|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Beginning with this and the next two studies, we will be turning our attention to, as far as Im concerned, the most important passage not in only the whole of Romans, but also in the whole of the Bible. It is this passage, that we shall spend three studies on, that really opened my eyes to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It really laid the foundation to an understanding of righteousness by faith and I hope that you will also receive a blessing.
I would like to start by reading you a statement made by a well known Bible scholar. He is the great Swedish theologian, Anders Nygren. Hes the man who wrote that wonderful volume, Agape and Eros. Hes the man that Dr. Froom mentions in his book, Movement of Destiny, as one of the few non-Adventist scholars who was preaching and who was teaching the message of the gospel that was taught by Waggoner and Jones and Ellen G. White. So heres a man who has written an excellent commentary on Romans, and in this commentary on Romans this is what he says about this passage, Romans 5:12-21:
The best place to begin for an inclusive view of the meaning of Romans is the fifth chapters comparison of Adam and Christ. This gives the key to the whole epistle. We have already labelled this passage the high point of Romans....
Thats on page 20. This is page 27:
When we attain to its height, all that precedes and all that follows spread out before us in one inclusive view, we see how part fits directly into part, how Pauls thought moves from step to step under its inherent compulsion. With this passage as our point of orientation, we can with surer understanding pursue the epistle from beginning to end.
I believe this man is making a correct statement! If you can understand this passage, I can assure you, you have understood the gospel and you have understood righteousness by faith! But having said that, I would like to add two statements.
First, this is a very difficult passage. It will probably give you spiritual indigestion. It is difficult primarily because the thoughts that Paul presents here are in complete contradiction to the western mind. So you will have to remove your American caps and put on Jewish caps as we look at this passage.
Ill give you a text which I hope will help you. In II Timothy 2:7 Paul gives young Timothy some advice and I would like to give the same advice to you. Let me read it for you. Paul had written to Timothy some difficult things and this is what Paul says in II Timothy 2:7:
Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
I would say to you: consider what Paul tells us in Romans 5:12-21 and may the Lord give you understanding. Ill do my best to try and make it simple. But I would request you to remove, to put aside your preconceived ideas. You know, preconceived ideas are the greatest hindrance to Bible study. What we want to discover is not what we THINK Paul is saying, but what Paul IS saying. What is Paul telling us here? That is our concern! The issue is not who is right and who is wrong. The issue is what is Paul saying? because it is Paul who was inspired to write this passage. We must simply accept what God is saying through Paul.
Secondly, this passage is not only difficult, it is very controversial. It is controversial because it is the key passage used by those who preach the doctrine of original sin. Now you may not be aware of it, but our church has not taken a stand on this doctrine, and you know why? Because we are divided. Those who deal with this doctrine fight like cats and dogs. We are divided on the doctrine of original sin. Now I am not going to discuss original sin because we are discussing this passage, but I will say this much about original sin.
Today, there are many definitions of original sin. When I take all those definitions and evaluate them on the basis of scripture, I have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is a mixture of truth and error.
But our concern this morning is what Paul is saying in this passage. There are three things that we could do with a difficult passage. (By the way, Romans 5 to Romans 8 has some very difficult passages, and Im going to use the same method for all of them.)
You see, you can either ignore the passage like some do and say, Well, it is too difficult, so I wont preach on it. And thats why I have yet to hear a sermon on Romans 5:12-21. I dont know how many sermons youve heard on that passage, but thats no solution. Because when Paul wrote this passage, he was not intending it to be difficult. He was intending to pass on a message that is extremely important to us. So it doesnt bless us by simply ignoring it. The other method, of course, is to skim over it so that there will be no controversy. Well, thats no solution either.
I prefer the third method and that is to wrestle with this passage. Thats why Im spending three studies on this passage. I believe we should wrestle with it like Jacob wrestled with that angel and not let go until God has blessed us! Ill be frank with you. I wrestled with this passage for five years. But Im an old man. You young fellows are living in the atomic age, in the computer age, you know. Im just learning typing and I have reached that enormous speed of 17 words a minute. I hope by the end of this quarter, I will break the sound barrier. But you young fellows, you take computers and you whiz through it as if it was nothing, so I hope it wont take you five years to wrestle with this passage.
But I would like to share with you what I discovered. It was a tremendous blessing to me and I want it to be a tremendous blessing to you! And thats why Im taking so long. If I had my own way, I would have spent more than three studies on this. But I think that three studies will give enough meat for you to chew, or, as one African said to me, That is not meat! You have given us bones to chew! Well, I hope you enjoy it. These are Loma Linda bones. Theyre all kosher.
