paul also explains – using a Jewish a fortiori (how much more) argument – our future salvation in a positive way.  If God was able to restore our relationship with him through the sacrifice of his Son, and he did while we were still his enemies, then surely, he can save us “by his [Son’s] life.”  Jesus died for our sins, and “we have now been justified by his blood.” But he was also raised to life and is the first fruit of all who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  We see then that the saving work of Christ was not only the cross but also his resurrection and ascension.  The already resurrected life of Christ is a promise of our future resurrected life, a resurrected life in which we will live in the holy presence of God forever.

However, the reference to “saved by his life” is not just to Christ’s resurrected life but to his perfect obedience during his earthly life.  Although necessary, it is not sufficient for our sins to be forgiven; we must also be counted righteous.  Christ’s perfect obedience during his life on earth – his righteousness – is counted to us as if we perfectly obeyed the law.  A believer’s righteousness is “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).  So, salvation consists of both forgiveness of sins coming from Christ’s death on the cross, and righteousness coming from Christ’s life.  This is, as Martin Luther said, the Great Exchange: our sins are counted (imputed) to Christ and his righteousness is counted (imputed) to us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Both forgiveness and righteousness are received through the instrument of faith.[7] Our salvation depends on both. On that basis, we can stand in Christ’s righteousness before the judgment seat of God. It is in this reconciliation that we rejoice.  This great teaching gives the most honour and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.  As John Piper has written:[8]

Alongside the pastoral preciousness of the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ is the great truth that this doctrine bestows on Jesus Christ the fullest honor that he deserves. Not only should he be honored as the one who died to pardon us, and not only should be honored as the one who sovereignly works faith and obedience in us, but he should also be honoured as the one provided a perfect righteousness for us as the ground of our full acceptance and endorsement by God.

7. We rejoice in God

v. 11

Now Paul says even “more than that, we rejoice in God.” This phrase, coming right after verses 9-10, means we do not just rejoice in our salvation but, even more, we rejoice in God.  It is worth noting that the phrase “rejoice in God” is identical in the original Greek to “boast in God” in 2:17. In the latter case, the Jews boasted they had a special covenant with God that excluded the Gentiles.  So the focus on the bragging was on them.  They could point to themselves as being special.  However, in this verse (v.11) the focus is very much on God.  Actually, neither Jew nor Gentile has anything to boast about since both were “enemies” and both needed to be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” by being “justified by his [the Son’s] blood.” And so, as Christians, we should not behave like the self-righteous Jews of 2:17.  Although he chose us, we have nothing to boast about in ourselves.  We were not called to be followers of Christ because we were better than others.  Neither should we boast that we accepted his call.  In fact, we were sinners and enemies of God when he called us.  Our boasting, therefore, must always be in God alone and not in our status.

That God tells us through Paul to “rejoice,” “exalt,” or “boast” in him is certainly appropriate.  For this is what we were created to do.  But Paul also reminds us we can only do that “through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  Now that we have been reconciled, we can fulfill the destiny for which we were created.  We were created in his image to reflect his glory (Genesis 1:27), and rejoicing in his perfection glories him.  So, we rejoice in the surprising privilege of being saved from God’s wrath not because there is anything uniquely special about us but because God is uniquely special.  Christian joy is seeing the perfect love and beauty of God.  He alone is our complete satisfaction and delight.

The hope of eternal life in union with Christ Jesus (5:12-21)

This passage gives us a clear scriptural understanding of who we are as human beings in Adam and Christ.  The universal scope of what Paul is saying in these verses is astonishing.  He includes all people who lived, are now living and will ever live.  He breaks down all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.  Every person is included.

Moreover, every person’s eternal destiny is determined by whether they belong to Adam or Christ.  Either we belong to Adam and are under the sentence of death because of his disobedience, or we belong to Christ and have the gift of eternal life because of his perfect obedience.  These acts of disobedience and obedience have power.  The power of Adam's disobedience is death; the power of Christ's obedience is life.  But these powers are not equal.  Christ's power completely overcomes the effects of Adam's disobedience.  So instead of the reign of death, we are given the gift of righteousness that reigns in life eternal (v. 17).  This contrast between Christ's power of life and Adam's power of death is the dominant theme of this passage.

Paul begins this passage with "Therefore" (literally, 'because of this'), meaning what he is about to say depends on what he has already said.  So the "therefore" refers back to 1:18 and on to 3:20, where Paul began to teach about our estrangement from God and our rebellion against him.  Then in the second half of chapter 3, he explains God's solution to the problem of sin.  And in the immediately preceding passage, 5:1-11, Paul tells us we have peace with God because we are justified by faith.  But, what Paul has not told us is why this was the only possible way we could be redeemed from the power of sin.  Why could we not simply be reconciled to God by our own good efforts?  Most people think this way, and man-made religions are based on this assumption.  We believe that God will accept us if we do more good things than bad things – and our culture, society, or religion determine these things.  Paul, in this passage, tells us that God does not work that way.  And he explains the only way we can be justified is through faith in Christ.  Paul will explain that the ‘bad news’ he told us from 1:18 to 3:20 is much worse than we thought.  But this also means the ‘good news’ of the gospel of Christ shines even brighter.  Working backwards, it is only by seeing the unimaginable sacrifice of the Son of God that we can also fully comprehend the terribleness of our condition.  If the crucifixion (death) of the Son of God was necessary to save us, how terrible must our sin be?

