Rescued From Eternal DeathErwin W. Lutzer | November 27, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
There is a plague that has infected 5 billion people. In all cases, it’s fatal. Death strikes everyone. Will your death be an entry point into heaven or hell?
In Romans 5, Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Jesus. Where one sinned and led all of humanity into darkness, the other obeyed God and leads us into light.
Will you die in Adam, still in your sins with the door closed to paradise? Or will you die in Jesus, with His righteousness opening the door to heaven?
The Black Death, which is sometimes called the Bubonic Plague, began in China in about 1334, and then it spread to India, came to Russia and finally Europe. One out of four Europeans died. Sixty million people died, and it was a terrible way to die. Your throat swelled up. You had black blotches all over and eventually you had a very high fever and a few days later you died. Sixty million people!
But there is an epidemic; a plague if you please (that is far worse than that) that has come to the human race. There is a plague that involves five billion people and they all have it, and five billion people have this plague upon them and in their case inevitably in every instance it is terminal. Of course I am referring to the whole problem of sin, which has infected the human race and the plague that it brings upon us. And today we are going to be looking at such things as original sin. We’re going to be talking about sin and grace, and at the end of this message I hope that you are ready to sing Amazing Grace in a way that you’ve not sung it before because we’ll understand not only the doctrine of sin, but also the doctrine of grace.
Some people have said that Romans 5 (and that’s the passage that I am in today, beginning at verse 12) is one of the most difficult passages in the book of Romans. Its general teaching is very clear even though there are some phrases that Paul uses that could give us some time to think about and to give us some pause, but today we’re just going to hop into the deep end of the swimming pool. I want you to pay attention as you shut off your cell phones, your pagers, your fax machines, and all the other gadgets that we bring with us wherever we go today, and let’s simply concentrate on what God has said. And in the process we’re going to receive blessed enlightenment.
I’m beginning at verse 12 of Romans 5: “Therefore just as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned, for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given but sin is not counted where there is no law, yet 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.”
First of all, let’s get it clear that Adam’s sin is our sin. What happened in the Garden was simply this: Adam opened the door and sin came into the world. You’ll notice that Paul doesn’t say that as a result of Adam, sin came into existence. He doesn’t say that because sin was previously in existence because of Satan, but because of Adam, sin entered into the world. Adam opened the door. Sin came in, and then its twin, that always accompanies it, also entered and that is death. And you have the universality of death in the human race.
Now you might ask why Adam was blamed for this. Wasn’t it Eve who participated and took of the fruit? Yes, it was Eve, but remember, number one, she was supposed to be a helper to Adam and he was given ultimate responsibility for her and for the creation. And number two; you know it does say in 1 Timothy 2 that Eve was genuinely deceived. When the serpent came to her, she actually thought that the serpent’s revelation superseded the revelation of God. Adam was not deceived. He ate knowingly. It was a specific act of disobedience.
Now what happened as a result of this sin is (of course you know the story) that suddenly there was blaming. There was hiding. Cain killed Abel, and the whole dysfunctional family of the human race all has its beginning right there. But in addition to that they died. God says, “In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” Now they died spiritually immediately. They were cut off from God.
Imagine God coming to them, and we don’t know in what form God came to them, but the Scripture says that they walked with God in the cool of the day. Imagine having a chat with God, but after they sinned they were expelled from the garden. Fellowship with God was cut off. It would be eventually restored but they ended up spiritually dead.
Now in addition to that, physically they began to die right away. Now that took a little while. They lived a number of years that we consider to be a large number of years. But the process of death had begun its relentless journey, and Adam and Eve died.
Now you’ll notice what the Apostle Paul says: “Through one man, sin entered into the world and death by sin, for all sinned.” In Greek, the tense is what is known as an aorist. It means an appointed time. All sinned in Adam, and you’ll notice it goes on and it says the very same thing. Verse 16 says, “And the free gift is not like the result of one man’s sin, for the judgment following one man’s trespass brought condemnation.” Over and over you can see the word “one” here. Through one man, sin entered. Through one man, death entered the human race, and people die. The Black Death did not increase the number of people who died. They would have to die anyway. What it did is it speeded up the process, but death is inevitable. C.S. Lewis was apparently fond of saying, “The statistics on death are very impressive. It’s one on one.”
I talked to my mother yesterday evening as I do every Saturday. I was amazed at how strong her voice is, but she’s longing for heaven and longing for death. Today, by the way, is her 103rd birthday, and so I assured her, based on Romans 5, that she would someday die. Even though she thinks that God has misplaced her address, eventually it would happen. My mother is a very generous person, but also yesterday I heard of a very wealthy person who died and was very, very stingy with his money. What a way to go.
