Saviour of the World|
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
One of the apostle Paul’s clearest teachings on the truth as it is in Christ is the comparison and contrast he draws between Adam and Christ. He calls them the first Adam and the last Adam:
1 Corinthians 15:45
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. [KEY PTS.]
The first Adam, Paul says, is the origin of sinful humanity, while Christ, the last Adam, is the origin of a new humanity redeemed out of the old:
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! [KEY PTS.]
Paul’s idea of the two Adams is the most important evidence in the New Testament that Christ’s humanity was similar to the corporate sinful humanity He came to redeem. It is also closely linked to the subject we examined in the previous chapter — the “in Christ” motif.
The whole force of Paul’s parallel of all humanity being “in Adam” and all humanity being “in Christ” depends on the idea of human solidarity. The word “adam” appears some 510 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Only occasionally is this word used to mean the individual man God created in Eden; in the majority of cases, it possesses a collective significance or the idea of corporate oneness.
Two of the key passages in Paul’s writings that deal with the concept of the two Adams, the source of two different humanities for each person, are Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For 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. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [KEY PTS.]
In neither of these passages does Paul compare Adam with Christ on the basis of identical human natures. When Paul declares in Romans 5:14 that Adam “is a pattern [or type] of the One to come [Christ],” he does not mean Christ, as the second Adam, would come in the same human nature as the first Adam. To come to such a conclusion, as some Adventists do, is to take the statement out of context.
When Paul says that Adam is a “type” or “pattern” of Christ, the second Adam, he means that, just as what Adam did affected all humanity, likewise what Christ did also affected all humanity:
For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
This is the only similarity Paul makes between Adam and Christ in any of his writings. In 1 Corinthians he says:
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man [Christ]. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
In each case, what the one man did affected all humanity.
Romans 5:12-21 is without doubt one of the most important passages in all of Scripture explaining the truth of the two Adams. Here Paul expounds how God can justify sinners while still maintaining His integrity to His law that condemns them to death. As Swedish theologian Anders Nygren states:
Commentary on Romans
The best place to begin for an inclusive view of the meaning of Romans is the fifth chapter’s comparison of Adam and Christ. This gives the key to the whole epistle.... 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 Paul’s thought moves from step to step under its inherent compulsion.
Unfortunately, this passage is also one of the most controversial and difficult to understand in all of Scripture. As a result, it is also one of the most neglected passages when it comes to the preaching of the Word. Most pastors are reluctant to preach on it, or, if they do, they just skim over it. But we cannot afford to do this if we are to truly understand the good news of the gospel as well as the true human nature Christ assumed at the incarnation.
The reason so many have difficulty understanding Paul’s reasoning in this passage is because the western mind, as mentioned in the last chapter, thinks in terms of the individual, while the people of New Testament times thought in terms of solidarity or corporate oneness. In trying to understand this passage, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of those to whom Paul was writing. Then what he is saying will make sense.
The fact is God deals with humanity on the basis of solidarity both in terms of the cause of our condemnation, as well as of the source of our justification. In fact, Scripture clearly teaches three clear facts regarding the human race:
Fact No. 1. All men and women were created in one man, that is, in Adam. According to Acts, the human race is the multiplication of one man’s life, the corporate life of Adam:Acts 17:26
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
Fact No. 2. All men and women were also made sinners in that one man, Adam. This the apostle Paul clearly states:Romans 5:19a
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many [the entire human race] were made sinners... [past historic tense].
Fact No. 3. Likewise, all men and women were redeemed and reconciled to God in one man, Jesus Christ:
2 Corinthians 5:19
...God was reconciling the world [the human race] to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [KEY PTS.]
This is the wonderful unconditional good news of the gospel.
Yes, we accept salvation as individuals, but humanity was condemned corporately in Adam and redeemed corporately in Christ. This is what Romans 5:12-21 is all about.
Let’s look carefully at Romans 5:11-12. Here is what Paul says in these two verses:
Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
Notice Paul states three separate, but related, facts in verse 12:
Notice, too, that Paul begins verse 12 with the word “therefore,” implying a link with verse 11. Why did he do that?
Because, he is pointing out to his readers that, just as Adam is the cause of our sin problem and, therefore, responsible for it, in the same way Christ is the means of our salvation, or reconciliation, and, therefore, deserves all the credit when it comes to our redemption. As the apostle told the Corinthian Christians:
1 Corinthians 1:31
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord [that is, in what the Lord has done].”
