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Romans 5:12-15 by Robert Dean
Romans 5 is a transition from the foundation of justification to the working out of our salvation which Paul is using more in terms of spiritual growth. The barriers between God and man are legal (a penalty required), spiritual death as the consequence of that legal condemnation and man’s works of unrighteousness. How has this legal problem been solved? Is personal sin an issue in our salvation? What is the issue in our salvation? How did sin and death spread to the entire world? What is personal sin? If it doesn’t figure into salvation, how is it dealt with it in our lifetime? If we mistreat someone, why is confession directed to our legal authority and not all about that person we mistreated?
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:56 mins 56 secs

How Sins Get Transmitted
Romans 5:12–15
Romans Lesson #060
May 10, 2012

As we have noted, Romans chapter five is a transitional chapter. Paul is taking us from the realities of the foundation of what we call salvation, but what he specifically calls justification, in this epistle. He makes a strong distinction between justification, that which takes place at the instant of salvation, and the word group that we normally translate as saved he reserves to refer to primarily the Christian life, the life of the believer after salvation. We have to make that distinction and always be aware that it is typical in our culture where certain words become taken out of the Scriptural context and used in ways that aren’t the way the Bible necessarily uses that word, or maybe doesn’t use that word all the time.

“Saved” is like that. We normally think that saved is getting into heaven and escaping eternal condemnation. It is used that way in Scripture at times but the word, whether it is the verb SOZO or the noun for salvation, SOTERIA, can refer to healing, to deliverance from some calamity, or it can refer to the outworking of our justification. For example, in Philippians chapter two as Paul is addressing those who are already believers and secure in their eternal destiny exhorts them to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That is the post-justification spiritual growth that occurs in the believer. That is going to be the thrust of Paul’s focus from Romans chapter six to Romans chapter eight.

In Romans chapter four we finished our discussion about justification. In Romans 5:1 Paul began to focus on the implications of that justification. Romans 5:1 NASB “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then in verses 2 and 3 he goes on to talk about the implications of that in terms of our hope and our faith and our spiritual life and growth. That is the thrust of those first eleven verses, and in verse 11 he says, “And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” He shifts his vocabulary from justification to a broader concept which is reconciliation, which is always related in the Scripture to the concept of peace.

Now he is going to backtrack a little bit when we get into this next section because he wants to make sure his readers, and we also, understand the connection between justification and the spiritual life. So Romans 5 really stands as a hinge, as it were, between the past discussion on justification and the coming discussion on the spiritual life. He is transitioning from one to the other. He is now bringing some final points to our attention about justification and then he is going to develop that into the way the believer should think and react in terms of sin in his own life.

In verse 12 he is going to start bringing us to this conclusion on the basis of what he has talked about. In some translations the verse starts with a “therefore,” but actually in the Greek it is not a “therefore.” Therefore indicates a conclusion. But he uses another phrase, DIA TOUTO, which indicates “For this reason.” And “for this reason” isn’t drawing a logical conclusion based on previous information but that he is bringing something new to what he has been saying in the previous eleven verses. It is like weaving a rope where you lay down one thread and then lay another thread on top of it, and then you begin to twist them together. That is what he is doing rhetorically in this chapter.

What Paul is going to do here is start a line of thought in verse 12. He starts off, “Therefore, just as,” and he uses a certain kind of construction here in the Greek where he uses a word which is like a conditional clause where there are two parts to it. In the first part there is the protasis (the “if” clause) and then there is the apodosis which is the second clause. He will say “just as” and then later he says “thus” in verse 18, not in verse 12, because it is as if he stops in the middle and says, ‘I am not sure they are really understanding the point, so I want to make sure they don’t misunderstand me.’ He goes down a little bit of a rabbit trail, which is called an anacoluthon in literary circles, and he diverts his attention for a minute to explain how and why every human being is declared a sinner. We have to understand what the sin nature is, what sin is, and the basis of our condemnation. This is something that is so difficult for some people to understand.

People think that the reason that they are going to go to the lake of fire is because of their sin, and they think that the reason that they are going to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ is because of their sin. For the doctrine of real substitution to be true that means Jesus Christ paid the penalty for every person’s sin. It is paid for. The way the gospel has often been presented by people who hold to unlimited atonement is that it is a hypothetical atonement or a potential: Jesus died for you but if you reject it He didn’t really die for you, you have to pay for your sins in eternity.

