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The Power of One

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ECF – 4th May 2008 Romans 5:12-21

There is a campaign in Ireland just now called the Power of One.  Maybe you’ve seen the adverts on the TV for it.  It says: “Global warming, climate change and fuel shortages can make us all feel powerless. They're pretty big threats, and it's understandable if our knee-jerk response is: "But What Can I Do?".

The answer, actually, is "Quite A Lot".  If each of us becomes aware of our own power when it comes to energy efficiency, and uses it properly, we can collectively make a big difference. To ourselves, to our pockets, and to the environment. All we have to do is recognise our power, and use it. It's what the power of one is all about.”

History would back up that claim that one individual can have a huge impact on the lives of many others, for good or for bad. Think of the impact on the world of men and women like Shakespeare, Galileo, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Hitler, Stalin, Mahatama Gandhi, Einstein, Rose Parks, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev.  Again and again, history shows the power of one.

But there’s two men who have had a greater impact on this world than anyone of these people.  The actions of these two men have changed our lives more than anyone else.  In this next section of Romans 5 Paul compares and contrasts the impact of these two men, and as he does so he shows the our salvation rests on the power of one!  Romans 5:12-21

1.      Two Men

This section starts with the word, “Therefore…” v12.  It follows on from what Paul has just written.  We were looking at the reasons we have for rejoicing in our salvation – if we have trusted in him we can rejoice because we are so blessed in Christ and because we are so secure in him.  But how is this possible?  How is it possible for the actions of one person to impact our lives in such a radical way?  Paul answers this by showing that our lives, our standing before God and our eternal destiny are determined by the actions of one of two men.  Either by Adam or by Christ!

a)      The First Man

Adam was the first man.  “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7  These days it is popular, even among Christians, to reject the creation account.  But we don’t have to.  Science has not disproved the Bible.  The theory of evolution still is a scientific theory, not a scientific fact. 

And the advances in science have proved that all of humanity share the same anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and the same genes.  Although we talk about different races, we are all the same species – we are all of the same family.  All of this points to the fact that we share a common ancestor.  The Bible says, we are all descendents of Adam by our natural birth. 

b)      The Last Adam

Adam was also “a pattern of the one to come.” v14  Adam prefigured or foreshadowed one who was to come.  In fact in 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul calls Jesus, “the last Adam.”  So as Adam is the natural head of all of humanity, so Jesus is head of the new humanity.  The new humanity that are linked with him not by natural birth, but through faith, through spiritual birth.  If we have trusted in Jesus, then we part of this new humanity, we are in him!

c)      Similar but Different

And these two men are similar in that both of them have impacted the lives of so many by one action.  Paul states in v19: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Most of us have been brought up with a strong individualistic attitude – we want to live our own lives and think of ourselves usually as in charge of our own destiny, in control of our own lives.  And yet, as we’ve seen we know the impact that other people have on us – for good and bad.  Every parent has this awesome responsibility because our actions impact our kids for good or for bad. 

And so the actions of Adam as the natural father, or head of humanity, have had a huge impact on all of us.  In the same way, through his actions, Jesus, as the head of the new humanity has radically changed the lives of those who have trusted in him. 

These two men are therefore similar, but the impact that they’ve had could not be more different.  It is the contrast between these two men that Paul sets out so clearly in this passage. 

2.      Two Different Actions

Both these men impacted our lives through two different actions. 

a)      One Trespass

Adam changed humanity through one act.  Paul calls it a “trespass”v15,17, 18 or  “disobedience” v19 “sin” v12, 16.  Adam stepped over the boundary line between good and evil, he disobeyed God’s command, he fell short of the standard God had set for him. 

God had commanded Adam in Genesis 2:17: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But Adam knowingly and wilfully broke God’s command and sin entered the world.  “Just as sin entered the world through one man” v12  Of course Eve was implicated as well, but here he is talking about responsibility and ultimately it was Adam in his role as head of the human race that he bears the responsibility for bringing sin into the world. 

 It was this one act that changed the perfect world that God had created into the sin-cursed world that we are so familiar with.  All the problems that we see in this world are traced back as “the result of one trespass.” v18 

b)      One Gift

But Paul says, “The gift is not like the trespass.” v15 In contrast to Adam’s selfish act in the garden, we see Christ’s gift on the cross! 

The cross was a gracious act.  This gift “came by the grace of the one man.” v15.  Adam took what did not belong to him and he stole from God.  Christ gave what was his in the most generous and loving act of self-sacrifice. 