Sin, death, the consequence of Adam - the reason for the ‘bad news’ (vv. 12-14)

v. 12

There has hardly been another verse that has resulted in more discussion and debate than verse 12.  When Paul begins the comparison of Adam and Christ, he does so by saying “therefore, just as”; that is, he is summing up all he has said to this point with particular emphasis on 5:1-11.  But, he does not continue the “just as.”  There is no immediate "so also."  Instead, Paul continues with Adam and his sin[9] and does not complete the comparison until verses 18 and 19.  Paul feels it is necessary to provide a fuller explanation (vv. 13-14) of what he states in verse 12.  He also wants to highlight the great difference between Adam and Christ (vv. 15-17).

Paul has already told us about our own sins which we have committed, but now he wants us to think about sin differently.  He wants us to understand our sinfulness in relation to Adam.  He wants us to see Adam as our federal head and representative.[10] And when Adam sinned and rebelled against God, his condemnation became our condemnation. Adam's guilt and condemnation became the condemnation of every person who ever lived.  For Jews, in Paul’s day, this would not be difficult to understand because of their understanding of corporate and covenantal solidarity by which Adam, the federal head, represented all people.[11]  However, when we first hear this, it seems entirely unfair to us.  We understand we are condemned for our sins but not for Adam's.  This, however, is what Paul is teaching in this passage. Christ's redemptive salvation works the same way.  It is not because of our own righteousness but because we are now united with Christ, and no longer with Adam, that we are given (imputed) Christ’s righteousness.  The condemnation of Adam is replaced with the justification of Christ.  Adam is the negative representative, and Christ is the positive.  But Paul does not get to Christ until verse 18. Instead, he wants first to give us scriptural proof that what he is saying is Biblical.

Throughout this passage, Paul makes sure we know that “sin came into the world” through Adam.[12] And that the judgment and condemnation for sin is death (“death through sin”), and finally, this “death spread” to everyone.  Death is the universal result of sin, both spiritual and physical death, and ultimately eternal death.  Paul clearly states that sin in this world finds its origin in Adam.[13]  Moreover, sin was the cause of death (1 Corinthians 15:56).  Death, both spiritual and physical, is the punishment for sin.[14]  “Death is universal because sin is universal.”[15]  Why did this happen?  Paul concludes, “because all sinned.”  This last phrase means all people sinned when Adam sinned.[16] That is, as a result of Adam introducing sin and death into the world, all people sinned.  When Adam sinned as our covenantal federal head, his sin became our sin; Adam’s sin was imputed (counted, credited) to all of us.  In the same way, when Paul says, “in Adam all died” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) it does not mean we are all dead in Adam, but that Adam’s punishment of death is ours as well, so Adam’s sin is also ours as well.

This sin refers to Adam’s disobedience.  God’s command to Adam was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If Adam violated this command, he would die.  The assumption is, also, he would continue to live if he did not violate the command.  In Genesis, we read:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ “ (Genesis 2:16-17).

However, we know from what followed Adam did eat from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-7).  And so, God fulfilled his judgment against him.  Yet, we also know Adam did not die physically on the same day he ate from the tree.  On that day, God expelled Adam from the Garden.  This was the Garden where Adam had a unique and special relationship with God.  This unique and special relationship was broken.  We understand this to mean, Adam died a spiritual death that day because he was banished from God's intimate presence (Genesis 3:8, 12, 24).  The phrase “you shall surely die” literally means “dying you shall die.” This means that spiritual death occurred immediately.

This spiritual death also led to Adam's physical death in due time.  Adam’s sin resulted in losing his potential immortality, including his spiritual (separation from God’s presence) and bodily death.[17].  This was God's judgment and condemnation for disobeying a direct command.  As the federal and covenantal head of all humanity, Adam passed on both spiritual and physical death to all who came after him.  The implication is, we are born spiritually dead and will eventually die physically.  However, this does not mean all people will experience eternal death, eternal separation from God.  Those who put their hope and trust in Christ experience eternal life even though they will die physically because of Adam’s sin.

            This is what Paul is teaching in this passage.  So, Adam’s sin and condemnation also result in our spiritual and physical death.  All humanity is affected in this way by the imputation of Adam’s sin.  This is what the phrase “sin came into the world through one man” means. Five times, Paul highlights this point.

