This is the third of three meditations on Paul’s teaching about the ‘in Adam’ - ‘in Christ’ contrast in Romans 5:12-21. In the first we looked at what is true if we are standing in the presence of God ‘in Adam’; that is, if we stand before God as we are in ourselves, with all our sin and guilt still upon us. In the second, we looked at the contrasting position of those who by faith are ‘in Christ’ – where we stand before God on the basis of his grace.

We look now at a second contrast that Paul points out in the results of the actions of Adam and Jesus Christ.

The one action of Adam brought death to all.
The one action of Jesus Christ brings life. (5:17, 18, 21).

In other words, the death which entered the world in Genesis 3 is reversed by the one action of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, at the return of Jesus Christ, physical death will be removed, but, at this present time, the spiritual aspect of death is overpowered and overthrown by Jesus Christ, so that those who are united to him by faith are spiritually reunited with God and life. Jesus Christ paid the sin-debt, he took the death, so that we can live in the presence of God.

John’s Gospel and his first letter are full of statements in which ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’ is intimately associated with Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Jesus Christ, those who are united to him by faith, have ‘life’. This is because Jesus Christ actually is life. He is eternal life. In receiving him as Lord and God our rebellion in Genesis 3 is reversed, we are reconnected with God, who is the source and goal of our life.

Consider these statements:

John 3:36: ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’

John 5:24: ‘... 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.’

1John 5:11,12: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’

As Paul states in Romans 5:17, those who are ‘in Christ’ reign in life. No longer under the power and dominion of death.

At the same time, and making this reconnection with life legally possible, the judgement and condemnation under which our sin has placed us, is borne by Jesus Christ in his dying, so that, as Paul has already pointed out at length in Chapter 3, God can justify us, that is legally acquit us, while at the same time remaining true to his justice. Instead of the condemnation and judgement that is ours in and because of the one man, Adam, there is now, 'in Christ', acquittal – that is, justification/righteousness (5:16,17,18,19,21). [Note that the Greek dikaiosune, which translates into the English ‘justification’ or ‘righteousness’, refers to a declaration of legal innocence, a ‘not guilty’ verdict.]

It is because of this legal acquittal, this gift of righteousness, by which the sin/law/death trilogy is robbed of its authority, that we now, through the one man, Jesus Christ, reign in life. We must note that Paul draws attention to the fact that the perfect obedience of Christ is an essential factor in our salvation (5:19). Without his perfect obedience his death would achieve nothing; indeed without it he would have had to die the death penalty for his own sin, and would be therefore disqualified from paying for ours.

Paul's affirmation here of the great contrast between our 'in Adam' condemnation under the tyranny of the sin/law/death trilogy, and our 'in Christ' justification/righteousness under the authority of the faith/grace/life trilogy draws attention to the radical nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It cuts right across the mentality of world religions and false cults, and it cuts right across the expectations of our sinful, human minds. Our minds automatically function with sin/law/death presuppositions. We expect to receive, and we mete out, condemnation and judgement. We do not automatically know how to receive grace for ourselves, and we do automatically know how to dispense grace to others.

Here, in this ‘in Adam’/’in Christ’ contrast, every Christian is challenged with the question: Where do you see yourself standing? How do you understand your relationship with God?

Are you relating to God ‘in Adam’, as if sin’s legal guilt and condemnation is still upon you?

Or, are you relating to God always, ever and only ‘in Christ’, knowing that because of his perfect obedience and sin-bearing death your real guilt and condemnation can never again sever you from God and from life because Jesus Christ has borne it completely?

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020