Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 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, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:18-21 ESV
Paul continues his contrast between Adam’s one act of unrighteousness and Christ’s one act of righteousness. Adam’s sin led to condemnation and death for all men, while Christ’s sacrifice led to “justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV). But Paul seemed to know that there were those in his audience who would question why God had bothered to give the law in the first place. Why would He have given a set of rules that no one could keep? And Paul clarifies that “the law came in to increase the trespass” (Romans 5:20 ESV). The law was not given to eliminate sin, but to expose it. In chapter seven, Paul writes, “it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet’” (Romans 7:7 NLT). But not only that, “sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died” (Romans 7:8-10 NLT). The law was given to the Jews so that they might be a living proof that no man can live up to God’s holy and righteous standards. They had no excuse. They could not plead ignorance. They knew what God expected, but because of their sin natures, inherited from Adam, they could not accomplish what God demanded of them. And sin increased. But the good news is “that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). Man’s guilt required God’s grace. And what is amazing is that the wrath of God against the sins of man met the love and grace of God at the cross. It was there that God’s holy and righteous wrath was poured out against man’s sins and rebellion against Him. God is a holy and just judge and He cannot overlook or ignore sin. To do so would be an injustice. So God had to punish man’s sins. He required a proper payment for mankind’s sin debt. And that debt was paid by His own Son on the cross. God was required by His own law to punish sin. But the payment He required was the life of a sinless, unblemished sacrifice. It was not enough for a bull or goat to be sacrificed. It had to be a man. The author of Hebrews writes, “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, ‘You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer’” (Hebrews 10:4-5 NLT). It was the death of Jesus, the sinless Son of God, that propitiated or satisfied the just judgment of God against sin. And it all took place on the cross. It was on the cross that the love and grace of God appeared. His judgment fell on Jesus as He bore our punishment for sin. But His love was displayed as He provided a substitute to die in our place. As Paul stated earlier in this chapter, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
That amazing this is that God’s grace abounded even as the sinfulness of man increased. Paul has already told us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26 ESV). God had every right and even the righteous responsibility to deal with man’s sin. And yet, He delayed. He postponed judgment until such a time as He could send His Son to be the payment for man’s sin. “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 5:4-5 NLT).
The grace of God, revealed through the life and death of Jesus Christ, is what makes it possible for men and women to be made right with God. Increased sin is no match for the grace of God. His grace super-abounds. It is more than sufficient. As the old hymn so eloquently says:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!