By One Man
I like the Apostle Paul.
I like his ability to ‘call a spade a spade’, the unrelenting pursuit of his faith, and his bold assertion to “preach nothing but the cross of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2). No doubt he ruffled more than a few feathers at times, with his unapologetic directness and refusal to tolerate any other gospel than that of being saved by grace through faith alone.
He doesn’t shy away from telling it how it was; the reality that his zeal for God had been seriously misplaced early on, and that he had been a violent persecutor and destroyer of the very faith he was now thankful to call his own.
He doesn’t downplay the facts of his former life; that not only had he been zealous for the traditions of his fathers, he had also been considered an ‘up and coming’ amongst his peers, his upward trajectory in Judaism eclipsing many of those his own age (Galatians 1:13).
Yet he also doesn’t state this just for effect or from a place of pride, but rather as facts relevant to advancing the true gospel narrative he now endeavors to preach. He states that he counts all those things of his former life as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, his Lord.
He has a particularly warm and fatherly relationship with Timothy, his ‘son in the faith’ and he shows deep regard for several fellow workers whom he commends by name: Epaphroditus, husband-and-wife team, Priscilla and Aquila, Barnabas, Titus, Silas, Luke, Lydia, and Onesiphorus.
He demonstrates tenderness and genuine love and concern for all those of the “household of faith” and he is a passionate evangelist to those who are yet still “strangers and foreigners” to the gospel of grace. His letters to the early churches are full of pastoral advice and authoritative direction. Yet he is also unapologetically direct and is prepared to meet and name injustice or falsity head-on, as in the situation that he writes about in 2 Corinthians 7 (see also 2 Corinthians 11, Galatians 1:6–9, Galatians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 11:26).
“Paul’s letters reveal a remarkable human being: dedicated, compassionate, emotional, sometimes harsh and angry, clever and quick-witted, supple in argumentation, and above all possessing a soaring, passionate commitment to God, Jesus Christ, and his own mission.” | Britannica.Com
Paul’s influence, passion, and commitment enabled the gospel of Jesus Christ to take root and flourish throughout Asia Minor, and its spread continued long after his death, reaching even to the ends of the earth.
Paul wrote several letters, one of which was the letter to the church at Rome. In chapters 5 and 6 of Romans, he covers some significant theological territory by dealing with the themes of death, life, and resurrection, which came about, he states, ‘by one man’…
By One: Death In Adam
The need for our forgiveness and reconciliation with God sits at the heart of the gospel. Paul recounts in Romans 5 how humanity found itself in the dismal state of being sinning, dying creatures and why we need forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal.
He makes his first point in Romans 5:12 where he teaches that Sin came into the world by one man and that death followed swiftly on Sin’s heels, enslaving all of humanity in a dominion of darkness and, ultimately, separation from God.
The word he uses for ‘man’ is the Greek word ἄνθρωπος (anthrópos) meaning human. We get our English word anthropology from the combining of ánthrōpos (ἄνθρωπος, “human”) and lógos (λόγος, “study”). It’s therefore strictly more accurate to say that by one human Sin entered the world and death spread to all.
While Adam becomes the representative of us all, the focus, I think, is not primarily on his gender (as a man) but on his humanity. In fact, scripture elsewhere confirms that Eve was complicit in sin alongside Adam (Genesis 3:6,12, 1 Timothy 2:14). Together, they were responsible for the catastrophe that unfolded.
“The narratives of Genesis focus on conflict and resolution. God’s purpose from the beginning is to have His presence fill the earth; humans are to image God and subdue the earth, i.e., bring about order and fruitfulness in creation (Genesis 1–2). Conflict enters the story when humans rebel against God (Genesis 3). Shalom is shattered, and the earth is cursed. Further degeneration takes place (Genesis 4–6) until God brings judgment and mercy (Genesis 6–9). Humans then attempt to restore God’s presence (Genesis 11) before God launches His own initiative to re-establish His presence on Earth (the covenant). Genesis 1–11, then, is the founding story of humanity, ending in crisis. These narratives give a real and true assessment of God’s initial purposes and the human plight. Genesis 12–50 is the founding story of the nation with whom the covenant is eventually made at Sinai. The covenant establishes the relationship to Abraham and his descendants, provides the structure for living in God’s presence, and lays the foundation for God’s presence to be established on earth.” | BioLogos
The consequence of the fall in Eden – mortality – flowed from Adam and Eve to all of humanity; a literal reality and a core theological truth embedded within the Genesis record. Dying became hard-coded in our DNA.
Not only that, Paul comments later in Romans 7, Sin is a powerful and destructive force that humans find impossible to resist. Humanity has been sold under sin, constantly battling against the pull of our own self-will, which is invariably in opposition to God. Despite having the desire to do good, more often than not, we lack the ability to do what is right, so powerful is Sin’s hold and influence over us. There is no one in all the world who has not fallen prey to Sin’s insidious, whispering temptation* (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:21).
The introduction and continued presence of Sin in the world is what gives death its power over humanity. We die because we’re mortal and death now reigns supreme and we remain dead because of the power that Sin gives death.
In Adam, all die. This is Paul’s first point and the incontrovertible theological teaching of Romans 5.
By One: Life In Christ
Yet, says Paul in Romans 5:21, and here he makes his second point, in Christ, there is life. There is another theological truth embedded within the Genesis record, a promise “that new life would be delivered out of death.”
