Romans 5:15-17, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
There are two kinds of people in the world: those in Adam and those in Christ. Those in Adam are sinners, just as their father and federal head Adam was. They have trespassed and transgressed God’s law as Adam did (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:6-7). They are dead men; they all sinned in Adam, and they all received the same death sentence that Adam received (Rom. 5:12-13; Eph. 2:1). The problem is that the “they” is actually us. We are all born in Adam; we are all sinners; we are all dead men. Adam’s guilt and trespass are imputed to us because we were represented in Adam before God.
However, that is not the end of the story. Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:14), and that one to come is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Where Adam made us all sinners, Christ redeems his elect. Where Adam made us all dead men, Christ makes us alive (Eph. 2:5). But how does this happen? Romans 5:15-17 provides us with an explanation.
Throughout Romans 5:15-17, Paul contrasts the results of Adam’s federal headship with Christ’s federal headship. Whereas Adam’s headship resulted in trespass, Christ’s results in free gift, and these two things are not alike: “the free gift is not like the trespass.” How are they not alike? Through Adam’s trespass, humanity died. Death, the one certainty for every member of humanity, results from Adam’s disobedience to God’s command in the garden.
But Christ’s death, instead of bringing death, brings the free gift of the grace of God to humanity. It is not as though grace did not exist prior to Christ; God graciously saved humanity from the Flood through Noah, graciously gave his covenants and promises to Abraham and his children, and graciously redeemed the people of Israel out of Egypt. What’s different? Christ has come, and Christ has defeated death. Christ has not just dealt with the sin problem: he has dealt with death problem as well. And this grace of life that comes through Christ “abounds for many” (Rom. 5:15).
But the free gift is also “not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom. 5:16). Paul presents another contrast that builds on the first one: one trespass plunged the human race into judgment, but the free gift based on the death of Christ brings justification to many. Adam’s trespass brought death and judgment to everyone; Christ’s death, taking the punishment of the trespasses of many, brings those many into life.
Because of Christ’s substitutionary death, God the Father declares those who believe in Christ to be righteous. Adam’s trespass was imputed to all, bringing death; Christ’s death for those who believe imputed life. This is great news for all of us who believe!
But the good news does not end there. Paul restates much of what he previously stated regarding Adam’s guilt imputed to us: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (Rom. 5:17). Thankfully, he does not leave it there. He continues, “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” If it is sure that death came through Adam’s sin, it is even more certain that those who receive God’s grace and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness will reign through Christ! The doctrine of imputation given here gives us comfort in multiple ways.
We are comforted because the Father declares us righteous because of what Christ has done, and we actually are righteous because of what Christ has done. As you were declared unrighteous through Adam’s trespass and your own trespasses, you were also dead in your sins (Eph. 2:1-4); death was the condition in which you lived, and death was what you were heading towards. You were dead, and you were going to be dead, so you, in turn, lived as if you were dead and were a child of wrath (Eph. 2:4).
In the same way, God declares you righteous through Christ’s death on your behalf, but this righteousness is not just a future condition. It is a present reality. Just as you were actually dead, so you are actually righteous. David understands this perfectly: “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me” (Ps. 18:20). David is not arrogating to himself something that is not his: God has declared him righteous through faith. You, too, can say David’s words and mean them! This is not because you have any righteousness of your own, but because you have been given Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, when Satan assails us and seeks to undermine our assurance, we can look to Christ’s righteousness and know that his righteousness has been given to us and that God the Father has declared us to be righteous.
This also brings comfort in our obedience: as you were dead and lived like a dead man, now you are declared righteous, and Christ will help you to live in righteousness. Christ, through His Spirit, is guiding you to act as you have been declared to be. We can rest assured that our obedience to His Word is in line with God’s will and that God uses our obedience to make us more and more like what he has declared us to be.
Life Not Death
As we continue our march to the Celestial City, we can do so knowing that we have already been declared righteous by that City’s King. We can march in confidence and boldness against our sinful nature and the enemies of this world. We can do so because we know that we are marching in the footsteps of the Great King Himself.