I have never found Romans 5:11–21 very easy to understand, but I am especially perplexed by the statement, “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift” in verse 15; and by the similar one in verse 16 that says, “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift.” What is Paul saying, or teaching, when he makes these statements? And then what is the significance about ‘the law entering’ in verses 20–21? I don’t get it.
First off we need to understand that God has designed the overall doctrine of Romans 5:3–21 to effectually produce within us the understanding that we are eternally secure in our justification unto eternal life and its accompanying salvation, having believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as our all-sufficient Savior. This overall doctrine gives us the “much assurance” that God wants us to have regarding our justification and salvation in His sight, which when we learn it, and it effectually works within us, it does not allow for even a shadow of a doubt to take hold in our minds.
Now there are three separate matters set forth in this overall doctrine that provide for producing the doubtless “much assurance” that God wants us to have, with the final one in verses 11–21 being the capstone doctrine, so to speak. It is the doctrine about the permanently fixed and absolutely unalterable status of “at-one-ment” with God that we now possess through Christ, being ones who are justified through faith in Him. And it begins as follows:
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Romans 5:11–14)
Now very simply put, after setting forth the issue of the ‘at-odds’ and enemy status with God that we formerly had ‘in Adam,’ what Paul teaches us is that in doing the work of providing for our “at-one-ment” with God, the Lord Jesus Christ did not simply reverse what Adam did. In other words He did not simply provide for us to possess the same status with God that Adam originally possessed before he sinned. Our reconciliation with God, therefore, is not simply a restoration to Adam’s original status with God. If all the Lord did was to provide for reversing what Adam did, then all we possess having believed in Him as our Savior is the same kind of probationary relationship with God that Adam had before he sinned. And if this is the case, then just as it was with Adam, so it would be with us. That is, as soon as we would sin as a Christian we would lose our relationship with God, and we would once again become an enemy of God.
But, once again, the issue is that the Lord Jesus Christ did not simply provide for reversing what Adam did. Hence having trusted Christ as our Savior and being beneficiaries of what Christ did, we are not simply back in Adam’s original probationary status and relationship with God. Rather we are in the exact same permanently fixed “at-one” position and relationship with God that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is in. And it is by what Paul declares in verses 15–17 that he particularly begins to teach this to us.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) (Romans 5:15–17)
Notice that if verse 15 began by saying, ‘And just as the offence, so also is the free gift,’ then it would be declaring that all Christ did was to reverse what Adam did, and all we possess through and in Christ by “the free gift” is the exact same as Adam’s original probationary relationship with God. However it does not say this. Instead it says, “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift.” And those first three words “But not as…” declare that the reconciling work that Christ accomplished, and “the free gift” we received through it, does not simply reverse the effect of the offence. In other words it does not simply put things back to the way they were.
Likewise if verse 16 began by saying, ‘And just as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift,’ then it too would be declaring another equality that exists between the result of what Adam did and that of “the gift.” And this would further confirm that all Christ did was to reverse what Adam did, making it so that all we possess by “the gift” is Adam’s original insecure relationship with God. However, once again, verse 16 does not say this. It too begins by saying, “And not as it was…”
Now it is by these two highly significant inequalities that Paul sets forth and teaches us the reality of the fact that being justified through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our all-sufficient Savior we possess the exact same permanently fixed “at-one” position and relationship with God that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself possesses. For His own “at-one” position is the very thing that the Lord Jesus Christ is legally able to give to us, in view of Him being “him that was to come” and Adam being “the figure” of Him, just as the end of verse 14 declared.
Very simply stated, the first significant inequality in verse 15 sets forth the aforementioned fact that “the free gift” that we received in view of Christ’s work is abundantly more than what Adam originally possessed. And indeed it is. The “gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ” is the gift of the very righteousness and life that Jesus Christ Himself possesses. And this is much more than the conditional righteousness, so to speak, and the probationary life that Adam originally possessed. Therefore, it is obvious that the work Christ did in providing for “at-one-ment” did not simply reverse what Adam did, and therefore we do not simply have the repossession of Adam’s original conditional righteousness and probationary life. Once again if this is all we do have through Christ, then there can be absolutely no eternal security for us. In fact there can be no kind of security at all. But since restoration to Adam’s original status is clearly not what we possess through Christ, then there is bonafide and absolute eternal security for us “in Christ.”
Moreover the second inequality in verse 16 sets forth the fact that the act of judgment of God’s Justice in giving us “the free gift” unto justification is actually of a greater enforcing nature and power than the judgment of His Justice that established our former condemnation in Adam. This is because the former act of judgment to condemnation was in response to just one sin. But in contrast to this, as Paul says, “the free gift is of many offences unto justification.” That is, the act of judgment of God’s Justice in justifying us is in response to many offences, not just one. Hence the act of judgment of God’s Justice unto our justification is that many times more powerful, sure, and emphatic in its results than even was true for our former judgment unto condemnation. And as Paul drives the judicial significance of this home to us in verse 17, in essence he says, ‘If the results of God’s judgment in response to Adam’s one sin was the issue of death reigning by one, (i.e. if such certainty of reigning could be produced by God’s Justice responding to just one sin); then much more we which receive “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ,” in view of the fact that the reigning of grace unto eternal life has been established by an enactment of God’s Justice that has responded to many offences.’
