Romans 5:18-21 The Reign of Grace


In the previous study we have been studying the subject of God’s grace. In verse 18 Paul speaks “of one act of righteousness (God’s grace) was justification that brings life for all men.” This is what is called “justification by grace.” But I wonder if that sounds right to you. We already know about “justification by faith.” It was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther having said that it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. But if that is so, why should we speak of justification by grace? The answer is that both statements are parts of the same truth, since the justification that is received by faith alone is also by grace alone. A full statement of the doctrine would be: “Justification by the grace of God alone, received through faith alone.” Justification is an act of God as judge by which He declares us to be in right standing before Him so far as His justice is concerned. We are not just in ourselves. So the only way by which we can be declared to be in a right standing before God is on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, He bearing our punishment, and by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us by God’s grace. This grace is received through the channel of human faith, but it is nevertheless utterly grace.

This brings us to another important idea: the obedience of Jesus. Paul mentions this in verse 19, and it’s the first time he has used the word. In discussing the obedience of Christ, theologians usually distinguish between what is called the active obedience of Jesus and the passive obedience of Jesus. The active obedience of Jesus refers to His submission to and active conformity to the law of Moses. Do you remember how in Galatians 4:4-5 Jesus is described as having been “born under law, to redeem those under law?” This means that when Jesus became man He deliberately subjected Himself to the law of Moses, so that when He went to the cross to die for our sin, it might be known that He did so as a perfect sin-bearer, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). The passive obedience of Jesus Christ is something else. It refers to His submission to the cross. This is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the obedience of the one man” through which “the many will be made righteous.” Christ’s active obedience qualified Him for this role. But it was His one act of passive obedience, corresponding to Adam’s one act of disobedience that atoned for our sin and made it possible for the Father to credit Jesus’ righteousness to our account.

Let’s now explore Paul’s illustration of what grace is about and show that the drama of “God’s Grace” – Paul would call it “The Reign of Grace” – is as serious as it is real (vv. 20-21).The illustration Paul uses is of two rival kingdoms, and the way he gets into his illustration is by personifying the power of sin, on the one hand, and the power of grace, on the other. The one king’s name is Sin and his rule is death for all persons. The other king’s name is Grace and He has come to save us from sin and bring us into a realm of eternal happiness, eternal life.

This illustration tells us something about grace that we may not have considered. It tells us that grace is a power. We tend to think of grace as an attitude; and of course, it is that. But grace is more than an attitude. It is also a power that reaches out to save those who, apart from the power of grace, would perish. This means that grace is more than an offer of help. To use the illustration of the two rival kingdoms, it would be possible to say that grace is an invasion by a good and legitimate king of territory that has been usurped by another. The battle is not always visible, because this is a matter of spiritual and not physical warfare. But the attack is every bit as massive and decisive as the invasion of the beaches of Normandy by the Allied Forces at the turning point of the Second World War. The Allies threw their maximum combined weight into that encounter and won the day. In a similar way, God has thrown His weight behind grace, and grace will triumph.

What can we say about the nature of the reign of God’s grace? (1) Grace is bountiful. The first thing we can say is that the reign of grace is bountiful. This means that it is overflowing with benefits. Grace sees us staggering and comes alongside to help us and bear us up. Grace sees us destitute and pours the inexhaustible riches of Christ and the Father into our laps. Grace sees us dying and imparts eternal life. Grace says, “What do you need? Tell me. Tell me anything at all.” And then grace provides that need in accord with God’s perfect wisdom, invincible power, and ultimate supply. “Grace always gives, whereas sin always takes away.” (2) Grace is invincible. In this life it is not always true that the good triumph and the evil are defeated. Looking at this life, we might ask, “Can anything as good as grace really triumph in the end? To be sure, grace offers everything. But how can we know that in the end sin will not somehow still be there to assert its rule and snatch God’s bountiful gifts from our hands?”

