Your Daily Devotional: Thursday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

(For an explanation of the meaning of “Ordinary Time,” please see “Introducing Ordinary Time” under the tab “Ordinary Time, Year 1: The Gospels.”)

Romans 5:12-21

How God Is Really Unfair

There is a doctrine in Scripture recognized by the Church since ancient times that is clearly elucidated in this passage.  Before I name that doctrine, allow me to highlight some of the verses: “Sin came into the world through one man”; “Many died through one man’s trespass”; “Because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man”; “One trespass led to condemnation for all men”; and, “By one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”  We could even add 1 Corinthians 15:22: “In Adam all die.”

That doctrine which the Church has derived from these passages is called, “Original Sin,” though some prefer to call it, “Inherited Sin” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 494).  It is the biblical teaching that God has so joined us to Adam’s person that he was our representative in the Garden, such that when he sinned we sinned with him; after all, we were present “in his loins” when he sinned.  We have likewise inherited some corruption from Adam which explains why we are born sinners, that is, each with a sinful nature, such that we cannot not sin.  “In sin did my mother conceive me,” was David’s lament (Psalm 51:5), and the Christian, above everyone else, knows that it is true.  We do not commit sin and thereby become sinners; we are born with sinful natures and thereby do we commit sin.  Though some call this unfair, such is evidence that they do not know themselves, nor do they understand the doctrine.  The point is this: Had it been me and my wife in the Garden, the result would have been the same.  Thus is God just to impute to all the stain and guilt of that “original sin.”

I will tell you what is unfair—that the Father should impute, to those who believe, the righteousness of His dear Son—that is unfair!  And that is the beautiful teaching of this passage.  Paul again employs his “least to greatest” argument to show how the free gift far surpasses the original trespass; after all, the condemnation came after just one trespass, but the free gift followed many trespasses.  And furthermore: “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.”  Christ heals Adam, life kills death, and the free gift erases the trespass.  The law showed sin for all of its ugliness, but grace abounds all the more.  Rejoice Christian!  Yes, your sins and the sin nature you inherited are indeed worthy of death and hell, but Christ has pronounced you forgiven through the free gift of his grace and awarded you eternal life.  Aren’t you glad God is so unfair?  (Actually, the word is “gracious.”)

Addendum to 5:12-21

Just a short comment here.  Some may not know what to make of Paul’s words in verse nineteen, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  Is Paul teaching universalism, or the belief (held by some) that all will be saved?  There is no way to square such a belief with Paul, the words of our Lord, or the rest of the Bible, and neither time nor space could be given here to the vast number of passages which prove this.  But still the words are there on the page.  Why is this?  If one follows the passage from verses fifteen through nineteen, one will notice that Paul uses “parallels” among the words, “one,” “many” and “all.”  Specifically (words italicized):

5:15: “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.”

5:16: “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.”

5:17: “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.”

5:18: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

5:19: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

I hope you can see Paul’s use of this literary device known as parallelism in these verses (Moo, NICNT, 370).  Paul was an educated man who was not above using literary devices to adorn his writing.  We might have wished that Paul would have chosen theological precision over literary ornamentation, but there are enough passages that teach the final condemnation of those who will not receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if in this place God so chooses to garnish his word with aesthetic taste, then may God be praised that He not only speaks truth but beautifies it as only He can as the very quintessence of beauty, truth, and goodness, to the praise of His glory.