Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Romans 5:20, the Law and Jesus' Substitution

Yesterday, we started a sort of mini-series with this post of the penal substutionary atonement. Some of these thoughts go back to a post where I argued the subtitutionary atonement is absolutely necessary and  central to the gospel.

Taking issue with the idea of a substitutionary atonement, a recent comment on that previous post, remarked on Romans 5:20 stating that "The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus' crucifixion) might increase." as a sin. Rom. 5:20."

But Romans 5:20 is not arguing that the trespass is Jesus' crucifixion. A law is not added with Jesus' crucifixion to make it worse, rather after Adam's sin the Law is added so that sin is shown to be worth because it now incurs a new legal guilt. Sin becomes transgression when it is spelled out clearly by the OT Law added at the time of Moses.

Adam's one trespass becomes the paradigm for Christ's great work on the cross. Adam's was one act in disobedience, Christ's act was one act in obedience. Adam's act brought sin, death and condemnation. Christ's one act secured righteousness.

I think if one really reads Romans 5:20 in context one will see that same point that Jesus’ one act on the cross actually results in the free gift of righteousness. Bear with me because I want to walk through the text.

The understanding of Romans 5:20 is flawed when you read the words “Jesus’ crucifixion” into your explanation of the words trespass. Notice the context of 5:12-20 we are talking about Adam’s one act vs. Jesus’ one act. So verse 19 we have “one man’s disobedience”; verse 18 you have through “one transgression”; verse 17 “the transgression of the one”, verse 16, “judgement arose from one transgression”; verse 15 “for if by the transgression of the one”; and verse 12: “just as through one man sin entered the world.”

Sin entered the world through Adam. His one act resulted in the inherited sin and guilt on all who belong to Adam. Notice verse 13: “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when when there is no law.” verse 14 “nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses,”

Even though people in this time did not sin in the same sense as Adam by breaking a clear command (because there was no written Law yet) the curse of sin still reigned because of Adam’s one act. The reason the Law was added was to transgression of Adam’s sin would increase. Those in sin having the Law are considered more guilty because they break specific commands of God that man has had since Moses and beyond.

It is clear that the “transgression” is not Jesus’ crucifixion. The transgression is Adam sin a sin of which we all partake since death is curse in which we all share. Even more if you notice in this passage it is clear what Jesus’ one act does for those who belong to Jesus:

v.15 “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For by the transgression of the one [Adam’s sin, see verse 12] the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”

Grace comes not though my obedience but through Jesus. Of course, those who trust in Jesus will in turn obey Him but that is only after we have the gift from His one act--His death for us.

V.16 the free gift [i.e. Jesus’ work see verse 15] from many transgressions resulting in justification. --the free gift brings our righteousness before God.

V.17 reigning in life comes in the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.

v.18 “even so through one act of righteousness there resulted in justification of life to all men.”
v.19 “through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

Therefore grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (v.20).

A clear reading in the passage shows that the one act of Jesus brings righteousness to people. It is a free gift that abounds to all who would receive it.

Thus Paul can say as he did in Romans 4:25--
Romans 4:23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. 

Christ's one act stands on behalf of His people--and when we understand this as an act of obedience not merely passively handing His life over, we begin to see His standing for us entails His being substituted for us. It is Jesus' act of obedience to the Father for our sins and for our justification. So that they Law of the Old Testament increases sin rather than removing it but in Jesus grace abounds all the more.

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