2 Corinthians 10:17
But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Notice, too, the word “world” in Romans 5:12: “through one man sin entered the world.” By this Paul means the human race. The word “world” has the same meaning here as in John 3:16:
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.
It means mankind or all humanity.
Paul continues by saying that, after sin entered the human race through Adam, so also did “death through sin.” God made it absolutely clear to our first parents that:
“...But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
And because Adam’s sin, which resulted in his death, entered the whole world, naturally, Adam’s death sentence also spread to all mankind.
In saying this, Paul is fully aware that his readers would shout, “Unfair! Why should all men die for the mistake of one?”
Surely, a just and holy God could not allow such an unethical thing to happen? But the fact is He does, and He does so, Paul says at the end of Romans 5:12, “because all sinned.”:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — [KEY PTS.]
It is this last statement that has caused much controversy in the history of the Christian church. Notice that verse 12 is not a complete sentence; it simply ends dangling without clearly completing the thought. So the question is: Did Paul mean all die because all have sinned like Adam sinned, that is, because each person has chosen to sin just as Adam chose to sin? Or did Paul mean all die because all sinned in Adam, that is, the whole human race participated corporately in Adam’s sin? The answer we give to this question is crucial, because it will dramatically affect our interpretation of this whole passage.
Why is this so? Remember, Paul is using Adam as a “type” or “pattern” of Christ:
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
So what we say of Adam, we will end up saying of Christ as well. If we insist all die because we all have chosen to sin like Adam did, then to be fair to Paul’s analogy, or parallelism, we have to conclude that all live because all choose to obey like Christ did. Not only does this make Paul teach salvation by works of the law — something he fought against in all his writings — but the fact is, none of us have obeyed like Christ, which is certainly not good news.
I believe what Paul meant was that all die because all sinned in Adam. The reason Paul didn’t complete this last phrase in verse 12 by adding the words in Adam is because he goes on to explain what he means in verses 13 and 14. In addition, the context of the whole passage makes his meaning clear. Let me give you four reasons why I believe the apostle is saying that all mankind die because all have sinned in Adam and not like Adam.
Having explained our situation in Adam (verses 12-14), Paul can now use Adam as a “type” or “pattern” of Christ in verses 15-21. He begins, in verse 15, by pointing out the contrast between Adam and Christ, as well as the similarity between the two.
First the contrast. He says:
But the gift [Jesus Christ and His righteousness] is not like the trespass [Adam’s sin].... [KEY PTS.]
The contrast is that Adam and Christ are opposites when it comes to what each one did. Adam sinned; Christ obeyed.
Then the similarity. Paul continues:
...For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
The similarity is that, although Adam and Christ did opposite things, what each did affected the entire human race.
Clearly, Paul is stressing that, just as what Adam did affected “the many,” likewise, what Christ did also “overflowed to the many” (verse 15). Some translations have omitted the definite article the before the word many. This is unfortunate because it distorts Paul’s meaning. Paul is not referring to a large number from the whole group, but to all humanity. This will become apparent when we come to verse 18, where the apostle applies the phrase “the many” [or “all people”] to “all men” [“all people”].
Paul’s point is that, because all men and women were in Adam by creation, what he did at the Fall affected or implicated all mankind. All humanity was still in Adam when he sinned. In the same way, God incorporated all men and women into Christ at the incarnation, making Him the second Adam, or mankind. So what Christ did in His life and death also affected “the many,” that is, all mankind. All humanity was in Christ and, therefore, was implicated in His holy history. It is in this sense, and this sense only, that Adam and Christ are similar. This is why Paul can use one as a “type” or “pattern” of the other.
But Paul not only points out that Adam and Christ are similar; he also presents them as opposites. Adam and Christ are opposites in what they did. Adam sinned; Christ obeyed. So, naturally, the result of their actions on humanity will be different. Because Adam sinned, all humanity stand condemned to death in him. But the fantastic good news is that, because Christ obeyed, the condemnation that rests on all humanity because of Adam’s sin has been reversed! All humanity has been acquitted or justified to life in Christ!
“Wait a minute!” some will object. “Are you saying everyone will go to heaven because Christ justified all humanity by His life of obedience?”
No, I am not teaching the heresy of universalism. While the Bible teaches that no one will be in heaven apart from Christ’s act of redemption, it also teaches that many, unfortunately, will be lost.
“But if Christ has already justified all men by His act of obedience, why then will some be lost? Aren’t you contradicting yourself?”
Not at all. We must understand the distinction between the objective facts of the gospel which apply to all humanity and the subjective application of those facts which apply only to believers.
