20 April 2021Romans 5.12-21
But the free gift is not like the trespass. (v. 15)
One of my favourite moments when singing in Handel’s Messiah is the chorus “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The first phrase is usually sung very quietly, the second is loud and triumphant. The contrast between Adam, the disobedient first human being, and Jesus Christ, the perfect and final human being, is a favourite theme of St Paul, but it isn’t easy for us to understand what he means by it. The clue is the word 'many' in verse 15. We – at least in contemporary Western societies – naturally think of humanity as composed of autonomous individuals, each completely independent of others. But that’s not the way people thought in the ancient world, nor is it the way humanity is understood in many cultures today. For Paul, humanity is essentially corporate. So, Adam stands for the whole of humanity caught up in the destructive cycle of sin and death, alienated from God and from its own destiny. We have all been, in a sense, ‘in Adam’, sharing his disobedience to God’s call. But now, says Paul, your humanity is reshaped by being ‘in Christ’. Instead of the destructive effects of selfishness and sin, we now enjoy the consequences of Christ’s gift of the grace of God. To be justified is to be part of Christ’s new humanity. And the great thing is that God’s grace in Jesus Christ – the free gift that we cannot earn but only receive – totally outweighs the destructive effects of sin. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (v. 20). As we might now say, God’s response to human sin is disproportionate – but in a good way.
We can still appreciate the point Paul is making, even if we don’t take the Genesis story of Adam as literal history. Sin, like the virus that has dominated our lives this last year, is infectious and holds us captive. God’s grace is liberating, freeing humanity to be the people God has created us to be.
- During the time of the Covid 19 pandemic we have often heard the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’. What has the last year taught you about the corporate nature of our humanity?
- Have you ever had the experience of being freed from a destructive pattern of behaviour? What helped you make the transition?
- What do the words ‘sin’ and ‘grace’ mean to you in the context of your situation?