15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
‘The gift is not like the trespass’ is a profoundly important phrase within Paul’s comparison of Jesus and Adam in Romans 5.
We see what Adam and Jesus share in common: both are men (vs 15); both are representatives of humanity.
It is from an emphasis on shared humanity that Paul develops an argument ‘from the lesser to the greater’. Both are human, but Jesus is a far superior human figure to that of Adam.
Adam’s trespass results in sin, death, judgment and condemnation.
God’s gift in Jesus Christ brings justification, grace, righteousness and life.
In other words, what Adam did, Jesus un-does to excess. Jesus confronts and overcomes the destructive effects of Adam’s sin due to the surpassing provision of God’s grace.
This is why that little phrase – ‘the gift is not like the trespass’ – is actually a wonderful way of describing the limitless, self-giving love of God in Jesus Christ.
So, as we celebrate Christmas 2020, we are reminded of the astonishing fact of the incarnation. Jesus is a truly human saviour. There is an indissolvable bond between Christ and humanity – he is one of us.
The Nicene Creed (381AD) puts it this way:
“Who for us and our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.’
But these verses remind us that Jesus is in crucial respects, a human unlike any other.
All of humanity is ‘in Adam’ – we are under the reign of death (vs 17). Death is a ‘dark lord’ of destruction from whom we have no ability to escape.
This Christmas 2020 death crowds in on us, compounding memories of absent loved ones. Daily coronavirus fatalities flash across our news screens. Death, usually kept in the background in rich Western nations, has rudely taken centre stage.
Images of death colonise our imaginations. Who could have imagined at the beginning of this year that the success or failure of governments globally now revolves around the management of death?
We grasp on to hopes of a vaccine, literally as a life-saver. We long for life to go back to the way it was – with death pushed back into the shadows – for as long as possible.
And this is right and good. Life is a gift to be lived well. We are made to live in relationship, not locked up staring at screens.
But vaccine or not, the rule of death unleashed by Adam still reigns.
And so the gospel is powerful good news.
But through the ‘one man, Jesus Christ’ (vs 17), all in him are freed from the reign of death and are ushered into a new realm – the reign of life.
God is a God of life, not death. His agenda for humanity is freedom from death. The Spirit is the life-giver. Jesus is the human Lord of life who has been raised from the dead.
This is why Christians celebrate the incarnation at Christmas.