Now, this time we will deal with four verses in Romans 5: 11, 12, 13, and 14. This passage that we are going to study now will lay the foundation for the next two studies. Before we look at the passage itself, I want to pinpoint one verse of these four verses that is the problem text. Its verse 12 and I mentioned it at the end of the last study, but I want you to look at it. Lets read it and then I will pinpoint the problem. Romans 5:12:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned....
Now Paul is saying three things in this one verse:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Here the word world means the human race, or mankind, or humanity, to which all of us belong. What Paul is saying in the first statement is that sin became our heritage! It became part of us through one man.
Now Paul was an ex-Pharisee. He was an expert on the law. He knew what Deuteronomy 24:16 said:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
He knew what Ezekiel 18 said. [Read the entire chapter, but here is Ezekiel 18:20:]
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
He knew that, legally, you cannot transfer guilt and punishment. You cant transfer. No law allows that. And so, because he knows that, he makes a statement. He says, This death spread to all men because all sinned.
It is that last phrase which is an incomplete statement that is the cause of the problem. I can imagine in heaven, some of those great scholars who wrestled with this through the ages of the Christian church will go to Paul and they will shake their heads at him and they will say, Paul, why didnt you finish the sentence! Dont you know what headaches you caused us?! I know what he will say. Why didnt you read the context?
There are only two ways you and I can finish the sentence. Did Paul mean that all die because all sinned IN Adam? Or did he mean all die because all sinned LIKE Adam? Which one? That is the big issue. I dont know if you wrestled with the problem, but those who have belong to one of these two camps.
Now we cant get the answer to the problem in verse 12. We have to look at the context, we have to approach it from every angle. I want to tell you the position I have taken: I am convinced that what Paul is saying here is that we all die because we all sinned IN Adam and not LIKE Adam. Im going to give you five reasons.
I want you to wrestle with this, and I dont care who you go to, but I would say this much: if you take the position that we all die because we sin LIKE Adam, I want you to know that I will not turn against you. I will not report you to the conference. I will still be your friend and your brother in Christ. Ill respect you. All I ask is for you to be honest with the text and give me a reason from the Bible not from your own viewpoint, from the Bible why you have taken the position. Im going to give you my reasons.
Four of them are Biblical reasons. One is an historical reason because you have to take history into account, too. Lets go through these five reasons so that after we do that we can go to the passage and understand what Paul is saying.
Argument #1. Historically, it is not true that all die because all sinned LIKE Adam. Take babies, for example. Do babies die? Yes. Yet they dont have personal sin. A baby of three months doesnt have personal sin. It has not sinned like Adam, yet it dies. Therefore, its contradicting what Paul says. Because Paul says that death spread to all men. No exception.
Argument #2. This is a grammatical reason, in that Paul uses the aorist tense. Thats a tense we dont have in the English language, but its a past historical tense. Therefore, it implies a once-and-for-all act that took place in the past. If Paul had in mind that it is our personal sins that bring death to us, then he would use the present continuous tense. He doesnt. I say this because, in chapter 3 of Romans, Paul makes a similar statement in verse 23, except there he adds something else. Romans 3:22-23:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In Romans 3:22,23 he says the gospel of Righteousness by Faith applies to ALL men, Jews and Gentiles. And the reason is there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. Why? Because all that is, Jews and Gentiles have sinned, the very same statement that he uses in verse 12 of chapter 5, in the same aorist tense. All have sinned. But he adds, and besides all having sinned, and he says, fall short of the glory of God. And there in the second statement he is using the present continuous tense.
What did Paul mean, to fall short of the glory of God? It is another way of simply saying sin. Because sin simply means coming short of the mark. And the mark is always the glory of God, which we know is the love of God. When we come short of Agape, we are sinning. So when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:3:
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love [agape], I gain nothing.
Thats means you are sinning. So what Paul is saying in Romans 3:23 is: All sinned in the past, plus all are presently, personally sinning themselves.
So if the second statement refers to our personal sins, the first statement has to be what took place in Adam. What Paul is saying is that we sinned in Adam, but thats not all. We also have personal sins. We are sinning presently. So the aorist tense implies an act that took place in the past.
Argument #3. Lets go back to chapter 5. In verses 13 and 14 of Romans 5, which is an explanation of verse 12, which we will come to in a moment, Paul makes it clear that the people who live from Adam to Moses were dying even though their sins were not identical or like Adams transgression. In other words, they were dying even though their personal sins were unlike Adams sin, which is a contradiction of the idea that we all die because we all sinned like Adam. Paul is saying the very opposite. They were dying even though they did not sin LIKE Adams transgression.
