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God's Gift of Grace

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God's Gift of Grace

Romans 5:12-21           September 30, 2001


Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:23-34, page 1527


Are there some things in life that you just can't understand?

There is one well-known verse in Proverbs that creates such a list:

18 ¶ "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: 19  the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden. (Proverbs 30:18-19 NIVUS)

I think that many of us can identify with not fully understanding the way of nature according to the creation of God.

As just one man with his own maiden/wife, I confess my lack of understanding at times since I don't know whether to soar in (like the eagle) or slink in (like the snake) or storm in (like the ship on the high seas).

Sometimes all three choices are wrong – or maybe even right.

But what about the terrorist destruction of the Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11th?

That one is particularly hard for us Americans to understand since we have felt for a long time that we are a force for good in the world and not evil.

But that is not how everybody sees it.

Have you read the translation of the letter that was given to the terrorists before they proceeded upon their unfathomable deeds of Sept. 11th?

We are seen in the eyes of fundamental Islam as the Great Satan, and the terrorists were urged to carry out the divine will of God upon thousands of unsuspecting civilians.

In the instruction of the letter, the terrorists were to show no pity or remorse, to kill freely, to consider us as offal, that the men/women/children aboard the planes were prisoners of war and prophets don't take prisoners – they are to be slaughtered, that their acts of self-sacrifice are to be rewarded with free access to "virgins" in heaven, they were to remain calm and assured that they are the ones doing the world a favor.

So we might be compelled to say that, at least in the present time, the thing you and I have the most trouble understanding is the nature of sin and evil.

We don't understand the depth of sin and death.

But conversely, and in light of sin and death, how is it possible for us to come to an understanding of the grace of God?

So far in Romans, Paul has been laying the ground-work of the gospel to an established church that desperately needs to hear it.

They have been divided by Jewish/Gentile issues, and they now need to reform with a common purpose.

Paul plans to come to them and he prepares for that by exhorting them about their common condition and teaching them about their common need.

He wants to unite the Roman church (and ours) under the banner of the gospel which is Christ.

This morning's passage in Romans 5:12-21 comes to the end of his presentation of the gospel which he outlined in 3:21-26.

Recall that from there on he further explained that the common denominator of the gospel is faith, and that the common denominator of faith is assurance.

I suppose that in this passage today then we could say that the end of the gospel is grace.

But the grace of God may just be the most difficult thing to understand.

And yet the fullest understanding of the gospel can only come in the context of grace.

And so Paul labors to explain it by a series of comparisons.

Our passage today is one of comparisons or contrasts in attempting to understand God's gift of grace.

You will find Romans 5:12-21 on page 1753 of your pew Bible if you will turn there with me please.

Big Question:

How can we come to an understanding of God's gift of grace?

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (v. 12)

This section begins with the word "therefore." But it does not have the meaning so much of "result" but rather "in other words."

"In other words, just as sin ----."

Paul has attempted to explain the gospel in terms of faith, then assurance, and now he will attempt to conclude it in terms of the greatest concept of all – grace that overcomes sin.

The excess of sin in the world is what brings the fullness of God's grace to light.

Indeed our faith in God and our assurance with God abides in his grace to us in Christ.

The proof of our assurance is the grace of God in overcoming sin in human history.

The "one man" that Paul refers to is Adam.

Can 'one man' change the world?

Paul has previously stepped back behind Moses (ch. 3) and the law, to Abraham (ch. 4), and now to Adam.

He deliberately brings us back to the point he began in 1:18 in the indictment of the human race to highlight the universal sweep of God's saving purpose through Christ.

God is ushering in a new era of grace in contrast to the old era of sin and death.

Life is a 2-act play. Adam is the lead actor in Act 1 and Christ is the lead actor is Act 2.

          B.      Implication

Grace must be understood against the background of man's sin/death condition.

          C.      Illustration

The tragedy of man's condition is nothing new, although certain aspects of it may be new to us (Trade Center terrorist attack).

          D.      Application

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 13-14)

There is a tension here between unavoidable destiny and individual responsibility.

But death's destiny hold on individuals can be broken.

The mark made by a stamp is the converse of the pattern on the stamp itself (snake in the wilderness).

Adam – life leading to death.

Christ – death leading to life.

We must distinguish between death as a consequence of sin and death as a punishment for sin.

Distinguish between a doctrine of original sin and original guilt. Paul was preaching here a doctrine of original sin. So the gospel is of universal proportion.

          B.      Implication

Grace must be understood against the background of God's law that exposes sin and demands death.

          C.      Illustration

Do we see the idea of "the law" in the tree in the Garden of Eden?

The laws came because the covenant was not kept (Sailhammer, p. 50ff).

The issue of death and evolution; if death entered the world only beginning with Adam, then evolution can't be a viable theory since evolution requires death to work as it is proposed.

Death from original sin is like a deathly bacteria that contaminates an entire batch of meat that has to be pulled from the shelves.

The issue of original sin and the death of infants.

World Trade towers and the issue of original sin. "Original sin may not make sense to many people; they may find it irrational or even unjust. But what better explanation for the exten and persistence of crimes against humanity."

Pascal – "Original sin is foolishness to men, but it is admitted to be such. You must not then reproach me for the want of reason in this doctrine, since I admit it to be without reason. But this foolishness is wiser than all the wisdom of men. For without this, what can we say that man is? His whole state depends on this imperceptible point. And how should it be perceived by his reason, since it is a thing against reason, and since reason, far from finding it out by her own ways, is averse to it when it is presented to her?"

          D.      Application

III.    Cycle Three

          A.      Narrative (vv. 15-17)

The grace of God opens up another chapter beyond that which ends in death.

The act of grace does not balance the act of sin; it overbalances it.

Paul's piling up of repetition here is an instinctive or deliberate attempt to mirror the superabundant quality of grace given and received.

Note the phrase "how much more."

(pollow mallon – much more)

 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

 (Matthew 6:30 NIVUS)

 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

 (Luke 18:39 NIVUS)

 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

 (Romans 5:10 NIVUS)

 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

 (Romans 5:15 NIVUS)

 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

 (Romans 5:17 NIVUS)

 On the contrary, (how much more) those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

 (1 Corinthians 12:22 NIVUS)

 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!

 (2 Corinthians 3:9 NIVUS)

 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

 (2 Corinthians 3:11 NIVUS)

 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

 (Philippians 2:12 NIVUS)

          B.      Implication

Grace must be understood against the foreground of God's gift of Christ.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

IV.    Cycle Four


          A.      Narrative (vv. 18-19)

"Consequently" here means "in summary."

          B.      Implication

Grace must be understood against the foreground of God's gift in Christ.

          C.      Illustration

The issue of universalism. But note "received" in v. 17.

          D.      Application

V.      Cycle Five


          A.      Narrative (vv. 20-21)

The Jews thought the law decreased sin, but Paul lumps the law with sin and death.

The purpose of the law is less than the purpose of grace.

God's grace more than matches the intensification of sin through the law to give the assurance of life over death.

          B.      Implication

Grace cannot be understood outside of God's eternal purpose.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application


Big Answer:

How can we come to an understanding of God's gift of grace?

Grace must be understood against the background of man's sin/death condition. Grace must be understood against the background of God's law that exposes sin and demands death.

Grace must be understood against the foreground of God's gift of Christ.

Grace must be understood against the foreground of God's gift in Christ.

Grace cannot be understood outside of God's eternal purpose.

Timeless Truth:

How much more could you ever want when Jesus is all you will ever need?

The gift of grace is the gift that keeps on giving.

Remember the parable in Matthew 18?

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