Romans 5, Part 8
Nov 02, 2010
After showing to us the detrimental effects of Adam's sin upon all mankind and comparing it with the beneficial effects of Christ's righteous act upon the same people, Paul reminds us that our personal sins then increased the problem.
(20) And the Law came in that the transgressions might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
He had already set forth the idea that "where there is no law, neither is there violation" (4:15). He had already mentioned that "until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law" (5:13). So now in Rom. 5:20 he tells us that the Law was given (through Moses) in order to increase man's liability for sin.
From Adam to Moses, Paul says, there was not the same accountability to the Law that we find after the Law's revelation at Mount Sinai. The Laws of God were always present, of course, because the nature and character of God are unchangeable. But something changed with Moses. The people bound themselves to obey the Law, and the Law was established by Covenant to be the Law of the land.
Once they agreed to be obedient, they became accountable to the Law. This was not bad, but good, for it was part of the divine plan, much as a parent holds his children more accountable when they have been given certain instructions to obey. But the overall effect of the Mosaic legislation was to increase the transgression.
It is not that the Law caused men to sin, but that the Law made it a crime (sin) when they violated the will of God and went contrary to the mind and character of God. I have heard men say that the Law was evil because it caused both sin and liability. Such teachers have told people to have nothing to do with the Law, because if you try to obey it, you will be found in sin.
That is like trying to lower the murder rate by repealing the laws that make murder a sin. The murder statistics would drop to zero if a nation simply repealed those laws. In fact, if you have no laws at all, the crime rate itself would drop to zero--not because men would stop murdering and stealing, but because it would no longer be a crime to commit such acts.
The problem is not the Law, but men's carnal minds that are not conformed to the will of God. The Law is not to be blamed for holding such men accountable for their actions and for restraining sin through judgment. Who among us would desire to live in a lawless society?
The Law was necessary to establish a viable earthly society among imperfect men. As long as we understand that the Law was not meant to perfect men but to restrain imperfect men in their desire to sin, we will understand the purpose of law. If, however, we are so optimistic as to believe that the Law in itself can perfect the hearts of men, then we suffer from "irrational exuberance," as Alan Greenspan might say (if he were a Bible commentator).
Every time a law is passed on earth, it automatically creates a new class of lawbreakers. Laws are what make sin sinful, so as more laws are passed, there is more sin in the land. This is always the case when the bar is raised and the law establishes a higher level of accountability. But one cannot blame the law for men's lawless behavior, unless the law is the product of the minds of imperfect men. If the law truly reflects the mind of God, then it is a proper standard by which justice and sin are measured.
So sin increased under Moses, because God defined specific sins at Sinai and held men accountable for violating them. Paul says that this was part of the overall plan of God, in order to show the depths to which man had fallen from the standard of the image of God. On the other hand, it also showed just how much grace would be needed to overcome this sudden increase in liability.
At the cross, Jesus paid sin's full penalty, which, because of the Law, had swelled to enormous proportions. It was the divine intent not only to pay for the sin of Adam, but also to pay for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). It was necessary, then, that those sins be fully defined and exposed as transgressions, adding each sin ever committed to the account which Christ would have to pay.
He did indeed pay it all with the one thing that was more valuable than anything on earth--the life of Christ, the One through whom all had been created (John 1:1-3). Hence, "grace abounded all the more," because the abundance of sin could never incur more liability than the blood of Jesus Christ was worth.
(21) that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here again, Paul reminds us that "sin reigns in death" (C.V.). He was speaking of the first death (mortality) which is the cause of all personal sin. It is only in a realm of death that (personal) sin can reign. Adam's sin brought death to us, wherein sin could reign in our mortal bodies. Then, because of the Law that made us personally liable for our sins, a second death was decreed by which men would be judged for their personal sins.
Yet the work of Christ has brought grace to us--a favorable ruling by the satisfied Law--so that we might have "eternal life." The word translated "eternal" is aionian. In the interlinear section of The Emphatic Diaglott, it is rendered literally, "into life age-lasting." In the next column, where it is translated in more readable form, it reads, "for aionian life." Benjamin Wilson obviously understands that aionian does not mean "eternal" in the sense of infinite time. He admits in the interlinear section that it means "age-lasting," but then opts to leave it untranslated in the actual translation itself.
Dr. Young, author of Young's Literal Concordance, renders it "life age-during" in his translation of the Scriptures. Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible renders it "life age-abiding."
The word aionian is time-based, for it pertains to an eon, or an age. It usually refers to the Age of Tabernacles, commonly known as the Millennium. Those who inherit "life age-during" (Young), are those who are given immortality at the start of that Age and are able to enjoy the benefits of immortality "during" the 1000 years before the general resurrection (Rev. 20:12).
These are the overcomers who inherit immortality first. The special salvation that they receive is a better (and earlier) resurrection. They inherit life in The Age and can be contrasted with those who must wait until later. So there is much truth in the popular Christian song that many sing without understanding the words:
One day every tongue will confess You are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose You now.
In other words, Jesus is "the Savior of all men, especially of believers" (1 Tim. 4:10). "The greatest treasure" is aionian life, which is life during The Age, the reward of all overcomers. We are admonished everywhere in Scripture to seek this greatest reward, for even though Christ's death and resurrection has established the FACT of salvation for all men, the TIMING of our reward is determined by our faith.
It is only when we understand this distinction that we can make sense out of Paul's teaching. There is then no contradiction between universal salvation and the judgments of God, by which unbelievers will bow and confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
This is the final part of a series titled "Romans 5." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones