Monday, March 10, 2014

Sermon on Romans 5:12-19, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Grace is Greater"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our readings today we hear about the original sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and were thrown out of paradise. In the reading from Romans it tells us of the universal impact of this sin: “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” I’m sure almost everyone has thought at one time or another, “That’s just unfair! Why should the curse of sin and death would fall on all of mankind because of one man’s sin?” We might think that if we had had the chance, we’d have done differently, or perhaps simply that it is wrong for us to be punished for what someone else has done. Let’s examine that claim that God is being “unfair” in light of the reading from Romans, and see what picture emerges of God.
Fair is fair! What does fairness really mean? It is fair to get all that you’ve earned or worked for, which is why our country has long pursued fairness in wages for equal work. In the same way, it’s not fair to get more than you deserve or get what you don’t deserve. Fair allows no favorites or bias toward anyone. It often seems as though little in life actually ends up being fair. So what have we earned or deserved? What’s our fair due? Romans 6:23 says that the “wages of sin is death.” Romans 2:11 tells us that “God shows no partiality.” Galatians 3:10 tells us that “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” To die for our sin and fall under the curse of God’s Law is strictly fair, and getting what we deserve, no more, no less. Further, Paul says that we cannot charge God with any unrighteousness or injustice. Our punishment for sin is perfectly just.
But in our sinful way of thinking, we challenge the fairness that this sin came about through Adam, and that we in effect share in the responsibility of his sin. But isn’t that precisely what Paul says? “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Yes we have inherited sin from Adam, because death entered the world through Him, but every one of us since has been a willing participant in sin, and have added our own guilt to the record. None of us can claim innocence; none of us can claim the will power to turn aside from sin at every turn. Our captivity came through Adam, but we’ve done nothing but worsen our situation.
There are two Biblical ideas at work here. The first theologians call “original sin”—that we inherited that sinful condition from Adam—that as head of the human race we’re all born into “the same boat”. Scripture teaches this in several ways: that we’re sinful from conception (Ps. 51:5), that what is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The second is called “actual sin”, which is more obvious to us, which happens whenever we sin intentionally or unintentionally. The point is that we sin because we are by nature sinners, and have inherited this as the common lot of humanity. We have no natural power to escape from this captivity. And again, to repeat, God would be perfectly just in allowing us all to suffer the condemnation of our sins, and there would be nothing unfair about it. It would simply be the impartial application of getting what we deserved.
            Romans 5:13 goes on to say that “sin is not counted where there is no law,” as we’re told elsewhere that in God’s “divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (3:25b), or that “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31). While we cannot say for certain what this leniency of God involved, it does not have forgiveness or salvation in view—as Romans 2 clearly teaches that all who do wrong, whether or not they have the written law of God, have the knowledge of the law written on their hearts or conscience, and are accountable to Him. And Romans 5:14 says that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” So whatever leniency God may have shown during the “times of ignorance” or the “former sins”—death still reigned over sinners. With or without the explicit charge of the law against our sins, death still lorded its punishment over all those who disobeyed God.
            But here is the hinge where things turn from impartial application of the law toward grace and mercy. Adam was a type of the One who was to come. As Adam was head of the old creation that is under sin, Christ Jesus is the head of the new creation under grace. Rather than standing off unsympathetic to our situation, God has intervened in time and history to redeem and rescue us in Christ Jesus. Listen again to those verses that show the overriding goodness of God’s grace: Romans 5:15–17
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

However far the extent and damage done by Adam’s first sin, the free gift of God far exceeds it. Far better than being simply “dealt out” what is fair, God offers us free and undeserved blessings. This is what grace and mercy mean—that we get what we don’t deserve. God pours out blessings in far greater measure than what was lost through sin.
The sin brought condemnation, but the free gift brought justification. Justification is one of those Biblical words we hear so often but just as often forget what it means. To be justified is the opposite of being condemned or declared guilty. To be justified is to be declared innocent, in God’s courtroom. And it’s only by Jesus’ death on the cross that this took place. Because Jesus bore all of our sin on Himself at the cross, God’s justice has been fully met for all our sins deserved. So justification by faith in Jesus Christ is pardon from what our sins deserved. But more than “resetting the balance to zero”, God has also credited to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus’ Christ. In other words, being justified means that we are robed in Jesus’ righteousness, His life lived in complete obedience to God. So not only have we been pardoned from what we deserved, but on top of that we receive the undeserved blessings of life and salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit!
And where death had reigned through Adam’s sin, much more will we who receive this grace and free gift of righteousness “reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ death on the cross has undone death’s tyranny over mankind, by removing the “sting of death” which is sin, and by absorbing the curse of the law for us, for the law is the power of sin (1 Cor. 15:56; Gal. 3:13). Far better than simple fairness, God has made a complete reversal of our fortunes in Christ Jesus. Where death had lorded over us because of sin, God has given us to reign together with Christ. Our world is overwhelmingly beset with the effects of sin and death. Just a quick check of the news reveals the ever-increasing disorder of our world, from international provocations and wars, to the spread of cancer and diseases, to moral decay on a national and local level, down to the personal ways that sin and death touch our lives. The sins we must turn from, the damage of sin leaves in our lives and of those who are dear to us, the effects of aging and dying. A quick check shows that the effects of sin and death have not slowed down in this world, despite all the promises of technology and the advances of medicine. At best some things are postponed—but our situation remains the same—death looms over all men.
But Jesus has dethroned death from its cruel reign by triumphing over it in His cross and empty tomb. He stripped death of its power when He fulfilled God’s law and bore all our punishment for sin. He raised us to reign with Him by the forgiveness of our sins and calling us to be His beloved children. Whatever we had been or done, whatever sins Christ has forgiven, He has given us new life, and death no longer rules over us. And one day we will reign with Him forever in heaven. This is so complete a reversal of our fortunes from hopeless trouble to unbelievable goodness, that this good news can’t even fit in the category of “fairness.” It’s something altogether different and better—it is the undeserved, free gift of God’s grace. It’s the proof that God’s grace for us in Christ Jesus is infinitely better and more desirable. May our lives be a sacrifice of thanksgiving for His inexpressible gift! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Adam was created by God as the Father of the human race, and through his first sin, sin came to all of us because all sinned. How is Adam representative of the human race? Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49. How is our own sinfulness both inherited (often called “original sin”) and by our own participation (“actual sin”)? Psalm 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3; Matthew 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:13; Jeremiah 13:23.

  1. Paul explains that sin was in the world, but not “counted” before the law was given by Moses (i.e. the Ten Commandments and the Sinai Covenant God made with Israel). Compare to Romans 3:25b; Acts 17:30-31. But death still reigned from Adam to Moses, and how are all men still held accountable for sin? Romans 1:18-21; 2:12-16; 3:19-20. How is the law written on our hearts and conscience, even if we were not directly taught it from the commandments?

  1. Adam was a “type of the one who was to come.” This points to Jesus as the new head of the human race; as Adam was head of the old creation that fell into sin, so Jesus is head of the new creation redeemed by grace. In what ways does the “free gift” of Christ exceed or surpass the “one man’s trespass” of Adam? What gifts multiply and overflow from Christ’s gift on the cross? What effects of sin are reversed and undone? Revelation 21:1-6; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:21-28.

  1. In the new creation of Christ, it is no longer death that reigns, but whom? Romans 5:17; Philippians 2:9-11. How does this magnify the grace of God over the charge that sometimes people make that it’s unfair that we were born under the curse of Adam’s sin? 

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