Sin Enters the World
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.- Romans 5:12
Caught up in the glorious truth of justification by faith alone that he had defined in Romans 3:21–4:25, Paul could not help but to explore in 5:1–11 some of the practical benefits that flow from the doctrine—peace with God, access into God’s presence, the outpouring of divine love, and so on. In Romans 5:12–21, however, the Apostle returns to the doctrine of justification by faith alone and focuses on two main issues that he has not yet explored in great detail. First, given that justification by faith alone is necessary to remedy the problem of our rebellion, why are all people apart from Christ rebels against the Lord to begin with? Second, given that justification by faith alone puts people into a new legal status of righteousness, how does God constitute that righteousness?
Today’s passage addresses the first of these issues, explaining that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (v. 12). This is a complex verse, but even a cursory reading of Paul’s words in their immediate context shows that he clearly understands our rebellion and death to follow in some way from Adam’s transgression (see vv. 13–14). Death is the consequence for sin (Gen. 2:15–17), so if there is death in the world, it can only be due to the entry of sin into the world, and the one whose sin allowed death to enter creation was Adam. That much is clear from the first half of Romans 5:12. But the death that Adam brought into the world by his sin did not affect him alone; it spread to all men. And why did it spread to all men? Because all men sinned and became liable to death. That much is clear from the second half of Romans 5:12.
The difficult part is figuring out exactly what it means that all men sinned. Does it mean that all human beings die because of the actual sins they have committed? Certainly, the answer to this question must be yes—at least in part—but that is not the whole story, because as we will see tomorrow, people still die even without committing actual, individual sins in willful and knowledgeable defiance of God’s revealed law. Since death is the punishment for guilty people, even those without any actual sins of their own must be culpable for sin because many people who have no personal disobedience still die. For example, many newborn babies die before they can make any personal moral choices. Since death is the punishment for guilt, their dying means the Lord must regard them as guilty. This, as we will see, is due to the fact that they—and everyone else except Christ—inherit Adam’s guilt.
The fact that death entered the world at a point in history shows that death is not part of the natural order of things as God originally made them. We were not created to die; rather, death is an invader. One of the reasons that death causes so much grief is because we know it is not supposed to be this way. As we preach the gospel, we can connect with people’s awareness that things have gone wrong (as proven by death) and point them to the One who makes things right—Christ.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 15:22
1 Timothy 2:13–14