Some people have said that there are a couple of places in the Gospels where Jesus says to the Pharisees that they will die “in their sins.” That phrase “in your sins” or “in their sins” is used in several places, but there is a difference between the preposition EN and the preposition “for.” Dying “in your sin,” if we look at the use of that phrase in John it is not clear. Jesus just makes this statement that “you are going to die in your sin.” So how do we understand what an ambiguous phrase means in a couple of places? We look to see if it is used anywhere else. Maybe it is used somewhere else where it is not ambiguous.

In Ephesians 2:1 Paul says, NASB “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” That is the same phrase, and it is talking about being spiritually dead—physically alive but spiritually dead; so “in your sins” in that context means to be spiritually dead. Then Paul uses that same structure in Colossians 2:13 NASB “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh …” It is the same phrase. From those two clear passages it seems that the phrase being “in your sins” is related to being in a state of being spiritually dead. When Jesus addressed the Pharisees and others and said, ‘You will die in your sins,” what he is saying is, ‘You will die physically still in a state of spiritual death.’ He is not saying they will die for their sins or that they will make a payment for their sins, he is saying they are going to die in that state—still spiritually dead.

As we have seen, there are basically three problems that we all have. Problem # 1 is a legal problem: God as the judge of the universe has assigned a legal penalty to the human race of spiritual death, and that legal penalty needs to be paid. The second and third problems are the consequence of that legal penalty that God assigned to Adam. When Adam died spiritually that new status of spiritual death is what is passed on to all of his descendants, but that legal condemnation is what comes down on him at the beginning and then it changes his status so that all of his descendants are born in a state of spiritual death. So no matter what happens at the cross in terms of paying the legal penalty the reality is every human being is still experientially dead. Problem # 2 is the experience of being spiritually dead for every human being. Problem # 3 is that because we are spiritually dead we produce unrighteousness. Isaiah 64:6.

So we have three problems: a) The legal penalty; b) We are born spiritually dead; c) We are unrighteous.

We can’t be with God or spend eternity with God unless the legal penalty is paid and unless there is a spiritual rebirth so that we move from death to life, and unless we are righteous. The first of those was solved at the cross. That is that universal aspect of the atonement: Christ died for all. Christ propitiated the Father, satisfied His righteousness, for the whole world; that is universal. Redemption: He paid the price for all, so redemption is for all. Reconciliation in terms of the objective side is for all. That is universal. But those three things only satisfy the righteousness of God. They are all God-directed. They satisfy His righteousness, they pay the legal penalty, and they solve the barrier problem between God and man. But that still leaves every individual human being in a status of being spiritually dead and unrighteous, so that has to be solved.

That is the condition that everybody is in. The legal penalty is paid, so the fact that they are under condemnation for sin, is no longer the issue. The issue is, they have to have righteousness and they have to be regenerated. That is why life is such a major theme in the Gospel of John and why John begins near the beginning with the conversation with Nicodemus related to the fact that we can’t get into the kingdom unless we are born again, regenerate, are given that new life. Because we are born physically alive but are spiritually dead. The individual aspects of the atonement that are related to regeneration and the imputation of righteousness solve those two problems. We are only regenerate when we believe, and we only receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness when we believe.

Now, as Paul has established that foundation for understanding imputation and justification, he wants to make sure that he is not going to move into understanding the spiritual life without his readers clearly comprehending the fact that sin isn’t the issue in terms of the person’s relationship with God. He builds his argument in Romans 6 and 7; in Romans 8 he really nails the issues on the spiritual life. He doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit until chapter eight. Sin is not the issue in terms of loss of salvation or that that is what we should always be focused on: the fact that we have failed. Christ solved that problem. But we have to understand that sin is still an experiential problem because it knocks us out of fellowship, but it doesn’t cause us to lose our salvation. This is the problem that Christians have had down through the centuries: they just have not known what to do with sin.

So in the early church there was the rise of monasticism after a persecution, because when the church had been persecuted and people were being dragged out of their homes because they were Christians and taken to the Coliseum and the lions, it was easy to become arrogant and proud and thinking, Oh I am spiritual, I am becoming a martyr. But once Christianity became legalized, what were they to do to self-flagellate? They couldn’t become a martyr so that had to do it themselves. They had to figure out ways to go out and impress God, so they either went out into the wilderness, like the early desert monks, and lived by themselves, or maybe they became the pillar monks who would climb up on a pillar and sit there. They thought that was spiritual.