“And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, and between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.” | Genesis 3:15, AMP
Humanity was promised that a descendant of Eve – another human – would arise to wage war against Sin and to overthrow death. Yet in waging this war, death would deal him a powerful blow, a seemingly mortal wound. But out of his death would flow life.
This promise would be affirmed countless times throughout scripture, and, particularly, by Jesus himself during his ministry, who stated the reason for his coming was that “they [humanity] may have life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]” (John 10:10, Amplified Bible).
Unable to wage the war for themselves, God’s promise and gift to the world would go into battle on humanity’s behalf. He would wage war for all those who were weak, utterly helpless, and hopelessly enslaved to Sin. Those who were living in darkness, far from the eternal life God had intended for them. Those whose greatest enemy was death itself.
In fact, this hero’s redemptive work on behalf of humanity would be deeply connected to his own humanity. He had to be human, like us, in order to make atonement for the sin of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Hebrews 2:17)
As a human, he would still feel keenly the pull of Sin’s seductive promise, the desire and temptation, as the first Adam had, to undertake this battle on his own terms. He would wrestle with the terrifying but necessary reality of confronting death up close; not just any kind of death but the painful and humiliating death of a traitor.
He would face the world’s great enemy alone, rejected by all, even by those who were closest to him, in the moment of his greatest need. Defenseless, like a lamb led to slaughter, he would cling to the words of the Psalmist that, though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God would be with him still. He would choose to suffer according to God’s will, committing his soul to a faithful Creator.
This war would be brutal and bloody and seemingly fatal for our hero.
And yet, there would be an extraordinary twist…
Where the first Adam had been a living being; the last Adam would be a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). This hero would be human but not merely a human. He would be the “Word-Made-Flesh” – the ‘one and only of his kind’ and in him would dwell ‘the entire fullness (completeness) of God’s nature (Colossians 2:9).
Written into the very fabric of our reality was a powerful promise that Sin could be defeated by the willing sacrifice of one who had committed no sin and who had lived a perfect, moral life according to God’s will. The sacrificial death of such an individual, on behalf of all of humanity, would heal the division between God and humanity, reopening the way to the eternal life God had always intended for His creation.
Scripture could not be any clearer that the victory over Sin and death was going to be God’s, accomplished through the sending of His Son, the Word-Made-Flesh. Sent in the likeness of all of humanity, but in whom dwelt all the fullness of God, only the Son of God would be able to overcome and defeat our greatest enemy.
Not only that, in meeting death head-on, he would deal it a fatal blow, overturning and destroying its claim on him. Sin’s power to command death would be vanquished. Jesus himself would now hold the keys of death and the grave. On the third day, at the break of dawn, he would rise from the silence, Life himself having swallowed up death in victory (Acts 2:24, Romans 6:9, 1 Corinthians 15:54).
One act of righteousness, Paul says, led to justification and life for all humanity. By one man’s obedience, many would be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
“As sin has exercised kingly sway in inflicting death, so grace, too, may exercise kingly sway in bestowing a righteousness which results in the Life of the Ages through Jesus Christ our Lord.” | Romans 5:21, Weymouth New Testament
I love how C S Lewis writes about this epic moment in his fictional work, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:
At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate….The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan. “Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?” “Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself. “Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad…. “But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” | C S Lewis
This “deeper magic” is an immutable law of consequence, as certain as the law of gravity or the rising of the sun. Jesus has brought life and all those in him will live. This gift of grace has been given, the work has been finished and the end has been written. “While we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and, further, now that we are reconciled, we will also be saved by his life.“
In Christ, all will live. This is Paul’s second point and the incontrovertible theological teaching of Romans 5.
The Resurrection: Proof + Promise
One of the great theological truths of the Christian faith, as taught by Paul and, indeed, written into the earliest Christian creeds is the necessary and factual reality of the resurrection, particularly, the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Paul asserts that resurrection underpins the entire gospel narrative, without which all of Christian life is rendered futile.
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” | 1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV
He actually summarised the gospel by affirming three statements, one of which is a declaration of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus:
“Remember Jesus Christ [the annointed], raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” | 2 Timothy 2:8 | NIV
The Christian faith asserts and teaches that resurrection is a historical reality; Jesus Christ really did live, die, and was raised again to eternal life.
The resurrection is not only relevant to the gospel narrative, it’s essential. Author Craig Blomberg comments, “As wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings and miracles were, they were meaningless if it were not historically factual that Christ died and was raised from the dead and that this provided atonement, or forgiveness, of the sins of humanity.” Embedded in this reality is the proof that what was begun in Jesus, God intends to do for all creation.
“The most startling characteristic of the first Christian preaching is its emphasis on the resurrection. The first preachers were sure that Christ had risen, and sure, in consequence, that believers would in due course rise also. This set them off from all the other teachers of the ancient world…Nothing is more characteristic of even the best thought of the day than its hopelessness in the face of death. Clearly, the resurrection is of the very first importance for the Christian faith” – The New Bible Dictionary 1996, p. 1010, “Resurrection”.
Jesus didn’t just overcome death, his death also made reparation for all the sins of the world. Sin, in its entirety, was dealt with, once and for always** (Romans 6:10). His resurrection was both proof and promise that the war against Sin had been waged and won. Death has lost its power. Those in Christ will live, no longer be held by death but merely passing through it. They too, like him, will be raised to life, never again to experience death.
“I assure you: Anyone who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” | John 5:24
Life, and life abundantly – the same life that Jesus now has awaits them on the other side.
It’s no wonder Paul concludes his thoughts on this subject with these inspiring words: “In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:7-39, CEV).
This is indeed good, good news!