A Superior Union
For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-17, v. 17).
“A parenthesis within a parenthesis”—that is how Dr. James M. Boice describes today’s passage. As we have seen, Paul began a comparison of the representative works of Adam and Jesus in verse 12, then broke off in verses 13–14 to explain how “all sinned” by being in “union with Adam.” Now he takes more time before moving on with his exposition to show that while there certainly were similarities between Adam and Jesus, the work of Jesus is far greater, yielding much more blessed results to those who are in “union with Him.”
Boice argues that each of the verses we are studying today presents a contrast between our unions with Adam and with Christ, with each showing that union with Christ is superior. First, verse 15 notes the difference of divine involvement. By Adam’s offense, many (actually all) became subject to death; in other words, death was the natural outcome of sin. In Christ, however, life “abounds” to many through a supernatural working of divine grace, a bestowal of the free gift of justification. God’s intervention is in view here.
Second, verse 16 notes a difference of magnitude. Adam’s sin brought condemnation upon all humanity. That one transgression in itself made it necessary for Christ to die for all His elect. However, He had to die not only for Adam’s sin but for all the rebellion against God and violations of His law that all of His people had committed across all time. Union with Adam plunged all into condemnation, but union with Christ rescues believers from Adam’s sin and from far more besides.
Third, verse 17 speaks of a contrast of outcomes. Union with Adam brought about a “reign of death,” total condemnation for all. But in union with Christ, believers receive “abundance of grace” and “the gift of righteousness” (Christ’s righteousness imputed to them at the time of their justification) so that they “reign in life.” As Boice puts it, “The work of Christ in dying for us did not merely restore us to the position in which Adam stood before the fall, but rather carries us beyond that.” We live abundant lives even now, before our salvation is yet complete, and we experience victory over sin.
One word occurs repeatedly in today’s passage: grace. We were dead in Christ and did not deserve God’s favor. Yet He gave it. By His grace the reign of death is ended and we reign in life through Christ.
Take time today to read through one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. As you read, remember that He was dying for Adam’s sin—and for every sin of every one of His people, past, present, and future. Does such a thought help you understand the depth of His suffering? Praise Him today for paying for your sins, too.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 1:30, 6:20 ; Galatians 3:13 ; Ephesians 1:7 2; Peter 2:1
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