Argument #4. In part of the context, verses 15 to 18, not once, not twice, but, you will discover, four times, Paul makes it very clear that we are judged, we are condemned, and we MUST die BECAUSE OF ADAMS SIN and NOT our personal sins! Therefore, the context tells me that Paul says Adams death spread to all men because ALL SINNED IN ADAM! Or, to be more accurate with the Greek, in as much as all sinned, and we finish the sentence by the context, in Adam.
Argument #5. But now I want to give you the fifth reason, which to me is the most important argument. If you forget the first four, I dont mind. But this fifth argument is so crucial that it is important that you clearly understand what Paul is doing here. In Romans 5, verses 12 to 21, Paul is comparing Adam with Christ. The reason why he is discussing Adam and our situation in Adam in verses 12 to 14 is because he wants to use Adam as a type or as a pattern of Christ. In other words, he is saying: What happens to us because of Adam in the same way happens to us because of Christ.
There is a parallel. I want you to notice something here. After discussing our situation in Adam, how does he end up in verse 14? Because thats why hes discussing Adam. He says:
...Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Hes a pattern or type. Hes a figure of the One to come. If you keep this in mind, then listen to this very carefully: what is true of us in Adam must also be true of us in Christ! Thats the pattern! Thats the parallel.
Therefore, if you insist that we all die because we sinned LIKE Adam, to be honest with this passage, you have to teach that we are saved, we are justified because we have obeyed LIKE Christ. And Ill ask you one question: how many of you have obeyed like Christ? None. Therefore, none of us are saved. And this text is no longer good news; its bad news.
If you insist that we are lost because we sinned LIKE Adam, then you must insist, to be fair with Pauls writings, that we are saved because we obeyed LIKE Christ. Not only is this a contradiction of Pauls thought here and in the rest of Romans, but we would be guilty of teaching legalism, which is a far cry from the message of salvation in Christ.
This is not the end of the problem, so Im going to give you two more facts, two more things that I hope will help you. When I preach this to Adventist congregations, I know there is a question that rises up. What about Ellen G. White? I have no problem. I believe Ellen G. White and Paul were in perfect harmony. So Im going to read you three quotations from Ellen G. White, and you will see that she takes the position that in Adam we are lost! It is his sin that brings condemnation. The first one is from Bible Commentary, vol.6, page 1,074:
As related to the first Adam, men [it includes women, because thats a generic term] receive from him [that is, from Adam] nothing but guilt and the sentence of death.
Statement #2 is from Faith and Works, page 88:
We have reason for ceaseless gratitude to God that Christ, by His perfect obedience [not by you obeying like Him, but by His perfect obedience] has won back the heaven that Adam lost through disobedience. Adam sinned and the children of Adam [which is all of us] share his guilt and its consequences. But Jesus bore the guilt of Adam, and all the children of Adam that will flee to Christ, the second Adam, may escape the penalty of transgression.
One more quote, from Sons and Daughters, page 120 [notice the last one in particular]:
Blessed is the soul who can say I am guilty before God, but Jesus is my advocate. I have transgressed His law, I cannot save myself, but I make the precious blood that was shed on Calvary all my plea. I am lost in Adam, but restored in Christ.
So I have the Spirit of Prophecy to back me up.
But our final argument must be from scripture. We have a message for the world. But now let me bring you to another problem. Some will say (and Im not making this up), Yes, it is true. We all die because of Adams sin. Now this is a typical Adventist argument. But, they say, we die because of Adams sin, but this is only the first death. The second death is because of our personal sins.
That may sound like good Adventist theology, but it does not stand up to the scrutiny of scripture, because the word death appears twice in verse 12 and I want you to look at it. Twice, not once. If you analyze the text, if you use exegesis [an explanation or critical interpretation of a text], look at the grammar, and the verbs and everything from the original, you will discover that the death that came to Adam, the same death spread to all men.
Therefore, if you say that the death we receive from Adam was only the first death, then we must also teach that all that Adam received when he sinned, when he ate the forbidden fruit, was the first death. And the question I will ask you, When did the second death come in? What did God mean when He said to Adam and Eve, The day that you eat of this forbidden fruit you shall surely die! Did He mean the first death, or did He mean the second death?
Well, you all know He meant good-bye to life forever. In fact, that is the official position of our church, and a correct position, too. I would say that the first death was a requirement, a necessity because of the gospel. I compare the first death to a doctors waiting room. I have yet to go to a doctors appointment where the appointment is on time. I dont blame the doctor, because hes human. He cannot predict, he does not have foreknowledge that this will take him exactly 20 minutes for his previous patient. So if the previous patient is 25 minutes, I am to sit down in his waiting room for five minutes. Often it is more that that.