(v. 15)      “many died through one man’s trespass

(v. 16)      “result of that one man’s sin … judgment … brought condemnation

(v. 17a)   “because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man

(v. 18a)   “one trespass led to condemnation for all men

(v. 19a)   “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners

Physical death is evident to us since it happens to each one. Spiritual death is different.  Although we are physically alive, we are also spiritually stillborn (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).  Because of Adam’s sin, we are born spiritually dead and so have no ability of our own to become spiritually alive again in Christ.  All people who grow into maturity sin because all people are born spiritually dead.  And so, the result is, no one is able to live a sinless life.  We are unable not to sin (3:23; Genesis 8:21; Psalms 51:5; 58:3; 1 Kings 8:46; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:3).  Although we were first born physically, we must now be born for a second time spiritually – born again (John 3:5-7; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:22) – into a new spiritual life to have a relationship with God.  This new birth is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit when we come to a saving faith in the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.  Paul contrasts our state in sin and our state in rebirth in 6:11 when he says we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 

vv. 13-14

Paul interrupts his thought in verses 13 and 14 to prove sin and death have indeed been passed on to all people because of Adam’s transgression.  This is evident because he begins these verses with “for.”  Paul’s argument may be outlined as follows:[18]

1.    Based on Genesis 2:17, death is the punishment for the transgression of God’s command.

2.    People died between the time of Adam and Moses (v. 14a).

3.    The law of Moses was given after this time (v. 13b).

4.    So, death during the time between Adam and Moses could not have been a violation of the law of Moses. “Law” refers to the Mosaic law.  (v. 13).

5.    Death could not have been a result of violating the natural law of conscience since even infants who had not broken any law or sinned died. So, death was not the result of transgressing the Mosaic law, nor breaking natural law.

6.    Therefore, it follows death between Adam and Moses was because of the sin of Adam. Adam, as humanity’s head, passed on death to everyone.

What seems evident in Paul’s teaching is that all people are born not in the state of Adam before his transgression – in an innocent state – but in the state of Adam after his disobedience.  Until we are “born again (from above)” spiritually, we have no possibility of a relationship with God (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23).  Those born again experience eternal life even though they will die physically because of Adam’s sin and God’s condemnation of him.  Although we die physically, because we are alive spiritually, we will one day also be alive physically in the new heaven and earth.  Because of Christ’s bodily resurrection, we can look forward to the day when we will be physically resurrected.  As Paul states elsewhere:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Christ] has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

v. 13

The phrase “sin was in the world[19] means all people are sinners.  The phrase “before the law was given” means all people were sinners before the Mosaic law and were treated as sinners.  The phrase, “but sin is not counted where there is no law,” means their sin is not taken into account in the same way as a sin against a specific law of God.  However, since people are born under the condemnation of spiritual and physical death, there must be such a law which was broken and for that sin to be counted.[20]  The next verse explains what sin this was.

v. 14

The phrase “yet death reigned from Adam to Moses” means everyone was subject to this punishment of death before the law of Moses was given.  And the phrase “even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” means people died who had not sinned as Adam sinned; that is, disobeyed a particular command from God.  Therefore, the ultimate cause of their spiritual and physical death was Adam's disobedience (sin).  As Hodge writes, “if verse 12 teaches that men are subject to death on account of the sin of Adam, … and verses 13-14 are designed to prove the assertion of verse 12, then it follows that the apostle should show that death comes on those who have no personal or actual sins to answer for.”  And this is what is implied by the last phrase.[21]

Paul ends verse 14 by stating, Adam is “a type of the one who was to come.”  In the following verses, he clarifies what he means by this.  Adam is the federal head of the age of death, while Christ is the head of the age of life.  Although both are ‘heads,’ the correspondence between Adam and Christ is an antithesis highlighting their dissimilarities.[22]  The fact that even infants die, who have committed no sin of their own, is evidence that all people are imputed with the guilt and punishment of Adam’s sin.

Adam’s trespass brought death but Christ’s free gift brings life (vv. 15-17)

In verses 15 to 17, Paul contrasts in three different ways the work of one man, Adam, to the work of one man, Jesus Christ. Adam’s trespass resulted in death for all people, “but” Christ’s free gift resulted in life for all people.  Paul wants us to meditate on these verses' great dissimilarity between Adam and Christ. Although Paul contrasts the two, there is a danger that we misinterpret him in thinking only that Christ is a better Adam. Paul wants to show in these contrasts, Christ is infinitely different from Adam. Christ is not just different in degree but in kind.

Contrast 1–Adam’s self-assertion versus Christ’s self-sacrifice (v. 15)

The difference between the two acts could not be more apparent.  Adam rebelled directly against the simplest of God’s direct commands, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for the day you eat you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16). This “trespass” was so great, we call it the fall of mankind.  In contrast to Adam’s self-assertion is Christ’s “free gift” of grace –the gift of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness – resulting from his obedient self-sacrificial death on the cross.  The “free gift” which leads to eternal life is through Christ (v. 21).  This does not mean everyone is saved. Instead, the free gift of grace is offered to everyone, and all who receive it will be saved.  The effect of Adam’s disobedience was that “many died.”  Given the context of the passage, the “many” means “all” (v. 18).  Death means both physical and spiritual death.