Ah, but that would be possible only if we were speaking of grace in human terms. If it were only my grace or your grace that we are talking about, sin would snatch our gifts away. We could not stand against this powerful adversary. But it is not my grace or your grace that is reigning. It is the grace of God, and God is the Almighty One. Who or what can stand against God or His purposes (see Rom. 8:31-30)? We can be assured of salvation because, through Christ, we have gained permanent access by faith “into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:2). For the reign of grace there is no defeat, there can be no end. Let grace triumph in you. Yield to it. Yield to the grace of God in Christ. Open your arms to grace, and let grace draw you to the winning side.

Romans 5:18-21 Reflection Questions:

How do verses 18-21 summarize the entire letter of Romans so far?

The idea of a beautiful and good world, spoiled at one point in time by human rebellion, remains basic to all early Christian, as to all Jewish thought. The picture of humankind in a state of sin is indeed a sorry one. In what ways do verses 18-21 contradict the view of humanity that society today holds?

Think about an area of your life, your community or the world that demonstrates the brokenness of sin. What would that area look like if there was a “reign of grace” instead of a reign of death?

Romans 5:15-17 Three Great Contrasts


The paragraph to which we come now, Romans 5:15-17, is one in which Paul develops the differences between our being in Adam and our being in Christ. Paul’s point in verses 13 and 14 is that we were condemned by reason of our union with Adam, just as we have now been saved by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ. It is an important and great similarity. In verses 13 and 14 he has explained how we have “sinned in Adam.” In verses 15-17 he digresses further to explain how union with Christ is greater in its nature and effects than our original union with Adam. This study is called “Three Great Contrasts,” because of the way Paul sets out his contrasts in our verses we are studying here (vv. 15-17).

Of these three verses, the hardest to understand is verse 15, because it is least explicit. In what way is the gift of salvation in Christ not like the trespass? In what sense is the gift much more? Or, what particular contrast, the unique idea, that verse 15 introduces? The contrast is found in the first key word Paul uses, after having said that “the gift is not like the trespass.” It’s the word died. The sin of Adam brought death. It brought death to all. By contrast, the gift of God brought life to many. We must not be misled by the word “many.” When Paul writes of “the many” who died because of Adam’s transgression, he means just that: the many who died in Adam, that is, all persons. And when he writes of “the many” to whom the gift of life overflows, he also means many, for surely “many” are being saved. So what is the contrast? It’s between death, which has come upon all because of Adam, and life, which has been given to every believer in Christ.

Verse 16 carries the contrast between the effects of Adam’s sin and the effects of God’s work in Christ further, pointing out that “the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. It was hard for us to see the contrast in verse 15; however this is not true of verse 16. Here the contrast is found between the “one sin” that brought condemnation, that is, the sin of Adam in eating the forbidden tree, and the “many trespasses,” which Adam and all who followed him have committed but which are atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Since Christ died for such a vast accumulation of sins, is it any wonder that Paul marvels in Romans 5 how “judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”

The third and final great contrast is in verse 17. The key to understanding this verse is to emphasize the word abundant in the phrase “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness,” and the thought that those who have been thus abundantly blessed are enabled to reign in life now through Jesus. To put it simply, 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. So what does the phrase “reigning in life” refer to? It means that by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we are victorious now. In this way, the gift of God in Christ far surpasses the effects of Adam’s and all other transgressions.

Now we must look at just one word: grace. “Grace” occurs five times in this passage, three times in verses 15-17, which we are particularly studying here, and twice more in verses 20 and 21. In these verses Paul says that grace is of God and that it comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s free, triumphant, and overflowing. What is grace? It’s God’s favor toward the undeserving. Grace lies behind the plan of salvation, but it is also what brings that salvation to us individually and effectively. Despite all this, there are today in most of our churches probably only a small percentage of people who really believe in grace, much less appreciate it. They pay lip service to grace; they know we are “saved by grace” apart from our own good works. But there they stop. If they were to tell the truth, most would probably say that they find the topic of “grace” boring.

