Perfect Obedience

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (v. 19).

- Romans 5:18-19

Adam’s act of disobedience brought sin into the world and, because he was the God-appointed representative for the nascent human race, brought the judgment of death upon all people. So says Paul—both in verse 12 and here in verse 18 of Romans 5. Paul began to make a comparison between Adam and Christ in verse 12, then broke away to supply some necessary background teaching. Now he is ready to complete the thought.

Adam’s offense brought judgment and condemnation, Paul says. By contrast, Jesus’ righteous act resulted in the free gift of justification for “all men” (which must mean all of the elect, Scripture interpreting Scripture). Notice the opposites in these verses. What Adam did was an offense; it was contrary to God’s will. What Jesus did was a righteous act, it was fully in accord with His Father’s will. Similarly, Adam brought condemnation on all people, a legal declaration of guilt that subjected them to the penalty of Adam’s sin. Jesus brought justification for His people, which is also a legal declaration that one not only is pure of sin but righteous. (The difference, of course, is that condemnation recognizes the existence of sin within a person, while justification is a recognition not of righteousness inherent in a person but of righteousness credited to the person from the “account” of Christ.) Truly, then, the representative work of Jesus was superior to Adam’s.

But just in case we miss this point, Paul virtually repeats it in verse 19. Adam’s disobedience made many (all) sinners, he declares, while Jesus’ obedience makes many righteous (via imputation). We know what Adam’s disobedience was, but what does Paul mean when he speaks of Jesus’ obedience? Theologians often distinguish between Jesus’ active obedience (His perfect observance of all the law of God while He lived on earth as a man) and His passive obedience (His submission to the cross, where He took on the punishment for the sins of His people). Dr. James M. Boice believes that Paul is speaking of passive obedience here. “It was[Jesus’] 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,” he writes. Thus, whereas Adam’s disobedience brought a penalty, Jesus’ obedience brings reward—for His people.

Coram Deo

Paul’s comparisons of our unions with Adam and Christ show us how wrong we are in our tendency to think that some goodness in us motivated God to save us. We were lost, justly condemned. But God saved us through Christ and declared us just. Examine your heart closely today for any attitudes that cheapen divine grace.

Passages for Further Study

Job 15:14
Psalm 51:5
Matthew 15:19
Ephesians 2:3

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