But the thing is this: if this world, because of the gospel, would continue for six thousand years, then what happens to the people who die? They have to wait for the judgment. Judgment is at the end of time. So the first death is a waiting room until the judgment.
But if there was no gospel, Adam legally should have died the very day he sinned because the Hebrew text says that in the same day that you sin, you shall certainly die. That very same day. So the moment Adam sinned, he actually belonged to death row. And if he had died that same day, where would you be? In the grave with him, being eaten by worms! Thats all. So the death that comes to us through Adams sin is not just the first death. It includes the second death. We are born to a lost race because of Adam.
The whole force of the parallel in Romans 5:12-21 between Adam and Christ depends on the idea of the solidarity of mankind in Adam and in Christ. In the great majority of the 510 times the word Adam is used in the Old Testament (i.e., in the Hebrew language), with only rare exception, it possesses a collective significance. When you read the word Adam in the Old Testament, it is not referring to an individual. It is referring to all men in one man. Its a solidarity statement. The word Adam means mankind, not just singular man.
In the same sense, Christ is referred to as the last or second Adam in the New Testament. (Actually, the New Testament only calls Him the last Adam, but Sister White calls Him the second Adam and theres nothing wrong with that as long as we dont have a third Adam; therere only two. The second is also the last.) So when the New Testament calls Christ the second or the last Adam, it is not referring to one man among many men. Its referring to a corporate man, Jesus Christ. Because the reason why God condemned us to death, because of Adams sin, is not because Hes transferring guilt. Its because we participated in Adams sin. We were implicated, or, to use the language of Hebrews, we were in the loins of Adam when he sinned.
The life that Adam passed on to his children is a life that has already sinned. Its a life that stands condemned and, therefore, its a life that must die! Therefore, the only way the righteousness of Christ can be ours is not through transfers. Its because we were implicated in Christs obedience. And the only way that can happen is because the humanity of Christ had to be the corporate humanity of the fallen race that needed redeeming. Otherwise, we are preaching an unethical gospel. That is what the Christian church is being accused of today. Legal fiction. I want now quickly to go to the passage.
Lets look now with this in mind, lets look at the passage itself, Romans 5, verses 11-14. Paul has been discussing with us in verses 6-10, about the wonderful, unconditional love of God. And we covered that last study. Now in verse 11 he says:
Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Not only are we happy because of Gods love being unconditional, but we Christians also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ because we have already [once again, the aorist tense, the past tense, we have already] received the atonement (or reconciliation).
Do you realize that there is no barrier between you and a Holy God? Do you know that, in Christ, God looks at you as if you are perfect? As if you have never sinned? Do you realize that you can come BOLDLY to God, through Christ, without any doubt, with a clean conscience? Not because your performance is good, but because, in Christ, you stand perfect.
Paul tells us that thats the statement in verse 11. But now he wants to expound on it and he turns immediately to Adam. Why to Adam? What has Adam to do with our atonement? No, Adam has nothing to do with our atonement, but he wants to use Adam as a pattern, as a model.
So he says those three things in verse 12. Having made the statement in verse 12 that all men die, that the death of Adam spread to all men because all sinned in Adam, he goes on to prove it in verses 13 and 14.
Now his proof is also a difficult passage (mainly to Adventists, because of our preconceived ideas about the law). We, as a church, believe that the law was always existing. That is correct! Im not denying it. Neither is Paul. So please keep that in mind as we look at verse 13. Paul is not discussing here about the existence of the law. What is he saying in Romans 5:13?
...For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
He is giving us an implication here that there was a time when there was no law. (Some translations read until the law, which means before God gave the law.) Hes using the word law and hes referring to the Ten Commandments, as a legal code. The law was existing from before. But when did God post up His Ten Commandments in black and white for men to see? It was at Mount Sinai.
Were people sinning before God actually gave the law in writing? And the answer is yes. For Paul is saying in verse 13:
Sin was in the world. That is, in the human race. The human race who lived from Adam to Moses were sinning.
But, he says, sin is not imputed (or counted or reckoned) when there is no law.
In other words, legally, God could not say to those people, You have broken My Ten Commandments, therefore, you must die. He could not do that because he had not yet posted the Commandments.
If tomorrow the U.S. government decides to reverse the law of our freeways and return back to 55 miles per hour, no policeman can touch me until they have repainted the new speed limit on the posters. As long as it says 65 miles per hour, even though the U.S. federal government passes a law, they cant touch me until they change the law on those posters.