If we have come to this point having understood what has been taught earlier, we know what grace is and are prepared to marvel at it, as Paul himself does in this section. I want you to see the subject of grace in its broadest context, showing how the grace of God operates. There are five main categories: (1) Electing grace. As soon as we see that grace really is apart from any possible merit in its object, we understand that God is utterly sovereign in His choices. The grace of God, like God Himself, is before all other things. It is from grace that all good comes. (2) Pursuing grace. The God of grace has been called “The Hound of Heaven,” who pursues rebellious man. We may think at times that we have sought God. But as we grow in grace and increasingly learn the nature of our own sinful hearts, we discover that we have sought Him only because He first sought us. (3) Pardoning grace. This is the very core of salvation. We are more accustomed to speak of this core as justification by faith, but that is only convenient theological shorthand. What we mean when we speak of justification by faith is justification by the grace of God through faith, according to which we are moved from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance. (4) Persevering grace. The Christian life is not passive on our part. We are active in it. When Christ calls us we come running. But notice: We persevere because He perseveres. We endure to the end because the grace of God preserves us. It’s absurd to suppose that we are able to keep ourselves in grace even for a single moment. If it were up to us, in the final analysis all would be lost. Grace has brought us to where we are now, and that same grace, persevering grace, will lead us to glory. (5) Saving grace. Although salvation is usually thought of in reference to our being justified or pardoned only, salvation is actually a more embracing concept. It refers to the past: God saved us from sin’s penalty in Christ. It concerns the present: God is saving us from sin’s power now. It looks to the future: God will save us from sin’s very presence when we are given resurrection bodies and are taken into His holy presence forever. How? It is by grace, grace only.

Romans 5:15-17 Reflection Questions:

Are you “in Jesus”? If Adam, who once humanly perfect fell, what chance do you have to stand, you who are corrupted by many sins and wholly disposed to unrighteousness? Your only hope is to believe on Jesus and be joined to Him.

Reflect and journal on how God pursued you.

What are some examples of God pursuing man in Scripture?

Romans 5:12-14 Union with Jesus Christ


The last ten verses of Romans 5 are a new section of the letter. They deal with mankind’s union with Adam on the one hand, a union which has led to death and condemnation and with the believer’s union with the Lord Jesus Christ on the other. This latter union leads to life and righteousness. This is a difficult section of the letter, possibly the most difficult in the entire Bible. But it’s also very important. This union with Jesus makes possible the sequence of deliverances from sin, death, and the law, and the resulting spiritual victories that Paul will unfold in the next three chapters of Romans.

Because the union with Christ is difficult to understand and the treatment of it in Romans 5:12-21 is particularly mind-stretching, let’s look at this doctrine a bit before we actually get into the verses. There are two important points to keep in mind. First, the union of the believer with Christ is one of three great unions in Scripture. The first is the union of the persons of the Godhead in the trinity. The second union is that of the two natures of Christ in one person. The Lord Jesus Christ is one person. He is not a “multiple personality.” Nevertheless, He is also God and man, possessing two natures. The third union is of believers with Christ. Perhaps we are never going to understand these unions fully, but it is important to try to gain understanding. The second point to keep in mind as we study this doctrine is that the union of the believer with Christ is not a concept that was invented by Paul; rather, it was first taught by Jesus and then built upon by the apostle. True, Jesus didn’t use the term “mystical union.” But He taught it in other words and through analogies, which are frequent in Scripture, particularly in the latter portions of the New Testament.

We must understand the believer’s union with Christ to understand verses 12-21. But, in a parallel way, in order to understand how we are “in Christ” and what that means, we need to see how we were “in Adam,” which is where the passage starts. Adam is the “man” mentioned in verse 12. The passage starts with Adam and builds from him, showing, on the one hand, how the union of the race in Adam and the union of the believers in Christ are similar and how, on the other hand, they are also quite different, the results of the first being evil and the results of the second being good. Paul has been teaching that the work of justification, righteousness has been imputed to us. But people are reluctant to accept that truth. Therefore, to help them understand and believe in the principle of imputed righteousness, Paul shows that we have already been treated on the basis of this same principle “in Adam.”