So then our “at-one-ment” with God is not only eternally secure because it is “in Christ” and not simply back to what Adam originally possessed, but it is also eternally secure because it has been established by an act of God’s Justice that is even greater in power and enforcement than that which established our former condemnation.
This, therefore, is the gist of what is set forth by these two highly significant inequalities in verses 15–17.
Then in verses 18–21 Paul sets forth the conclusion to this marvelous doctrine regarding our permanent “at-one-ment” with God through Christ. And this conclusion is composed of two powerful components. Moreover in connection with their power, their effectual working is specifically designed by God to drive the truth of the reality of our “at-one-ment” deep into our thinking and to firmly lodge it in our minds. In fact the forcefulness with which this is done actually embeds in our minds the truth of our “at-one-ment” with God. Indeed it becomes embedded in our minds to such a degree, (and also indelibly recorded there), that it functions in our minds to the production of the exact same degree of absolute certainty and surety concerning our permanent “at-one-ment” with God as exists in God’s own mind regarding us. And this is because God’s own understanding of the eternal security of our justification and its accompanying salvation is the direct result of Him thinking the very same things that He teaches us to think in these verses.
Now Paul provides for the embedding of the truth of our “at-one-ment” by first off declaring in verse 18 the powerfully logical conclusion that we are to understand from what he has just taught in verses 12–17, and then in verse 19 underscoring what it means.
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:18–19)
In gist form this powerfully logical conclusion and what it means is as follows: That just as the Justice of God only responded to the one man Adam’s offence when it came to the issue of the condemnation of all men, so also does the Justice of God only respond to the one man Jesus Christ’s righteousness when it comes the issue of justification unto life. Hence this means that just as it was only by the one man Adam’s disobedience that others besides himself were judicially constituted and established to be sinners in the eyes of God’s Justice, so also is it only by the one man Jesus Christ’s obedience that others besides Himself shall be judicially constituted and established righteous in God’s sight.
Consequently, just as our former condemnation and enemy status before God did not depend for its existence upon anything we ourselves did, but solely upon what Adam did, (and our works could do nothing to get us out of that former status); so now also our “at-one-ment” with God through faith in Jesus Christ does not depend for its existence upon anything we ourselves do, or might do. Instead its existence depends solely upon the Justice of God’s judicial response to what Jesus Christ did for us, (and this likewise means that our works can do nothing to get us out of our present “at-one-ment”). So then with this being the case, we definitely are permanently “at-one” with God. We cannot affect our justification and reconciliation to God in anyway whatsoever by anything we might, or might not, do. We therefore truly have “at-one-ment” with God forever.
But Paul is not done yet. As was pointed out earlier, there are two powerful components to the conclusion. Hence God has Paul go on in verses 20–21 where by beginning with the word “moreover” He has him teach us about something special that He did in preparation for the time when He would put His “Jehovah-ness” and grace into effect for us through Christ. And what God did was specifically designed by Him to manifest the supreme and invincible power of His grace; and thereby to provide us with even all that much more convincement regarding the permanence of our justification unto eternal life and our “at-one-ment” with God through Christ. Hence as Paul says,…
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21)
In these verses God teaches us about a special intent and purpose that He had with the law, which when it fulfilled its purpose, it provided Him with the ability to show something about the invincible power of His justifying grace. As Paul says, this particular intent and purpose with the law was for it to make “the offence” to “abound.” And it historically did this very thing. The law entered and during its run, so to speak, it made sin abound. In doing so it showed sin to possess a very particular power; i.e. the power for judicially reigning unto death, of which there was no manifest equal or none stronger. However, God had this issue about sin’s power shown for one particular reason. So that He could show that when His grace entered to deal with sin, His grace would be seen to have both more judicial power and more reigning power than sin possessed. And so it does, just as Paul teaches us to understand and appreciate.
The power of God’s grace was more than equal to sin’s power. It is not only stronger, but it remains stronger. Hence Paul says, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:.” And in connection with grace ‘much more abounding,’ the result for us now is “that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Therefore the issue is that sin, which formerly reigned over us unto death, has now been overcome and divested of its power, and it has been replaced with the power of God’s grace reigning over us through the imputed righteousness of our justification. And because of its superior power and might, grace now reigns invincibly over us unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
All the more, therefore, are we permanently “at-one” with God. All the more, therefore, should we “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
Again, what verses 20–21 teaches us is that the power and strength of God’s justifying grace is indomitable and invincible. It reigns supreme, being unmatched in power and being unable to be deposed. Nothing is more powerful. Nothing, therefore, can overcome it; not even sin. Hence, all the more are we to understand and appreciate that we are permanently “at-one” with God. Or to put it another way, we are ‘stuck being justified unto eternal life.’
The doctrine of our “at-one-ment” with God through Christ in Romans 5:11–21 is indeed the capstone doctrine for producing the unquestionable and indubitable “much assurance” that God wants us to possess along with Himself regarding the absolute eternal security of our justification unto eternal life. — K. R. Blades