Do you remember that story of the man who was very wealthy and just loved money, and absolutely insisted that he be buried with all of it? He made his wife promise over and over again that he was to be buried with all of his money in the casket. And eventually he died and as the casket was being closed she took an envelope and she slipped it in the casket. Her friend said, “Are you going to keep your promise? You promised over and over again that you were going to have all of his money buried with him,” and she said, “Absolutely, I’m keeping my promise.” She said, “In the envelope is a check for all of it.” (laughter) I think that was a very wise woman.
Now when the Apostle Paul goes on, and this is one of those confusing verses that we won’t spend a lot of time on, he says in verse 14, “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” Here’s what is going on in the text. Paul is saying that Adam was given a very specific command: “Do not eat.” and then after that you do not have the law given. Now you have revelations to Abraham and so forth, but the law came with Moses and it increased sin because now people had more knowledge. So what Paul is saying is death reigned even from Adam to Moses. Even though they didn’t have the Ten Commandments, death still reigned even though their sin was not as great as it would have been if they had had the Ten Commandments. Bottom line! What Paul is saying is that the reason that people died is because they were in Adam when he sinned, and the Scripture says that in Adam all die.
Could I just digress on a subject that Paul doesn’t deal with here, and that is infant salvation, and the salvation of children? I’m thinking of this because yesterday on the news I heard of a terrible tragedy that I will not relate to you except to say that a little four-year old boy did not die of natural causes. He was put to death in a horrid way. It’s so difficult for me to get my mind around that. I don’t even like to think of what that little boy was thinking before he died so viciously. My only consolation is that I believe that he is in heaven today beholding the face of his heavenly father.
But we have to ask ourselves the question how children can be saved, since they are born under condemnation also. That’s why they die. Infants die because they are born under the condemnation of Adam’s sin. And the word condemnation occurs a number of times here in verse 16, and later on in another verse. Verse 18 talks about the condemnation that passes to all people. Why are they saved? The only explanation we can give is that God takes them out of Adam and puts them into Jesus Christ because they have not yet had an opportunity to be morally responsible, and so God does that, and we don’t know when the age of accountability is. People ask, “When is the age of accountability?” The Bible doesn’t speak to it and very wisely so because, after all, that age may vary from person to person. There are people, perhaps, who are mentally impaired and they never really attain to any kind of culpability or knowledge, and so God will deal with each differently, and we must leave it with Him. But I have no doubt, based on other Scriptures, that children who die go to be with the Lord even though they are born as sinners.
Now I have to deal with a question that should be in your mind if you are following this, and the question is this: Is it really fair that we should be considered to be guilty for Adam’s sin, that we are born guilty? Let me answer that question by reflecting a little bit. We could look at it legally and say that yes, there are times when… Let’s suppose that you were born into a family with much debt. Well, you know, born into that family you would inherit that debt, and you and I inherited Adam’s debt.
Let’s look at it even biologically or medically, if we can put it that way. When Adam was there in the garden eating we were all there. After all, if he and Eve had died before they chose to have children there’d be no human race. I mean, in a sense, potentially all of us were in Adam as our great, great, great, great grandfather, all the way back to that period of time.
And then let’s look at it personally. Let’s suppose that God said, “I’m going to give each person an individual opportunity to either believe or not believe, or obey or not obey.” Well, what happened then is almost all of us I’m sure would follow Adam and sin because he is representative of the human race, but furthermore there would be really no way for God to redeem all of us. Jesus would have to die for us individually.
Now what’s happening in Romans 5 is this: Adam is a representative man who represented us there in the garden, and Jesus is now the representative man who represents us in the new creation of redemption that God is bringing about. And just like Adam, one person represented the human race in the very same way that Jesus Christ, one person, can now represent all of us.
To get clear about it, and I want you to follow me on this. The angels who fell, who are demons today, there’s no possibility that they can be redeemed for a number of reasons, but the major one is this. They have no sacrifice for their sin. And they fell individually. Angels do not have cousins and uncles and grandparents, and so forth. They were individually created. They were not connected in a human family or a family of any kind. Therefore, in order for redemption to take place there would have to be a special sacrifice for this angel, this angel, and this angel. And know, by the way, that Jesus (in Hebrews) did not take upon Himself the form of an angel when He died, but died as a man, so He only died for humanity. But the point is this, that just as Adam is the head of one race, Jesus is the head of another.