So God legally could not touch them for their sins. Since God is a just God, He could not do it. And yet he says in verse 14:
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses....
These people were dying. If they were not dying for their personal sins, then the only reason they were dying is because they transgressed in Adam. Thats his argument.
I want you to notice the play of words, which is also important. Listen to all of Romans 5:14:
Nevertheless, death reigned [that means they were all dying] from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command [they were sinning, but they had not sinned], as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Yes, they were sinning, but their sinning was different. It was not the same as Adams transgression. I want you to notice the play of words. There are twelve words in the Bible, Old and New Testament, for sin. [For details, see Biblical Definition of Sin.] Each word has a specific meaning. The word sin is missing the mark. The word transgression is not missing the mark; the word transgression means a willful, deliberate violation of a law. In other words, you can never transgress without the knowledge of the law. The prerequisite for transgression is the knowledge of the law.
The people from Adam to Moses were sinning. But they were not transgressing. Why? God had not spelled out the law in clear terms. They had an understanding in their conscience. We saw that in chapter 2. But there was no clear statement from God, Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not steal. That came at Mount Sinai.
Adams sin was a transgression because he willfully disobeyed. When Eve brought that fruit to him, he knew that it was the forbidden fruit. He knew that God had commanded them not to touch it. So when Adam sinned, he was willfully violating a law. He transgressed. And God said to Adam that, The day you transgress, you will die.
These people were sinning, but they did not transgress. Yet they were dying. Was God being unfair to them? Was He being unjust? No! They were not dying because of their personal sins. They were dying because they participated, they were implicated, or, to use the language of Hebrews 7, they were in the loins of Adam when Adam transgressed.
I know what some of you will say who come to me: What about the flood? Wasnt that before the Ten Commandments were given? I want you to read I Peter 3:19-21, where Peter tells us why the people in the flood died.
...Through whom [the Spirit] also he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
They died because they were disobedient to the gospel, not the law. God said to Noah, Build an ark and invite the people in! And how many souls entered in? Only eight! The rest were disobedient.
And read your New Testament; its clear about the end. People will not be lost because they are bad or because they broke His law. People are lost only for one reason. They have deliberately, willfully rejected the gift of God, Jesus Christ. Look at John 3:18:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son.
Look at Mark 16:15-16:
He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned....
Man is lost because he deliberately, willfully rejects the gift. In other words, what did God do to save us? He took you, He took me, He took corporate man the human race and He put us into Christ.
In Christ He rewrote our history and, in that history, we have salvation, full and complete. In that history, the human race stands legally justified. That is the unconditional good news of the gospel.
But now you will say, Why isnt everybody saved?
Read Romans 5:15-18, which is our next study. Read very carefully. Notice two things that Paul says about us in Christ that he does not say about us in Adam:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
He did not give the Son to the elect. He gave His Son to all mankind. Who will enjoy the blessing? Whoever believes.
No mention of gift in terms of Adam, because our position in Adam is a natural position. We are in Adam by native rights. Thats the way we belong by nature. Our position in Christ is a GIFT and, like any gift, you have to receive it to enjoy it. Well cover that, too, in the next study.
Therefore, I will never complain to Adam, Why did you sin? Because, if he did not sin, I would not have that much more.
Ill even say, Thank you, Adam, for sinning, because now I have much more than what I lost.
If I lost ten dollars and I cant get it back, then Ill be very disappointed. But if one of you comes and says, I hear that you lost ten dollars; heres a hundred dollars in exchange.
Ill say, Thank God, I lost ten!
Just before we came here we had a terrible hail storm in Idaho. My wife had an old car. It wasnt worth $500. But we had a terrible hail storm and, because of conference policy, we had to insure it comprehensive. There was no choice. That hail damaged the car pretty badly. We did not report it to the insurance company because it was an old junkheap. But some friend of ours said, Look, if you have insurance, claim it! So she took it to the insurance company. They examined it and gave her $800. We thanked the Lord for that hail storm because we were better off. We could even now sell it for $300. In fact, I sold it for $50, then we left to come here.
We are much better off in Christ than we ever were in Adam. God has given us super abundant grace. I thank God that Jesus was willing to link Himself with us, to redeem me not only from Adam and from my personal sins, but to give us MUCH MORE than we ever lost in Adam. So I have some wonderful good news for you next study. The foundation is that:
As all men die in Adam, likewise all men shall be made alive in Christ.
Do you know where that is found? I wont tell you. You look for it. Its in Corinthians, but I wont use the reference.
May God bless us as we wrestle with this passage. We shall know the truth and the truth will set us free.