We should also note, Paul’s purpose is not to show, Christ’s blessings are greater than Adam's curse.  Rather his purpose is to illustrate the central doctrine of the whole letter, which is, we are justified based on the righteousness of Christ.  So, “much more” does not mean a higher degree of effectiveness but an absolute certainty.[23]

Contrast 2–Adam’s result versus Christ’s immediate result (v. 16)

The effect of the trespass of Adam and the free gift of Christ is the same; both affect everyone. But the result is different: Adam’s “one trespass” brought immediate “judgment” and “condemnation,” while Christ’s free gift “following many trespasses” brought immediate “grace” and “justification.”  Adam’s sin produced an indescribable amount of pain, suffering, and death.  Christ’s self-sacrifice stopped this advance of evil.  Christ not only stopped it, but he also restored what Adam had lost. 

But Jesus is not just a better Adam.  Jesus’ grace began where Adam’s failure ended – with the sins and the sinners of all the world.  The scope of the gift of God cannot even be compared to Adam’s sin.  This is why Paul states, “And the free gift is not like …”  It is reasonable to us that Adam’s direct disobedience should result in God’s predetermined judgment of death.  What seems beyond our comprehension is that every sin already committed and will be committed in the future can be forgiven by the “free gift” of “justification” for those who come to him in faith.  God’s grace is sufficient for all the world (John 3:16).[24]  This degree of grace revealed in God’s love is beyond all our understanding. 

Contrast 3–Adam’s result versus Christ’s ultimate result (v. 17)

The ultimate result of Adam's trespass is that "death reigned" from Adam to Moses and from Moses until Christ's self-sacrificial death on the cross.  Again, the trespass of Adam is contrasted with the free gift of righteousness. And once again, the contrast could not be starker. As John Stott writes:

What Christ has done for us is not just to exchange death’s kingdom for the much more gentle kingdom of life, while leaving us in the position of subjects. Instead, he delivers us from the rule of death so radically as to enable us to change places with it and rule over it, or reign in life. We become kings, sharing the kingship of Christ, with even death under our feet now, and one day to be destroyed.[25]

The ultimate result of the “free gift of righteousness” is the “reign of life” for all who “receive the abundance of grace” through which righteousness is offered.

            And again, the phrase “much more” emphasizes the certainty of this life for those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” Moreover, in this case, it is not only the certainty but also the quality that is highlighted.

Special Topic:  Sin, Transgression and Iniquity

Scripture uses three different words for rebellion against God: sin, transgression and iniquity.  It can be helpful to understand the particular meaning of each of these words to give us a deeper understanding of our human nature and our relationship to God.


The word for sin is khata in Hebrew and hamartia in Greek.  It is the most frequently used word for rebellion against God and is first used in Genesis 4:7. It is a general word that means “to miss the goal.” It refers to someone shooting an arrow and missing the target. If that is its everyday meaning, what does it mean when used in Scripture? Every human being is made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Therefore, our purpose in life is to glorify God and please him (honour, worship, praise).  That is, to reflect who God is. Since we are created in his image, we ought to live in a way that ‘images’ him. And when we sin, we miss this goal for which we were created. God made us for his glory and honour; anything contrary to that brings him dishonour. This is what Paul means when he says, all people “fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).  Whenever our actions, thoughts, or motives tarnish the image of God, we fall short of being what we were made for: being in the image of God.[26]

When we only focus on sin as disobedience to God’s commands, we tend to think that obedience–simply not breaking the rules– is not sinning.  But, God wants more from his children.  He wants us to grow in holiness. We are to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 19:11; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15-16). We do this as we mature in our faith, knowledge, and love of Jesus. This is called progressive sanctification, the process of becoming holy. When we do this, we become more and more the “image of God” he originally intended us to be. As Paul writes in another place, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of God, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  In the same letter, Paul goes on to say, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (7:1).

So, sin is more than just doing bad things. Paul personifies this sin as a “power” within us; we do what we do not want and don’t do what we want to. If this defines sin, then how do we fall short (miss the mark) of the glory of God?  We sin through our actions of rebellion through transgression and iniquity.  However, to fully understand sin, we must first keep God's love in mind.  John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). God wants us to love him and others as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31).  When we fail to love God and others, we sin. If we are permitted to put it this way, sin has more to do with breaking God’s heart than breaking his laws. And what breaks God’s heart most is rejecting his love, a love that resulted in sending his only Son to die in our place even while we were in rebellion against him (5:8).