It was a righteous act.  Paul talks of Christ’s “one act of righteousness”  v18.  It was a morally perfect gift, in keeping with God’s righteous law.  It demonstrated the justice and holiness of God.

It was an obedient act.  Paul talks about “the obedience of the one man.” v19.  It was a act of perfect obedience to the Father.  Jesus expressed this so powerfully in the garden of Gethsemane with the words: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

The cross is the turning point of history.  It is the most important moment in time.  And it was this gracious, righteous, obedient act of Jesus that literally changed everything.  That changes our lives, our standing before God and our eternal destiny.  From the despair of living in the consequences of Adam’s sin to the joy of experiencing God’s abundant provision of grace.

3.      Two Different Results

For us to understand the impact of these two actions, we need to understand the different results of these two actions. First of all we need to see what came as a result of Adam’s sin!

a)      The Result of Sin

i) Condemnation

The immediate result of Adam’s sin was judgement and condemnation.  “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.” v16   Condemnation is the punishment that follows a judicial sentence.  The result of Adam’s one sin is that he was declared guilty before God and deserving of punishment. 

And as Adam is the head of humanity, from then on all of mankind was under condemnation.  v18: “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.” So it doesn’t matter how good we think we are – the fact that we are in Adam means that are condemned before God.  As we saw a couple of months ago – basically there is no difference between us. There is no point in comparing ourselves to others!  We all stand condemned already because in Adam we all sinned. 

This is difficult to understand.  Initially it seems unfair, that we stand condemned because Adam sinned.  And yet we could not accuse God of being unfair as we know that we too have been guilty of sin.  Each one of us “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.  As we’ve seen, “there is no-one righteous, not even one… there is no-one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10, 12  If God had tested each human being individually the result would have been the same – then each one of us would as individuals be condemned.

But this truth is also part of the good news.  By condemning the human race through one man (Adam), God was then able to save the human race through one Man (Jesus Christ)!  If it is true that we sinned in and with Adam, it is yet more gloriously true that we can be forgiven and accepted into God’s family in and with Christ!

ii) Death

We might struggle with this, but it is plainly obvious when we see the ultimate result of Adam’s sin  “death through sin,” v12

In March of this year, the mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them. In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that "all persons not having a plot in the church cemetery and wishing to be buried there are forbidden from dying in the parish." It added: "Offenders will be severely punished."

The mayor said he was forced to take drastic action after an administrative court in a nearby town ruled that the village was not allowed to buy more land to extend the cemetery.

That such a crazy law.  We can’t control death, death controls us.  Since Adam, “death reigned through that one man,” v17

Adam was told:  “When you eat of it [the tree] you will surely die.” Genesis 2:17  Of course, physically Adam lived for many years after that, but immediately he died spiritually.  He experienced the separation from God that since then each one of us are born into: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Ephesians 2:1

Later, Adam did physically die and down through the centuries, death has reigned.  One out of one dies. v12 again: “In this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  This verse is not restating our individual sinfulness, but rather because of Adam’s headship, we all sinned in Adam.  Paul shows that this is what he means in v13-14.  In between Adam and Moses, “sin was in the world.”  People sinned before the law was given, but “sin is not taken into account when there is no law.”  The full guilt of people was not revealed before the law was given. 

And so sin was not fully added to their account and yet these people still died!!  The proof of our universal guilt before God in Adam is that as someone said, “The world is a place of cemeteries.”

Revelation 20:14 speaks of “the second death” which is the eternal dimension of death – the eternal separation from God!  And so no wonder Paul speaks of death reigning!  Outside of Christ, death is our master – and his rule is one of fear.  Hebrews speaks of “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:15.  As Woody Allen said: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Death in all its spiritual, physical and eternal dimensions is the ultimate result of Adam’s sin.

b)      The Result of Grace

But we are no longer in Adam.  We who have trusted in Jesus have entered into the wonderful result of his grace!  And grace gives us much more than we ever lost!

i) Justification

Instead of condemnation, Christ gives justification (v16).  Through faith in Christ, sin is no longer held against us.  We are no longer in debt to God.  We are no longer under condemnation!  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

But Christ brought much more than what Adam lost.  Through Christ we experience not just removal of that guilt (just as if I’d never sinned) but a declaration that we stand righteous in God’s sight!  God sees us as righteous as Jesus! 