Then they began to cloister in monasteries. We still have people who think that as a Christians that is good and that we should protect ourselves from the world. A lot of churches are doing that, where they build family life centers, bowling alleys, movie theatres, and everything is about the life of the church. But Jesus said we are to go out and we are called for a purpose: to be actively engaged as ambassadors. We are engaged to go into this foreign culture no matter what the threat might be, no matter how little security there may be, taking the gospel. And ambassadorship isn’t for apostles, it is for every believer. We can’t be ambassadors if we sit at home with five other friends and think how great we have it, God has blessed us, and the rest of the world is just going to hell in a hand basket. We are called to be engaged and not to retreat into some sort of monastic, protective enclosure—friends, family, whatever.

The problem that Christianity has had is that they don’t know what to do with sin afterwards. So it develops monasticism, asceticism and forms of legalism and other things in order to somehow impress God. Paul is coming back to this in these last verses of chapter five to make sure we understand what sin is, where it came from, how we got condemned—and we are not condemned for our personal sin, we are condemned for Adam’s sin. When Christ died on the cross He died for Adam’s sin plus every single sin that you and I ever commit.

Paul is going to begin with the comparison and the contrast between Adam and Christ: between the sin of Adam and the death of Christ on the cross. He starts off with the comparison and doesn’t get to the contrast until v. 18ff. Romans 5:12 NASB “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— ”

In the next two verses Paul describes relation between sin and death. the Romans 5:13 NASB “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” This covers that period from Adam to Moses. In other words, what he is saying is those people were not being imputed their sins because there was no law. So they are not condemned for their own sin. His conclusion is going to be they are condemned for Adam’s sin, but they are not going to be condemned for their sin—just like we are not condemned for our sin.

Romans 5:14 NASB “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses …” Even though they are under condemnation their condemnation is not based on their sin. The fact that they were spiritually dead shows that they were under condemnation. But it is not for their sin, it is for Adam’s sin. “… even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

In the next section, vv. 15–17, Paul is going to contrast Adam’s sin with grace through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15 NASB “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. [16] The gift is not like {that which came} through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment {arose} from one {transgression} resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift {arose} from many transgressions resulting in justification.” Here he sees that that condemnation is automatic for everybody, but we have already been told that justification isn’t automatic for everybody, it is qualified by personal faith and trust in Christ. The free gift isn’t automatic to everyone. [17] “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace …” Abundance of grace; that is the qualifier. If we don’t receive the gift then we don’t get justification. “… and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

Then he picks up his analogy again in verse 18 where he is going to connect Adam’s sin and condemnation with Christ’s obedience and justification. Romans 5:18 NASB “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”

Notice how when we get to verse 18 when Paul is picking up his primary thought which began in verse 12 he takes us right back to those words he associated with the legal act of justification. He talks about judgment, condemnation, the one man’s righteous act, resulting in justification of life. Here is where he goes back to pick up the thread that he has laid down at the end of chapter four and he is now going to tie that in with what he has been introducing through reconciliation.

Romans 5:19 NASB “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” The question then is, how does death spread to all men? In some Christian backgrounds, for example in Protestant liberalism, in Arminianism, and in some other systems of Christian theology there is no belief in Adam’s original sin. Their belief in sin varies depending on which group we are talking about. The same thing is true in Judaism. In Orthodox rabbinical Judaism, which is based on the Talmud (which is a reinterpretation of the Mishna), they don’t believe in Adam’s original sin. They will believe that people are bad but are also capable of good, but they don’t have a doctrine of total depravity. They believe total depravity is that every person is actively evil and wicked. That is not what total depravity means. Total depravity means that every aspect of our being has been depraved, but because the sin nature also produces morality we can be as evil people. In fact, the worst form of evil is not the overt wickedness that we see in some forms of idolatry, human sacrifice, etc.; evil in its worst form is masked as altruism, that which is good and beneficial.

