“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 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. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But, where sin increased, grace increased all the more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:18-21.

Amazing, isn’t it, how precise God’s action was to undo at the cross what Adam did in the garden!

But, before anyone gets the idea from the above passage, that Paul was advocating universal salvation, that is that everyone is automatically saved because of the cross, we need to look carefully at what Paul said. Adam’s one act of disobedience brought sin and death on all people because Adam represented the human race. Every human being, past, present and future came from Adam. We are all “in Adam”. Therefore, we were all born with Adam’s nature, with a natural enmity towards God and a bent towards sin.

Jesus Christ died in the place of all human beings, past, present and future, to free us from the punishment for sin, but only those who are “in Christ” actually receive the gift of eternal life. Everyone has been forgiven but not everyone has received forgiveness.  Everyone has been invited to access God’s forgiveness and the gift of righteousness and eternal life, but only those who receive His gift by faith and participate in His life are actually “in Christ”.

Paul was both comparing and contrasting what Jesus did with what Adam did to reveal the extent of God’s mercy over His judgment. Adam disobeyed one instruction which was enough to separate him from God and bring death upon the whole human race. From that one act of disobedience flowed a stream of rebellion which turned the world into a jungle of sin and death.

After a lifetime of submission to the Father, Jesus’ life culminated in one act of obedience which brought mercy to all who believe in Him. He reconciled us to the Father and provided the potential for us to be restored to the His image.

God separated and called one nation, Israel, through Abraham, to be His own people and gave them His law to show them how to live so that the surrounding nations would have a glimpse of the one true God. The law was intended to teach them what sin is so that they, in their inability to keep the law, would experience God’s forgiveness through the blood of an animal sacrificed in their place.

The entire sacrificial system was to be a visual aid of what God had already done through His Son from before the foundation of the world. “So,” Paul said, “God gave the law to increase sin.” But why? Surely. He wanted them to obey Him, not to sin? Yes, that was His intention, but the law could not produce obedience – it could only reveal the extent of their guilt. They had to realise how deep their sin was in order to understand and appreciate the greatness of God’s grace.

It is impossible, through any amount of effort, to produce perfect righteousness because everything we do is stained with sin. Even our best efforts have our filthy fingerprints all over them. So, God did away with our trying as a basis of acceptance with Him. “That was useless,” He said. “I have a better way. My Son did a perfect job of living in obedience to me. All you need to do is accept the gift and put yourself under His authority and I will accept His obedience as though it were yours.”

But there is more. Just as we received Jesus’ righteousness as a gift to save us from God’s wrath, so we accept His righteousness in our everyday living. Many believers come unstuck here. Once we are “in Christ” we think that we have to maintain our acceptance with God through hard work. We keep trying to be good enough. God says, “Stop it!” We’re okay, just as we are. All He wants us to do is to keep trusting and following Jesus. He will recreate us into the image of His Son through the Holy Spirit in us.


THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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