We are condemned as Adam as our representative, but follow carefully. Just as we get the blame for Adam’s sin, we get the credit for Jesus Christ’s righteous obedience. (applause) Now you might be tempted to say that it’s not fair, but it’s either not fair or unfair any more that we should be condemned for Adam’s sin as it is fair or unfair that we should receive the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. As you frequently have heard me say from this platform, Jesus got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sin, and we got what we didn’t deserve, namely His gift of righteousness. And one man died for us all as a representative man because we are all connected together as human beings in the human family. So we are taken out of Adam and we are placed into Christ through faith.
Now what Paul emphasizes in this passage, and it’s important that you look at it, is the fact that Jesus really outdoes Adam. You’ll notice the phrase “much more” that takes place. For example, verse 15 says, “Just as one man’s transgression brought transgressions to all of us, much more have the grace of God and the free gift of grace through that one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for many.”
You’ll notice it says in verse 17, “Death reigned through one man. Much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through one man, Jesus Christ,” and he’ll go on to say, as I’ll point out in a moment, that Jesus trumps Adam.
Think with me for a moment. Adam disobeyed God in a garden. Jesus obeyed God in a garden in Gethsemane. Adam sinned when surrounded by beauty. Jesus was obedient while surrounded by the terrors, the smell of blood, and the terrors of the cross. Jesus obeyed in that situation. When Adam disobeyed, he closed the door of Paradise. When Jesus obeyed, He opened the door of Paradise, and could say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
When Adam ate the fruit of the tree he began to die. Those who trust Christ, who died on a tree, they begin to live. Adam was the father of a race of losers. Jesus is the father of a race of winners. Jesus is the one who is the Lord of the new creation, and when Adam sinned he cursed all of nature. When Jesus returns, nature shall be redeemed, and when Adam was involved in his awful sin everything that he touched was tainted. Jesus comes and everything that He does is righteous, and He is today our Savior from our sins, and for that we are deeply, deeply indebted and grateful.
As a matter of fact, let’s look at the text again, and we could take time to flush out this contrast, but notice this in verse 18: “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Parenthesis: Paul is not teaching universalism here. Some people have taken this verse out of context and said, “See, everybody is going to be saved. Condemnation for all men in Adam; salvation for all men in Jesus.”
Clearly Paul is interested in the parallelism. What he really means, obviously based on many, many other teachings and texts, is this. As there was condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men who believe on Jesus. In other words, it’s not automatic. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass (I already mentioned that when the law came people became more guilty because they knew more.) but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
Let me stop there. Where sin increases, grace abounded. You know that the word hyper comes from the Greek word hupare, which really means hyper. Yes, indeed hyper! You know when I was out on the farm we had a truck with a clutch. You had to use the clutch. It was stick shift. Many of you don’t even know how to run a vehicle like that. I grew up at the age of ten doing it. But one of the things that happened is it sometimes got stuck in a gear and I couldn’t get it out. All that you could do was turn off the key and just wait as it chugged its way to a stop.
If you have a hyper child, his throttle is stuck in fifth gear. Isn’t that true? That’s the word that is used here. It’s hyper. Where sin abounded grace became hyperactive. Grace abounded so much more. Grace outdid sin in abounding.
You know, there are many people who think grace is something like a bucket, and God gives you a bucket and then, you know, you sin, and you confess your sin, and God uses a little bit of the water, and then you confess your sin again and God uses a little bit more, and then eventually the bucket is empty and God has run out of grace. God has not run out of grace. Where sin abounds grace supersedes it. Grace abounds much more than our sin.
Shortly after we were married, Rebecca and I drove to Niagara Falls, and I remember we arrived in the evening and we were staying quite close to the Falls, and we could hear this rush of mighty water there at the Falls, and I remember thinking to myself, “Well, you know with all that water going over Niagara, what if it’s dry by morning?” But, of course, it wasn’t. The water was there and it’s still rushing over Niagara today.
When you come to grace it is not as if God hands you a bucket that is either empty or half full. Rather, God says, “You come,” and there is abundance of grace. There is abundance of water, and the grace can outdo, and will outdo your sin, which means you don’t have to write me a letter, as many people have done throughout the years, asking whether or not you’ve committed the unpardonable sin. Yes, of course, I believe the unpardonable sin is committed today but it is committed by people who have no interest in God, who have hardened their hearts, who couldn’t care less about God, and they have so shut down their emotions and their conscience that they would never be troubled as to whether or not they had committed the unpardonable sin. As a matter of fact, if they were told they had, they might be glad as a result of it.
The fact that you want to be forgiven, the fact that you desire forgiveness means that there is grace available to you today who are deeply troubled because of your sin. “Where sin abounds grace abounds much more,” the Apostle Paul goes on to say. Amazing grace, as a matter of fact.