We are going to have to define what sin is. A lot of times when we talk to people who are not Christians, or even when we talk to people who are Christians, we find they have restricted sin to such a narrow category of heinous, horrible actions that when you say you are a sinner they so no, they are not, because in their mind sin means committing these horrible things. But the Bible says sin is any act, any thought, any word that violates the character of God. It is not that there are degrees of sin. There are degrees of consequences from sin but there are not degrees of sin. Telling a “little white lie” is as much a violation of the character of God as committing genocide. The consequences are far different, but they are both sin. Eating a piece of fruit in disobedience to God plunged us all into this nasty mess that we are in. It wasn’t anything horrible, it was just an every day act that many of us perform every single day but it was done in disobedience to God.

So we need to address this question: how does this spread to all men? How can we all be guilty? Paul begins in Romans 5:12 by stating it this way, NASB “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—” Paul is going to build his whole discussion here on this comparison and contrast between Adam, the first man, and Jesus as the second Adam. We call Him the second Adam because He was created the same way the first Adam was created: He is without sin.

Adam was created without sin. Jesus in His humanity is just as capable of sinning or not sinning as Adam. He has the same volition as Adam in His humanity. In His humanity that is the whole issue: He has to face life and the testings of life to always decide for God and always in obedience to God. This is what Philippians 2 describes: Jesus was humble and submitted Himself to the authority of God, even to the point of going to the cross. So there is this comparison that Adam failed and we are suffering the consequences but Jesus in His humanity succeeds, and because of that the human race can be restored to its original purpose and fulfil the original plan that God had for the human race as His image bearers in ruling and reigning over the planet.

“Therefore, just as through one man …” In the Greek there is this phrase HOSPER which introduces the beginning of the comparison, and then the second part is going to introduce by either the word HOUTOS, which means “this,” or it might be rendered in the Greek HOUTOS KAI. What we have in the second part where it says “and this death spread to all men” in the Greek is KAI HOUTOS. The order of the two words is switched. But never is the comparison formula, the second part, introduced by a KAI HOUTOS; it is always introduced by a HOUTOS KAI. The second part of this verse isn’t the second part of the comparison. The second part of the comparison doesn’t come in until we get down to verse 18.

Paul is expanding the initial statement, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world,” by the second statement, “and so death spread to all men.” The last part of this verse is an echo of the first part. So we understand the point that if we have one man and it is because of that one man and his decision that sin enters into the world. Paul concludes in that second half by saying, “and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” i.e. in Adam positionally. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world.” It is interesting that the word “sin” there has an article with it, which means he is talking about a specific sin—not just any sin that Adam committed but the sin. This is it; this is the sin that changed everything. The Greek word for sin here is HAMARTIA which means simply to miss the mark. That is the point of Romans 3:23, that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. That phrase “the glory of God” is an idiom for all of His character. We fall short of His standard; we just can’t be good enough.

It is through one man that the sin entered the world. There are two different words used in Romans 5:12 for entry. There is the word eis [e)ij] which means to enter into something. It is an aorist indicative here referring generally to something that has happened in the past, but one of the ways an aorist is used is as something that is beginning. The grammatical term is an inceptive aorist. An inceptive aorist means that it should be translated “just as through one man sin began entry into the world.” It has the emphasis on the beginning of a process. “… and death through sin.” Death comes through sin, and this is all forms of death; not just spiritual death but it includes all forms of death. Spiritual death was the legal condemnation but in this passage he is talking about the ramifications of that on every single human being.

We are not talking about the legal penalty, we are talking about the consequences of that legal penalty; all the forms of death into human experience because of that one sin. “…and so death spread to all men.” Here Paul uses a similar word to the one he used for entry, the word DIERCHOMAI—the Greek preposition DIA plus the verb ERCHOMAI. It doesn’t mean simply to enter, it means to come through, to pass through; it is used for things like a sword piercing into a body, of Christ passing through the heavens in His ascension, and it has the idea of something that is going in and spreading. It would be used to describe a gas expanding and permeating all the areas of a house.

So the first statement Paul makes is that sin enters, it goes through the front door into the world, and death through sin; and death begins to spread out to all mankind. The word that is used here for mankind is the word ANTHROPOS, which can mean male but a lot of times it can mean just the human race. Here it would be adequate to understand it as “death spread to all human beings.” Why? Because all sinned. We must always remember that sin isn’t defined by its impact in terms of our experience but by its relation to God. Sin is sin because it violates the character of God, not because it has certain negative consequences in our experience.