Also “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” v16  One act of disobedience was justly answered by judgement.  But when the law came, it revealed the sin that is in the world.  “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.”  v20 The law revealed sin, defined it and highlighted our disobedience against God: “through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” v20  Sin abounded, but Grace superabounded!!  Grace increased beyond all measure.  And so the accumulated sin, wickedness and evil of mankind throughout all the ages, was answered by the “God’s abundant provision of grace” v17!  And now through faith in Christ, we who were powerless, ungodly, sinners, rebellious to God, can be declared righteous in God’s sight!  We can know peace with God, reconciliation to him, access to his intimate presence, the hope of the glory of God, the presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives pouring his love into our hearts.

And so it doesn’t matter how bad we are.  It doesn’t matter how far short of God’s standard we’ve fallen in our lives.  God’s grace is sufficient for our salvation.  God’s gift is infinitely greater than the problem of sin.  “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him,” Hebrews 7:25  God’s grace is sufficient for you!

ii) Life

And the ultimate result of this is that we are no longer under the domination of death.  In 2006 Jon Brandrick from Cornwall in England was given a second chance in life.  He had been diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer and was given less than a year to live.  Two years later, the hospital told him they made a mistake.  It was only a non-life threatening inflammation.  He was not going to die! 

The only problem is, that even though he is healthy, Jon is broke. when he was told that he was going to die, he quit his job, sold or gave away nearly all his possessions, stopped paying his mortgage and spent his savings dining out and going on holiday.  Now Jon is considering suing the hospital to get the money he spent back!

But of course this man will die someday!  That certainty was only delayed! 

But in Christ we’ve received eternal life.  We will “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” v17  Adam’s sin brought death for all, but those who trust in Jesus receive “justification that brings life for all.” v18  “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:12


There is a physical dimension to this life.  We live subject to this sin-cursed world.  Weakness, sickness, pain and death are still so much part of our lives.  But it will not be this way forever.  One day we will rise again, or we will be instantly changed.  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  1 Corinthians 15:22

But this eternal life starts right now.  This is the spiritual life of knowing God: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3.  And this life that will go on forever.  Eternal life is different in both quality and quantity. 

We lost so much in Adam.  We lost that intimacy with God.  We fell from the glory of God that we were designed to display.  We have been dominated by pain and death.  But in Christ we “have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 

We have not entered into the full experience of this yet, but it is our’s.  Jesus has promised it:  “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24  And so it doesn’t matter how far away from God we’ve fallen.  It doesn’t matter dead we feel spiritually or physically. God’s gift is life in all its fullness!

4.      The Power of Jesus Christ

Paul sums all this up in the last verse: “just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” v21

a)      Grace Reigns

All of humanity have suffered the consequences of Adam’s one act of disobedience down through the centuries.  But Adam’s sin does not have the final word in our lives.  If we’ve trusted in Jesus, then it is grace not sin that reigns in our lives.  By grace we have been justified, declared righteous in God’s sight and will never be condemned!  By grace we have been set free from the tyranny of death.  We are alive in Christ today.  We have peace with God and one day sin and death will be ultimately defeated in our lives when Christ will take us to be with him forever.

b)      Through Jesus Christ our Lord

And, as this verse states, this is all “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” v21 

Salvation is nothing to do with what we have done or have achieved.  Salvation is not about the power of many!  It is all through the power of one man!  It is all about what Christ has achieved through his one act of obedience!  His gracious and obedient giving of himself on the cross!!

And so our lives, our standing before God and our eternal destiny are all tied up in whether we are in Adam or in Christ today!

In Adam, through his disobedience; After one trespass; All sinned; Condemnation was brought to us all; Death reigned over us all

But if we are in Christ today, then through his  obedience; Even after many trespasses; Grace Reigns in our lives; We have received our justification; We reign in life, now and forever!

Someone said this: ‘Look at yourself in Adam; though you had done nothing you were declared a sinner. Look at yourself in Christ; and see that, though you have done nothing, you are declared to be righteous.” (Lloyd-Jones).  So our salvation does not depend on us! 

This highlights the Source of our salvation - It is only by Grace we are saved!  We cannot earn our salvation through our efforts! 

But it also highlights the Security of our salvation.  “In Adam all die.”  1 Corinthians 15:22.  But if we have put our faith in Jesus then we are in Christ today and “in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22   We have been saved by God’s superabounding grace and we cannot be lost!  We are saved by the power of the one – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! 

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