Please notice Paul uses the words “gift” or “free gift” repeatedly in verses 15-18 when he is talking about Christ’s obedience and the result it has on all mankind. In verse 15, he refers to Christ’s act of obedience as a “gift” that comes by “the grace of God.” Like any gift, the gift of Christ’s obedience and God’s grace cannot be enjoyed if we refuse to accept it. That is why so many will be lost — not because Christ did not save them, but because they refused the gift of salvation in Christ:
John 3:18, 36
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. ...Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. [KEY PTS.]
What Adam did is ours by inheritance; we have no choice in the matter. We are “by nature children of wrath”:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
But what Christ did is not experienced by us automatically. Salvation or justification is a gift that has to be received. Romans 5:17 clearly states that:
Romans 5:17 [Emphasis Added]
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
In verse 15, Paul is saying that, what Adam and Christ did, objectively affected the status of all human beings. That is why Paul uses the aorist tense — “the many died” (past historic tense) because of Adam’s trespass, and “the gift ... overflow[ed] to the many” (also past historic tense) because of the obedience of Christ. This is the good news of the gospel that is made effective by faith alone.
Perhaps we can put it this way. Although Adam’s sin objectively condemned all mankind (see verse 18), this condemnation does not become effective, or a reality, to us as individuals until we are born in this world.
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
In the same way, although Christ’s obedience objectively justified to life all mankind (verse 18), this justification is not made effective, nor becomes a subjective experience in us individually, until we receive it and experience the new birth. Jesus Himself made this clear to Nicodemus:
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
We are born the first time in Adam by procreation — something in which we have no choice. But we experience the second birth, the new birth, in Christ through faith. And, as we saw in an earlier chapter, faith is the individual’s heart obedience to the gospel. Paul commended the Roman Christians for this very thing:
Romans 6:17 [Emphasis Added]
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching [the gospel] that has now claimed your allegiance.
Thus, only those who receive the gift of salvation and are justified by faith have “peace with God”:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....
Because God created us human beings with a free will, He will not coerce or force the gift of salvation on us. The gospel does demand a human response. Faith is saying yes to God’s gift in Christ, and only those who by faith receive God’s abundant gift of grace will reign in life. That is why Christ made it clear in Matthew 24:14 that this world will not come to an end until “this gospel of the kingdom” has been preached into all the world for a witness.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The gospel makes it inexcusable for any to be lost.
Some believe that if we interpret Romans 5:12-21 as I have done in this chapter, that it necessarily leads to the doctrine of universalism. They argue that, if all humanity was justified to life by Christ’s act of obedience, then all humanity will eventually be saved. But it is not necessary to infer universalism from this interpretation. All that I am saying is what Paul is saying in his presentation of the two Adams: All the human race is in Adam and, therefore, die. And that all persons can enjoy the gift of Christ’s obedience because all humanity was in Christ in His holy history.
If Adventism accepts this biblical truth, I believe it will not only remove the confusion we have concerning what constitutes the good news of the gospel, but that, to a large degree, it will also solve the issue of what human nature Christ assumed when He became a man. It seems impossible to me to honestly teach on the one hand that Christ was the second Adam [mankind] and that the whole sinful race that needed redeeming was in Him, and then, on the other hand, insist that, as a man, He was different from us in His spiritual make-up, implying that we were not completely in Him.
Adam’s sin affected the human race in every aspect — physically, morally, and spiritually. There is nothing in fallen men and women that has not been touched by the sin of Adam. Therefore, if Christ did not assume our humanity as we are because of the Fall, He could not save us totally from the sin problem. Consequently, we undermine the good news of the gospel when we ascribe to Him a humanity that was in anyway different from ours.
In Romans 5:18, Paul continues his exposition of the two Adams by taking the position that all humanity stand condemned to death because of Adam’s sin, and that likewise, all humanity have been justified to life by the obedience of Christ. He then adds another dimension to our sin problem and its solution in verse 19:
For 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.
The word made, used twice in this verse, actually means constituted. Paul is saying here that, when Adam sinned, not only did he and his posterity come under the sentence of condemnation and death, but a radical change took place in Adam’s very nature so that he passed on to his posterity a sinful nature that makes, or constitutes, us as sinners. As a result, we are not only sinners by performance, but also by very nature.
To understand this, we need to realize what happened to Adam’s nature at the Fall. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created in God’s image:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
The apostle John tells us that God is agape love, a love that is unconditional and selfless:
1 John 4:8, 16
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. ...And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
Since Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, their natures were likewise controlled by this agape love that “does not seek its own”:
1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
This is what constitutes sinless human nature.