The word for transgression is pasha in Hebrew and paraptoma in Greek. Transgression means to betray a loyalty or relationship through a willful rebellion. There are many relationships in the Bible (e.g. treaties between two nations). One does not pasha against someone but with someone.  That is, trust is broken or a relationship of trust violated. So, Peter trespassed when he denied Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).  Paul uses the word to mean that Adam broke trust with God when he wanted to discern good and evil on his own terms.  When we violate a direct command from God, we break trust with him.  Transgression, therefore, means intentionally, rather than unintentionally, disobeying God's direct command.  Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  Any violation of these commands is a transgression.


The word for iniquity is avon in Hebrew, and anomia or adikia in Greek. It is often translated as wickedness or lawlessness. It means to make crooked what was straight.  It usually refers to a premeditated choice because there is no fear of God. It often refers to those who have abandoned God entirely. However, it does not just refer to behaviour but also its consequences. To punish such behaviour is to visit avon upon him. Cain said, “My avon (punishment) is greater than I can bear.” In the wilderness, Israel tested God by demanding meat, so God gave them “winged birds like the sand of the sea“ (Psalm 78:27) and “they ate and were filled, for he gave them what they craved” (v. 29). Yet, “before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them” (vv. 30-31).  When the Israelites refused to believe Caleb and Joshua that God would fight for them and, instead, refused to enter the promised land, God gave them what they desired, so they remained in the wilderness (Exodus 14:2, 28-29, 34). Or when Jeremiah said, the nations Babylon destroyed would also destroy Babylon (Jeremiah 25:12-14).

The consequence of (the sin of) iniquity is (the punishment of) iniquity. This is the primary way the Bible talks about God’s response to avon. Letting people experience the result or consequences of their avon. This is what is meant by “to bear” or “to carry your iniquity.” Surprisingly, this is the dignity God gives to people.   God gives people what they want, which becomes their punishment (Numbers 11:4-6, 31-35).

Similarly, when Israel worshiped idols rather than God, they became like idols, becoming an image of an idol rather than an image of God.  This is why John, quoting Isaiah (Isaiah 6:10), writes, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn and I would heal them” (John 12:40). The curse of worshiping an idol is to become like an idol, spiritually blind, without a heart for God, and without any understanding of God. But the Bible also talks about God carrying the avon for the people (Psalm 32:5; Isaiah 53:6; Titus 2:14).

However, it should be noted, God forgives sin, transgression, and even iniquity when there is true repentance (Exodus 34:6). He is a merciful God, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15). Our response to his forgiveness must be worshipful reverence (fear) (Psalm 130:4).

Christ’s marvellous, infinite, matchless grace is greater than all our sins (vv. 18-21)

Paul begins this final section with the opening words in Greek “Consequently therefore.” Translations usually do not include both adverbs, but we can see his emphasis in the original language.  Paul began comparing our fall of Adam and our restoration in Christ in verse 12. He interrupted this comparison in verses 13 and 14 to prove, all people are condemned to death as a result of the sin of Adam.  Paul then had to show how Christ was much more than Adam.  He did this in verses 15 and 17.  Paul has shown we are condemned by one man, Adam, and justified by one Man, Christ Jesus. 

Paul now returns to verse 12 and adds three more summary comparisons between Adam and Christ.  The structure of the verses changes to "just asso also."  Just as one man's disobedience and trespass brought the curse of death, so also one man's righteousness and obedience bring the blessing of eternal life.  The similarity and dissimilarity between Adam and Christ are highlighted in the single act of disobedience and the single act of obedience, affecting each one of us.  In each case, we have done nothing.  Although we had done nothing, we were born spiritually dead because of Adam's trespass and, also, though we have done nothing, we are born again, are spiritually alive and declared righteous in Christ.  Therefore, the reference to “one man” is the federal headship of Adam and Christ.

Comparison 1–One trespass compared to one act of righteousness

v. 18

Just as one trespass of Adam’s has led to the condemnation (i.e., death) of “all” humanity, so also the one act of Christ’s righteousness leads to justification and life for “all” humanity.  The “one trespass” refers to Adam’s disobedience in eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The “one act of righteousness” refers to Christ’s entire earthly life of obedience, including his perfect life, death and resurrection.  Paul highlights how the one act of each federal head affects all mankind. One led to condemnation; the other led to justification and life.

The use of the word “all” does not imply universal salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  All those who are in union with Adam – which is all of humanity – are condemned, while all who are in union with Christ are justified by his righteousness, i.e. a righteousness that is freely offered to all humankind.  For God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; see also Ezekiel 18:23; 32).

Comparison 2 – One disobedience compared to one act of obedience

v. 19

Paul draws a parallel statement from verse 18, but this time he highlights the nature of the acts.  Adam’s disobedience made us sinners; Christ’s obedience makes us righteous in him. The verb “made” means all humanity was regarded in a legal sense (counted, imputed) as sinful in union with Adam.  Similarly, the obedience of Christ is the basis on which those who are in union with him are regarded in a legal sense (counted, imputed) as righteous.  In Adam, we are declared guilty, and in Christ, we are declared righteous.

v. 20 What about Moses?

