This morning’s text from the book of Romans is probably the hardest text I have ever tried to preach on. I mean, last Sunday afternoon, I sat down and read it, and I scratched my head. I read it again, and I was just as confused. I thought, “I’ll wait until Monday when I start reading my commentaries.”
Monday morning, I went into the office, and I read the text two times before I picked up my first commentary. Things still didn’t make sense. Perhaps I am just dense. Perhaps when you heard those words from chapter five read to you earlier in this worship, everything was absolutely clear to you. I will admit that if they were clear to you, you should be preaching this morning instead of me. I had to pour through the commentaries very carefully in order for this text to clear up somewhat, and even though I think I understand it pretty well now, I am not sure whether or not I can even come close to conveying to you what is in St. Paul’s words to us. But I hope I can. Because what Paul is saying helps us make sense of what Martin Luther wrote so long ago in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”
The old Satanic foe, has sworn to work us woe
with craft and dreadful might, he arms himself to fight
on earth he has no equal.
No strength of ours can match his might, we would be lost rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be? The Lord of Hosts is He.
Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored.
He holds the field victorious.
I want you to hold this battle imagery in your head because I think it gives us the mind-set that St. Paul is writing under. And once you understand this mind-set, Romans 5:12-21 becomes much, much clearer.
The best way I can describe this mind-set is this: in the ancient world, oftentimes a representative would stand in place for an entire nation. That’s kind of hard for us to get our heads around, but let me explain using the terms of battle that I asked you to keep in mind. Let’s say two countries were about to engage in battle. Rather than risk the lives of every soldier on the battle field, each army would elect a champion–their best warrior. These two warriors would square off in battle. Whichever warrior won, won for the entire nation. Whichever warrior lost, lost for the entire nation. A nation was declared either a winner or a looser based on the actions of only one person–their representative in battle. The entire nation’s fate was decided by the actions of one person: win or lose.
For us, in the world in which we live, this thought is preposterous! We don’t like the idea of our fate, our status resting on the actions of another person. We believe that we are to be held accountable for our own actions! The actions of another person don’t reflect upon us!! Well, at least we hold this position in theory. But in another way, we do this all the time. For instance, I am quite sure you have heard people say, “If you voted for Trump, you are a racist.” What is behind that statement is this train of thought: The person who says this thinks that Donald Trump is a racist; Donald Trump represents those who voted for him; therefore anyone who voted for Trump is racist as well. That’s the logic. Such logic also affects the church. A person may say: I don’t go to that church because I disagree with what that pastor teaches; you continue to go to that church; therefore, you agree with what that pastor teaches and believe like he does. Hence, I cannot associate with you either. Even though we like to say that we are accountable for only our own actions, it becomes all to convenient to use guilt by association when it suits our purposes.
What I am trying to show you is that the mind-set that St. Paul is using is not so foreign to us. We use representative thought from time to time, and this section of Romans can only be understood using representative thought. Let’s try and get our heads around it and then see why it is important, but I’m going to handle this text a little differently because it is so dense. Instead of trying to go through verse by verse and explain verse by verse what is going on, I am going to try and offer a broad explanation that captures most of what is in these 10 verses.
Paul begins by telling us that sin came into the world by one may, and death came through sin, and death spread to all because all have sinned. Again, we have to think representatively. Adam is the first representative of human kind. He is the first one who is called to stand before God and obey God’s commands. And there was only one, “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Now, the objections to this train of thought are that we didn’t elect Adam. We had no choice in the matter, and we should not be held accountable for something that Adam did. To answer the first objection we must realize that none of us could even come close to Adam because, first off, God chose Adam to be our representative, and God didn’t just choose Adam, God created Adam.
God formed Adam and molded Adam. God breathed His very breath into Adam and placed Adam in a place where Adam had every chance to succeed. Adam didn’t have to worry about anything: about food, water, shelter, clothing. All the conditions were provided for Adam’s success. He had every advantage as our representative. And he still failed. He still disobeyed God because the temptation to stand on his own feet, call his own shots, be his own god was too great. Adam didn’t want to be dependent upon God, he wanted to be completely responsible for himself; completely autonomous; completely independent. Adam frankly wanted to be just like we hold ourselves to be.