But, at the Fall, when Adam chose to go against his sinless nature, this nature itself made a U-turn toward self. This is how Ellen White put it:
Steps to Christ, Page 17
But through disobedience, his [Adam’s] powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love.
And because Adam could pass on to us only the nature that he had, all of us were born with an egocentric nature controlled by this love that has made a U-turn from selflessness to selfishness (the Hebrew word for this is “iniquity”), which, at its very core, is ruled by self:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Therefore, Sin, with a capital S, is what constitutes our very natures. Our acts of sins are only the evidence of that nature. Hence, in order to be a complete Saviour from Sin, Christ not only had to save us from Adam’s sin plus our own many sins that condemn us to death, but He also had to save us from the very nature of Sin, spelled with a capital S. It is this fantastic good news of the gospel that Paul declares in the second half of Romans 5:19:
For 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. [KEY PTS.]
It is extremely important that we take note of the verb tenses the apostle uses in verse 19 to describe the effects of Adam’s sin and Christ’s obedience on our human natures. When it comes to our situation in Adam, Paul uses the aorist tense (a past historic tense). When he turns to the truth as it is in Christ, he uses the same verb, “made” or “constituted,” but please note that he uses the future tense, “will be made righteous.”
Why is this so?
Because when we receive the righteousness of Christ by faith, no change takes place to our nature; it still remains totally sinful, bent toward self, until the day we die or until the day Jesus comes, when:
1 Corinthians 15:53
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. [KEY PTS.]
The New Testament clearly teaches what Luther declared: a Christian is simul justice et percarte — simultaneously righteous and sinful. Until our dying day, we believers stand righteous only in Christ, who is the means or source of our righteousness and surety.
1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. [KEY PTS.]
Further, in view of the fact that Paul uses the future tense when it comes to our situation in Christ, this hope of being made righteous applies only to believers who have by faith received the gift of righteousness Christ obtained for all people.
In Romans 5:20, Paul explains how God convinces us humans that Adam’s sin actually made us sinners. He says:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....
What does the apostle mean?
God had promised fallen humanity the good news of salvation in Christ, beginning with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
But it was not until centuries later that God “added” the law through Moses. Was it added as a requirement for salvation? The answer is a definite NO, since, if the law was added as a requirement for salvation, that would contradict the promise of salvation in Christ:
For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
Why then did God add the law to the gift of salvation? This is the question Paul answers in verse 20:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....
The law “entered” or was “added” or “brought in” to the promise, says Paul, not to solve the sin problem, but to expose it. To convince the human race that “the offense” or “the trespass” (singular, that is, Adam’s one sin) has produced a whole human race of sinners who, in turn, can produce only sins. But the good news is that Christ’s obedience not only took care of Adam’s sin that condemns us, as well as our own many sins that add to that condemnation (see verse 16), but “much more,” we have been made positively righteous in Christ — in Him believers stand perfect in performance, in justice, as well as in nature. This is the abounding grace of the gospel. No wonder Paul exclaimed:
2 Corinthians 9:15
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Paul concludes his line of reasoning with Romans 5:21:
...So that, just as sin [singular, that is, Adam’s sin] reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness [Christ’s righteousness] to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All that Paul has said in this passage about the two Adams, as well as what he wrote about the same subject in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and elsewhere, becomes meaningful only as we identify the human nature Christ assumed at the incarnation with the corporate sinful human nature of the human race He came to redeem. The moment we, in any way, make a distinction between our sinful nature that needs redeeming and the human nature Christ assumed, we separate Him from us and destroy the central theme of Paul’s theology — the “in Christ motif’ and the concept of the two Adams.
Christ did not come primarily to be our example and to show us that we can keep the law aided by the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is certainly true that those who stand justified by faith and have experienced the new birth, can obey God’s law with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But Christ did not assume our humanity primarily to demonstrate this truth as our Example. He became a human being to reverse the condemned history we inherit in Adam and rewrite that history in Himself. Thus, by His perfect life, which met the positive demands of the law, and by His sacrificial death, which met the justice of the law, Jesus changed the legal status of all humanity from condemnation to death to justification to life. This is what I believe constitutes the incredible good news of the everlasting gospel. I believe it is this gospel that God raised up the advent movement to proclaim to a doomed world before He brings it to an end.
In the next chapter, as we continue to consider this vital truth of the two Adams, all this will become more and more apparent.