Paul has been contrasting and comparing Adam with Christ.  But his Jewish readers might well be wondering about Moses.  They may be thinking, when the law of Moses came, the reign of death introduced by Adam ended.  Paul emphatically rejects any such idea.  Rather than ending the reign of death, the law revealed knowledge and conviction of sin.  This would have been shocking to the Jews to hear, the “law came to increase the trespass.”  They thought the law brought righteousness.  He had already stated, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). And in fact, the law turns sin into a transgression (4:15; Galatians 3:19), and even more surprisingly, Paul later states, “apart from the law sin lies dead” (7:8).  These are all very negative statements about the law intended to correct the Jewish understanding of the law’s purpose.  Later, Paul will also have many positive things to say about the law (7:12). 

In the last part of verse 20, Paul states that God's grace matches and "abounded all the more" when "sin increased."  It may be that Paul thinks sin increased to its absolute climax in the rejection and death of the Son of God on the cross.  But instead of sin defeating God, God's grace on the cross abounded even over that ultimate sin.

Comparison 3 – Sin reigns in death compared to grace reigning in eternal life

v. 21

Paul's final comparison between Adam and Christ focuses on life and death.  The comparison is between the reign of sin and the reign of grace.  The verse begins with “so that” indicating this is God’s divine plan.  In the domain of darkness introduced by Adam, we were captives unable to escape from the control of sin. The phrase “sin reigned in death” means that spiritual and physical death resulted from sin.  But when grace came in the form of Christ's self-sacrificial death on the cross, he introduced the kingdom of grace.  And this kingdom leads to "eternal life."  This indeed is a marvelous, matchless, infinite grace sufficient to forgive all sins.  It is a grace incomprehensible.  And we who have accepted this grace will have an eternity to glory in its wonder and love.

Special Topic: Questions that arise from this passage

As mentioned at the beginning of this passage, there are many questions and interpretations concerning the extent and signifi­cance of Adam’s transgression and Christ’s obedience.  We will deal with three of them here.

How was Jesus born without Adam’s condemnation?

The teaching on original or inherited sin raises the question of how Jesus was born without the guilt or corruption of human nature as a result of Adam’s transgression.  We first need to understand that Scripture teaches that Jesus was sinless. 

You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

But then, in 5:12 we read, “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” How then was Jesus not affected by Adam’s transgression?

The most common answer to this question has been to point out, the virgin birth of Jesus protected him against the imputation of Adam’s guilt.  Certainly, the angel Gabriel’s prophecy makes it clear, Jesus will be born sinless:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Since inherited sin is associated with Adam and since Jesus was born of Mary, the argument is made that Jesus did not descend from Adam, breaking the transmission of moral corruption and legal guilt.

However, Scripture nowhere asserts that the transmission of sin comes physically through the father alone. Although the consequence of Adam’s sin is imputed to everyone born of natural descent, nothing states that inherited sin comes through natural birth.  Inherited sin, as a divine imputation for each person, is better understood when God creates new life in the womb.  In this case, Jesus can be the human son of Mary without God imputing to him the sin of Adam.  There is a great mystery in the virgin birth, and we should not quickly try to reduce it to our rational understanding.  As well, since Jesus was born sinless and without the taint of Adam’s transgression, this does not make him less human.  In fact, it makes him, in a sense, more human since he was born in the way Adam was created before the Fall; sinless.

How does inherited sin affect infants and the unborn?

One of the most challenging questions concerns the salvation of the unborn and children who die in infancy.  This question can result in great anguish and doubt for Christian parents who take Scripture seriously. There are, of course, quick answers to this question.  Some will say all infants go to heaven because the alternative is unimaginable.  Others will say only ‘elect’ infants will go to heaven while the ‘non-elect’ infants do not.  Neither of these answers is acceptable. Here is why.

The universalist answer is not unbiblical.  First, inherited sin is explicitly taught.  We are born spiritually dead. Second, the only provision for salvation is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.  And only those who confess him as Lord and Saviour are justified.  And the answer found in Scripture must consider that infants are born with a sinful nature.  So, the church, from its beginning, has struggled to come to a satisfying answer.  One of the first solutions was that only baptized infants went to heaven.  But there is no scriptural support for this position either.  Other early church teachers stated that infants would have an opportunity to come to Christ after death.  But again, this was merely speculation.

Others who base their understanding on election have more of a biblical foundation.  The Bible does teach God chooses persons before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14).  Then, the question is: which infants are elect and which are not?  And does the Bible support the position all infants who die in infancy are elect?  I believe this latter position is what the Bible teaches. Here is why.