And when Adam rebelled against God to be completely independent, that unleashed the power of sin into the world. Now, we have to understand that sin is not simply the things we do in scripture. Sin can also be seen as a power that moves and corrupts and destroys. It is this sense of sin that Paul is talking about in this passage. Adam’s failure unleashed this power in the world, and this power is so strong; so corrupting; that everyone is under its influence: every person; every group; every institution; every government. And such corruption inevitably leads to death. Under the corruption of sin, we die. With Adam as our representative, we die.
This is where Paul stops with his opening statement, but then he has another thought. He has another rabbit hole he figures he needs to go down to keep things together. And that rabbit hole is so important to Paul that he doesn’t finish his train of thought. He doesn’t finish his sentence. That’s why in your reading, you will see a dash right after verse 12. See, Paul knows that from the time of Adam until the time of Moses–this is biblical history–there was no law. There were no explicit commands from God, so people didn’t know exactly what it meant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Therefore God couldn’t hold peoples’ sins against them. God couldn’t mark that in their account, so to speak. Their sin was not like Adam’s sin because Adam had an explicit command from God. However, these folks were still under the power of sin. They were still in Adam; Adam was still their representative. This was obvious because they too died.
Now, we have reached verse 15, and here is where Paul begins a definite shift. He begins to lay out the fact that there is a new representative in town. A new man–a God-man has entered the picture to be a new representative. This is Jesus Christ, and Paul outlines how these two are different all the way through verse 20.
First off, they are different because their actions are polar opposite. Adam’s transgression was an intentional act of self-aggrandizement; of rebellion against God. Jesus’ act was an act of self-sacrifice in obedience to God.
Second, the consequences of the acts are very, very different. Adam’s actions resulted in death. Jesus’ actions resulted in life. Adam’s actions resulted in condemnation. Jesus’ actions resulted in justification. Adam’s actions led to death having power and dominion over us–we are enslaved to death as we work to defeat death, postpone death, do everything in our power to keep us safe and preserved and extend our lives because of our fear of death. Jesus’ actions led to us receiving freedom as death no longer has power over us, and Paul’s words are chosen very carefully hear as he says that we “who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life.” Because we do not fear death, we rule in life. We can live life to the fullest!
Finally, Paul shows how Jesus’ action is more powerful than Adam’s. For Adam’s action brought condemnation to all, but Christ’s actions brought justification to all. Grace abounds! Adam’s disobedience made everyone sinners, but Christ’s obedience made the many righteous. Grace overwhelms sin!
After Paul lays these differences out, he addresses one more issue that was sure to be raised by those who were Jews. What about the Law? What about the commandments that God gave Moses and Israel? Weren’t these commands and rules supposed to transform people and the world? Paul says, no. Not at all. The Law has no capability to reform a person. The Law has no capability to transform a heart. The Law only has the capability of revealing sin. It only has the capability of showing us where we go wrong. Therefore, when the Law came alongside, it increased the amount of trespass–it increased our ability to see when we’ve messed up.
But, as the trespass increased; as we learned more about our sin, grace increased all the more. In the Greek, Paul uses a made up word. Grace super-abounded. Such is what happens when Jesus is your representative. Grace overflows and abounds. Forgiveness overflows and abounds. And this is now where we cut to the heart of the Christian faith.
For you see, if you want to be held responsible for your own actions; if you want to be judged on your own merit on what you do and what you don’t do, then you are acting just like Adam. You are still in Adam. Without choosing a representative, you have chosen a representative–if that makes any sense. You are still striving to make yourself in the right–to justify yourself. And if there is anything that Paul has worked to show us up to this point it is this: we simply cannot justify ourselves. We cannot make ourselves right. When we strive to make ourselves right, we are in a constant, losing battle that will eventually lead to our death.
However, if we choose to trust another representative...if we choose to trust in the God-man...if we choose to trust in Jesus’ actions instead of our own, everything changes. Everything becomes different. No longer are we in a constant struggle to justify ourselves and our actions. No longer are we in a constant worry about whether or not we have done enough. No longer are we dominated by worry stress and anxiety over death. We know that grace super abounds. We know the depths of God’s love that Christ died for us while we were and are still sinners. We know that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world to be our representative–not to bring us condemnation but to bring us salvation!!!
When you surrender to Christ’s representation, your life changes, and you have sure and certain confidence. You know God’s love. You know God’s hope. Nothing can rattle you. The final stanza of “A Mighty Fortress” rings clear and true when Christ becomes the object of your trust: your representative whom you find yourself in:
God’s Word forever will abide, no thanks to foes who fear it
For God Himself fights by our side, with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours...Forever! Amen.