What’s the bottom line in this wonderful passage of Scripture? A couple of thoughts! First of all, as far as God is concerned there are only two kinds of people in the world. You are either in Jesus or you are in Adam. There are only two people as far as God is concerned legally. And being in Adam–that’s the default position. All that you need to do is to be born, and you are born in Adam, and immediately you are under condemnation. But you had no choice in that, did you? I had no choice and you had no choice either, but we do have a choice as to whether or not we are going to stay in Adam or whether we are going to have a new leader–and new king. And that is King Jesus.
The Bible says that God translates us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his marvelous light. It is possible for you today to transfer from Adam to Jesus, and what a marvelous transfer that is, through faith in Christ. As the Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Jesus Christ,” and the blessings that come as a result of being in Him.
So first of all, you are either today in Adam or in Jesus. I hope that if you are in Adam only and you’ve never come to Christ, that the Holy Spirit will show you that that’s exactly what you must do–come so the transfer can be made.
There’s another lesson that I want to end with today and that is that both Adam and Jesus are really kings. You know the Bible talks about reigning. I think that word reign occurs at least five times in this passage. You’ll notice, for example, it says even back in verse 12 and verse 13, “Yet death reigned (verse 14) from Adam to Moses.” Death reigns. You have, for example, also in verse l1, “Death reigned,” and in verse 16, “As one man’s trespass led to condemnation to all men.” It goes on to say, “Death reigned.”
Finally, we come to it now in verse 20: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death (there it is again) grace also might reign through righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
Bottom line: when you belong to Adam, death reigns. Years ago I read a book entitled Death Be Not Proud. As I remember the book, it was about stories of people’s horrendous deaths. Death can be very, very proud, can’t it? Think of all the people that it has slain. Think of all the healthy people who have ended up in a coffin, oftentimes way beyond the time that we would expect. Death reigns, and it reigns in my heart, and it reigns in your life because someday it will get us, and there is no way out.
But you’ll notice that the Bible says that Jesus also reigns and grace reigns, and because grace reigns we look at death differently. You’ll notice it says, “It reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” That’s what the text says–through Jesus Christ eternal life. Isn’t that wonderful that now death on this side looks very horrendous to us. Nobody is lining up hoping to get some disease and die. Death looks terrible. But on the other side we discover that death really is like a hired servant who comes and opens the latch–opens the door–so that you and I can march into Paradise accompanied by Jesus. That’s what death is.
At the Drake Hotel where you can go today, there is a doorman 24 hours a day welcoming people, opening the door of the cars, and saying, “Come on in.” That’s what death is. Death is an entry point by which we now have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, because where sin abounded, grace outdid the sin. And when we believe in Jesus we are saved.
By the way, if you are here today and you think, “Wow, that’s so wonderful that I can’t out-sin grace, that no matter what I do there’s always more grace,” would you look at Romans 6:1? Paul says here, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it?” Paul says, “Grace is wonderful. Grace is like an elastic band that will stretch over any sin that you can imagine, but don’t ever become presumptuous and use the grace of God for lasciviousness, as the Bible warns, because God will discipline you. It’s not possible for us to overestimate how much God hates our sin. So we never presume on grace, but when we sin, grace is there to outdo it because grace reigns through Jesus Christ.
And that’s why I think all of us would agree that John Newton penned one of the most beautiful songs that has ever been penned. He was on a ship called the Greyhound and they encountered a tremendous storm in about 1734. And Newton was a slave trader and a great sinner. As a matter of fact, he told people that he would give them a prize if they could think of some sin that he had not yet committed. He was mean and he was evil, and then when the ship was in a storm and they used a pump to pump out all the water, he became so weary that suddenly this atheist said to himself, “If we are not able to continue this, God help us,” and it’s the first time that “God” passed his lips without it being a curse word. Later on he reflected on this and the sin in his heart became very evident to him, and he said, “I needed someone to stand between me and a holy God who must punish my sin and my brokenness. I needed a savior to take my sins away.” And through reading the New Testament he discovered that savior, and that’s why we sing today with such joy, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost and now am found, was blind but now I see.”
You know the stanza that we’re all acquainted with also? “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise (and that’s right mathematically because we’re going to be there forever) than when we’ve first begun.”
Amazing grace! Where sin abounds grace abounds much more. Would you join me as we pray together?
Father, we want to thank You today that Jesus trumps Adam. We thank You today that so much more abounds to us the grace that is ours in Jesus. Today I pray for Christians, Father, who have sin on their consciences. Help them to hurry to You in confession that they might be cleansed and realize that there is grace for them regardless of their past. And for those who do not know Christ as savior, help them to see that by receiving the free gift of Jesus they can be brought into the family of God. We thank You today that Jesus is our representative. In His name we pray, Amen.