To begin with, we affirm that the Bible teaches that all children inherit Adam’s sin from conception.  We also acknowledge that God is sovereign over salvation and that we are saved only by his undeserved gift of grace.  The basis then for my position, all infants are elect, is the following:

1. All people face the final judgment seat of Christ (Revelation 20:11-15) and are judged, not based on Adam’s transgression, but on their own sins committed during their lifetime (2:5-6; 14:10; Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Corinthians 5:10). And the sin by which people will be condemned is their rejection of Jesus Christ.  As John wrote, “whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18-21).  Infants are not able to commit this sin.

2. As mentioned earlier, inherited sin results in spiritual and physical death.  This means we cannot respond to God without the work of the Holy Spirit.  It does not teach, we are eternally punished in hell for Adam's sin; that is eternal death (Genesis 2:17; 3:23-24; 5:5).

3. We do not believe infants have committed any sin of their own.  When God judged the Israelites to die in the wilderness during their forty years of wandering, he declared concerning their children, “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, whom today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them, I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39). These children would not be judged because of their father’s sins.

4. Jesus himself instructed his disciples when he said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14). These passages speak directly to infant salvation. Infants have no knowledge of good or evil and have not committed any sins of their own. They, therefore, all die secure in the grace of God.[27] So we believe our gracious Lord and Saviour receives all children who die, including those who die in the womb or are aborted.

Other theologians, such as Charles Hodge, also believe infants who die go to heaven, but he approaches the question differently. Hodge takes a broad view of 5:18-19.  There it states, “by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (kjv). In interpreting these verses, Hodge states, “we have no right to put any limit on these general terms, except what the Bible itself places upon them.  The Scriptures nowhere exclude any class of infants, baptized or unbaptized, born in Christian or heathen lands, of believing or unbelieving parents, from the benefits of the redemption of Christ.”[28] Hodge goes on to say that only those whom Scripture expressly reveals as not inheriting the kingdom of God are lost. He argues this is consistent with Matthew 7:14 because that passage refers to adults and not to infants with no such knowledge.

Does this passage teach universal salvation?

Paul’s comparison of Adam and Christ has resulted in some commentators concluding that Paul teaches universal salvation for all people. They base this understanding on verse 18, where Paul says that just as Adam’s “trespass led to condemnation for all men” so also Christ’s “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  The emphasis on “all” is taken as inclusive of all people in the world.  And again, in verse 19, Paul reiterates, this time using the term “many.”  Most commentators understand the reference to “many” in verse 19 to refer to the “all” of verse 18.

However, it is clear from other passages in Romans, it is only through faith anyone is justified (1:16f; 3:21ff; 4:1ff). Since it is evident that not all people have faith, it is also apparent that not all will be justified.  How, then, can we understand these verses?  As we have already stated, we have all inherited the condemnation of Adam’s transgression.  The result of this condemnation is physical and spiritual death.  And so, we are unable to respond to God without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, making us spiritually alive.  Christ’s one act of righteousness accomplishes this on our behalf.  That one act results in sufficient grace for the sins of all people.

Although it is sufficient, grace is not effective unless we receive the life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, as John Stott points out, we have good reason to be confident that a very large number will be saved.[29]  Stott gives three reasons for this. First, Paul uses kingdom language in comparing and contrasting the “reign” of death to the reign of life and the reign of grace to the reign of sin (v. 21). Second, Paul also uses superlative language to describe grace. Words such as “abounded” (vv. 15, 21), “abundance” (v. 17). Third, in making these comparisons Paul consistently states, the reign of grace is “much more” (vv. 15, 17) and “not like” (v. 16) the reign of death.

Stott concludes from this, the work of Christ will be far more effective than the work of Adam.  Quoting John Calvin, he writes, "the grace of Christ 'belongs to a greater number than the condemnation contracted by the first man'. For 'if the fall of Adam had the effect of producing the ruin of many, the grace of God is much more efficacious in benefiting many, since it is granted that Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to destroy.   In Revelation, we are told there will be "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (Revelation 7:9). When we look at history, this does not seem possible. We are not told how God will achieve this.  But with God, all things are possible.


Questions for Reflection

Study it

1.     [5:1a] What is the basis of the blessings Paul describes in this chapter?

2.     [5:1b] What is the biblical definition of “peace”? Where did peace come from, and how do we receive it?

3.     [5:2a] What does “grace” refer to in this context?

4.     [5:2b] What is the biblical definition of “hope”? Why is biblical hope different from ordinary human hope?  What is “the glory of God”?

5.     [5:3-5] Why would Paul call “suffering” a blessing?

6.     [5:6-8] What is the person's spiritual condition for whom Christ died? Is this surprising?

7.     [5:9-10] How is salvation past, present and future?

8.     [5:11] In what should we boast and rejoice?  Why?

9.     [5:12-13] Why is there death in this world? How is Adam’s sin our sin? How is ‘original sin’ defined? How does Adam’s sin affect all people?

10.   [5:15-17] How are Adam and Christ contrasted?

11.  [5:18-19, 21] How are Adam and Christ compared?