What would you say are the most important events of human history? Listing the great moments of human history can go on almost indefinitely, and be quite interesting. But important as these events may have been, they pale before the two stupendous events that the apostle Paul cites in Romans 5: the fall of the race in Adam, and the redemption of the race by the Lord Jesus Christ. These are pivotal points of history, and they overwhelm all other events because of two things: (1) the significance of what Adam and Jesus did, though what they did and the results of what they did were quite different; and (2) the people affected. Paul summarizes the importance of these events in Romans 5:18. Whenever we link these two events together, we normally stress the contrast: Adam brought death, Jesus brought life. But we need to see that although the contrast is important, the ways that Adam and Jesus are similar are also important, perhaps even more so. This is because our understanding of salvation depends upon this similarity, which Paul points out by the phrase: “Adam, who was the pattern of the one to come” (v. 14).

So, what does “pattern” mean? This means that we are not looking for a perfect correspondence between Adam and Jesus Christ. What we are looking for are the important similarities. So we ask: “How can Adam be said rightly to represent Jesus Christ? How can sinful Adam typify the sinless Son of God?” There are four important parallels: (1) Both Adam and Jesus Christ were appointed by God to be representatives for other men. (2) Both Adam and Jesus Christ became heads of particular bodies of people, a race or descendants. (3) Both Adam and Jesus Christ had covenants made with them by God. (4) Both Adam and Jesus Christ passed on to others the effects of their disobedience or obedience.

In our next study we will explore the other side of the comparison between Adam and Christ, namely, the differences between them. But before we do, we need to remind ourselves of what the comparison itself, including both the similarities and the differences, teaches about Adam and the events that surround him in Genesis. The first point is that Adam was an actual historical character, every bit as real as ourselves. There has been a tendency in recent times to dismiss Adam (as well as many parts of the Book of Genesis) as mythology. If the story of Adam is a myth, then we are going to have to find a new definition for the world! For there was an historical Adam; his story is to be taken literally. The real proof of the historicity of Adam is the parallel the apostle Paul draws between the person of Adam and the person of Christ, which we have been studying. Jesus came into our history to undo the effects of Adam’s literal transgression. Therefore, Adam himself (and his deeds) must have been historical. You don’t need an historical atonement to undo a mythological fall or a mythological transgression. All you need is another myth. But if Christ needed to be real to save us, then Adam was real too. It is because Adam was real that Christ also had to be real to make atonement.

That brings us to the second thing the comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ teaches: that the fall of the human race was also historical. It was a real event. That’s important because it involves guilt before God – true guilt, not merely imagined guilt or a feeling of guilt. We were once right with God in Adam. But we rebelled. Now we are actually falling away from God as rapidly as our depraved powers and the downward-spiraling flow of our culture will take us. Romans 1 described this decline. If we are to be saved, it must be by another historical act. The Lord Jesus Christ, who entered history precisely for that reason, must perform it.

Romans 5:12-14 Reflection Questions:

The logic of “how much more” continues in Paul’s discussion of Adam and Jesus in verses 12-17. How is the work of the one man, Jesus, far beyond the effect of the sin of the one man, Adam?

Paul uses “reign” three times in verses 12-17. What are the distinctions between the types of “reign?” Who is reigning and what does that look like?

Romans 5:9-11 Full Salvation


In the studies of Romans 5 so far we have seen that the point of these verses is to assure Christians of their salvation. They are to know that they are eternally secure in Christ so that they might be able to rejoice in God fully. In this study we find the same idea. So far we have learned: (1) We can be sure of salvation because God has made peace with us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. (2) We can be assured of salvation because, through that same work of Christ, we have been brought into a new relationship with God in which we continue to stand. (3) We can be assured of salvation because of the sure and certain hope that we shall see God. (4) We can be assured of salvation because of the way we are able to react to sufferings in this life. We see God’s purposes in them and therefore rejoice in them, which unbelievers cannot do. (5) We can be assured of salvation because God sent Jesus Christ to die for us, not when we were saved people, as we are now, but when we were God’s sworn enemies. In this study Paul provides yet another argument or, what is probably more accurate to say, draws his previous arguments together (vv. 9-11).