12.  [5:20] Why does Paul refer to Moses in this verse?

Live it

1.     Do you experience any of the seven blessings mentioned in 5:1-11? Which do you experience more and which less? Why do you think this is?

2.     Have you experienced suffering for Christ?  How would you describe this experience as a blessing?

3.     How do you know God loves you? Do you agree with the notes that you can do nothing to increase or decrease God’s love for you? How do you experience God’s love in your life?

4.     Did you think of yourself as an enemy of God before you were reconciled to him?

5.     What is the significance of the three kinds of death mentioned?  Does this give you more joy in being “born again”?

6.     How do you respond to being told that you inherited Adam’s sin and guilt at your birth? What questions does this raise for you? How do you resolve them?

[1] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 84.

[2] Stott, 140.

[3] Cranfield, Vol. 1, 259.

[4] Stott, 140-141.

[5] It may be the case that some individual believers never personally experience much suffering for Christ.  This may be because of where they were born and lived out their lives.  The society in which they lived was not in opposition to the gospel.  But Paul is not just talking about individuals, he is talking to the church.  We, as the universal church of Christ, “rejoice” and “suffer” as one body.  This is why Paul uses plural language when referring to rejoicing and suffering.  When any part of the world-wide church suffers, we all suffer.  And it is certainly the case that there is always oppression against the church in some part of the world.  We, therefore rejoice and suffer personally with our brothers and sisters throughout the world wherever they are.

[6] Stott, 145.

[7] We are not saved because of our faith; that is, our faith is not a work which obligates God to save us.

[8] Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 125.

[9] It is not that Paul is unaware Eve also sinned (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:13), but he understood Adam had primary responsibility (Thielman, 282-285).

[10] Federalism understands Adam’s relationship to humanity in a similar way a national leader (king, president, prime minister) of a country may enter into agreements with other nations. When they do so, those agreements are binding upon all the country’s citizens, even though they may not have supported the agreement or even been aware of it. Because Adam is the federal head of all humanity, his sin becomes our sin and his guilt, our guilt.  As we will see later in this passage, Christ is the federal head of all who believe in him.  Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness. 

            It should be noted not all evangelical churches subscribe to federalism.  Others see Adam’s sin as only corrupting human nature resulting in all people sinning as individuals.  So, the actual sin of Adam is not imputed to everyone, only the consequences of Adam’s sin.  In these notes, we take the federalist position which is the Reformed theological position.

[11] Osborne, 147.

[12] The word “man” and “Adam” are the same.

[13] Similarly, Christ, the Last Adam, is the cause of righteousness in the world (Hodge, 138).

[14] There is a contrast in this passage between death in Adam and life in Christ (vv. 15, 17, 21).

[15] Hodge, 141.

[16] This phrase has had many interpretations.  The two most common are: death came to all people because all people sin as a result of inheriting a sinful corrupt nature from Adam which will inevitably result in individual sin; and second, death came to all people because Adam is our federal covenantal head. This last interpretation is the most common within many Reformed commentators and is the position we take here.  However, many commentators might differ in their interpretation, they mostly agree, it was the transgression of Adam and not the individual sins of people which is the bases for death, both spiritually and physically.

[17] The final enemy God will defeat is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

[18] Hodge, 149-150.

[19] The Bible does not say much about the origins of sin. Sin was in the angelic realm before Adam’s sin (Genesis 3; Revelation 12:17-19). But how that occurred is not explained (Job 4:18; Matthew 25:41).

[20] Other interpreters (Calvin, Luther) understand this phrase to mean, when there is no law, people do not see themselves as sinners.  That is, they need to have a law to know what sin is (7:8).  Although this is true, it is unlikely this is the intent here.

[21] This interpretation does not mean people who lived outside the law of Moses were not punished for their own sins.  They even knew in their hearts, as part of their nature, they deserved death for their sins (1:32). However, their sins were not counted (imputed) as Adam’s transgression.  As Hodge writes, “No one feels that there is any inconsistency in asserting that men and women today, although responsible to God for their personal transgressions, are nevertheless born in a state of spiritual death as punishment for the sin of our great ancestor” (Hodge, 153).

[22] Stott, 154-156.

[23] Hodge, 158-159.

[24] The sufficiency of God’s grace makes universal evangelism possible.  God’s offer of reconciliation is given to everyone.  Yet, his grace is only effective for the elect.

[25] Stott, 156.

[26]         It is important, in this discussion, to remember, Jesus is the truly perfect human who was without sin and so is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  He did not fail or fall short in glorifying His Father perfectly (John 13:31; 14:13; 17:1,4; 21:19; 1 Peter 4:11). And so, when we are in union with Christ, God the Father sees us as holy as his Son is holy.

[27] It is worth noting that this is the position of many major Protestant theologians including John Newton, B.B. Warfield, and Charles Spurgeon.

[28] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 29-30.

[29] Stott, 159-162.