To understand what is happening in these verses we have to realize that “saved” is used in at least three different ways in the Bible, in three different tenses. Sometimes it refers to something past (are you saved? Yes, I am.), at other times to something present (“I am being saved.”) Paul himself uses this second way in 1 Cor. 1:18. Third, you could think in future terms and answer the question by saying, “No, I am not saved yet, but I will be when Jesus returns.” It’s important to see that it is in the third sense, the future sense of salvation that Paul speaks here. He is not denying the other tenses, particularly not the first. But he is thinking of the judgment to come and is saying that because we have already been justified by God on the basis of the death of Christ, we can be certain of being saved from the outpouring of God’s wrath in the final day. We can put it like this: If God has already justified us on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death, if He has already pronounced His verdict; any verdict rendered at the final judgment will be only a confirming formality.

The last verse of our text, which also marks the end of the first half of Romans 5, says that now, having been reconciled to God, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” What exactly shall we rejoice in, if we are to “rejoice in God”? We can rejoice in any one of His attributes. Our passage suggests these: (1) God’s wisdom. Even at this point in our study we can marvel at wisdom so great as to be able to save powerless, ungodly, sinful enemies. There is also a display of God’s wisdom in the way suffering works for our good, as Paul has shown in verses 3 and 4. (2) God’s grace. We rejoice in God’s grace because, in our case, grace is favor not merely to the undeserving but to those who actually deserve the opposite. What do “enemies” deserve after all? They deserve defeat and destruction. God did not treat us that way, however. Rather, He saved us through the work of Christ. (3) God’s power. Scripture speaks of God’s power being displayed preeminently at the cross. The power of God was revealed at the cross when Satan’s power over us was broken. (4) God’s love. The only place we can learn of God’s love is at the cross. It’s when we look at the cross that we begin to understand what love is and how much God has loved us. (5) God’s immutability. We have seen immutability as something for which unregenerate men and women hate God, because He does not change in any of His attributes. But in our regenerate state we find this something to rejoice in, since it means that God will not waver in His love and favor toward us. Having loved us and having sent the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sin, God will not now somehow suddenly change His mind and cast us off. His love, grace, wisdom, and other attributes will always remain as they have been, because He is immutable.

The last verse of this section of Romans 5 says, “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” But do we rejoice? Have we actually come as far as Paul assumes we have in verse 11? Honesty compels us to admit that often we don’t rejoice in God. Why is that? Here are a number of reasons for the sake of our self-examination: (1) A failure to grasp the truth of justification by faith only. (2) A failure to meditate as we ought, that is, a failure to think about what we do know. (3) A failure to draw the necessary conclusions from the Scriptures.

I don’t know if these are your failures (if you have failed to rejoice in God) or whether there is some other hindrance in your case, as there may be. But whatever the cause, anything that keeps us from rejoicing in God is inappropriate and should be overcome by us. I challenge you to overcome it. I challenge you to think about these great truths, meditate upon them, learn how great the love, power, wisdom, and grace of God toward you are. Then glory in God, as those who have known God throughout the long ages of human history have done before you. It will make a profound difference in your life, and you will be a blessing to others.

Romans 5:9-11 Reflection Questions:

Paul constantly keeps in mind how justification or being “declared to be in the right” works out in practice. Describe the past, present, and future aspects of the work of God in verses 6-11.

Paul’s argument in verses 5-11 takes the form – familiar in various systems of logic, not least Jewish ones – of a “how much more.” If someone has struggled up a sheer rock face, against all odds, to get to the top of the mountain, they are not likely to give up when, at the top of the vertical wall, they are faced with an easy stroll on a grassy path. How does this analogy explain verses 9-11?