“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men… 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.” (Romans 5:12… 18-19)
Paul begins to show Israel’s history, how that they received the call from God to undo the sin and condemnation of Adam upon our communities. It’s a long history for Israel, until sin was finally condemned in the flesh and cross of Christ. The story of that journey begins here in Romans.
Adam’s sin brought the dominion of condemnation into the human family, that ruled over our nations, bringing vengeful behaviour, violence and destruction to all. This is what God called Israel to undo and reverse. The Torah gives us hints of this reversal in the sabbath and jubilee, but it would be the cross that would achieve this turn around in our lives.
That is, Israel was called to enter into a greater realisation of their sin through the Torah. Romans chapters 5 – 8 trace how the Torah worked in Israel’s life, bringing them to the point of the cross, where they would be delivered from sin’s power.
That is, the bondage of the law in Israel’s life, led them to a self-righteous and vengeful response to Christ and to his crucifixion. It was at this point that the grace of God was revealed, and the power of the law was finally broken over our lives, undoing the captivity that had begun way back by Adam and Eve.
Israel were called to undo Adam’s sin and its hold over humanity, by carrying it forward in the Torah to Calvary, where Israel would be set free. But not just Israel, but the world would be set free with them. This is how Israel’s election worked out, and Paul brings this up again in chapters 9 – 11. Carrying Adam’s condemnation forward in the Torah, means that Israel bore the condemnation of Adam and of humanity in the law, until their sense of judgment turned them against Christ, where he would respond instead with forgiveness, setting us free into healing. The law made Israel the custodians of the condemnation of Adam and of humanity until Christ condemned that condemnation in his cross.
“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 5:221)
The above introduces what Paul expands in Romans 7, how the law took over in Israel’s nation, bringing sin to its heightened level of bondage… at which point the love of Christ could be revealed to the nation and to the world. This doesn’t mean that God forced the law upon Israel. It was human nature to desire the law. We think it will justify us, but it leads instead to greater sin, so much so, that we turn against God in hatred. So, when the law does its worst work in us, that is where God is present, on the cross, to meet us, forgive us and deliver us from the law, once and for all.
Let me say this again for clarity. Israel carried forward Adam’s sense of judgement that ruled them, to the cross, where they thrust it upon Jesus in their sense of legal vengeance, and God’s response in Christ was to say, “No problem. It stops with me. I forgive it and I forgive you.” And this response finally brought the law and sin of Adam to its end, where its reign through guilt was broken by God.
As Paul said, one sin of Adam led to the captivity of the whole human race in condemnation, and one act of obedience in Christ led to the realisation of the grace and forgiveness of God, for the whole human race. Israel served the world in this way. As they came under the bondage of the law and the condemnation it produced in their hearts, they transferred this to Christ in their rage, where the love of God was revealed and began its takeover of our hearts and new relationships.
So, the cross condemned sin in our hearts. The cross was the point where our sin came to its height. And the cross was the point where this sin was forgiven, setting us free from the condemnation that ruled over us through the law. The cross brings us into the grace of God, where we pass onto our neighbour the restoring love of God in service, instead of our assumed destructive judgment of God in our former lives under law.
It is the normal default to read sections of Paul from our point of view as individuals, but it is the story of Israel, their mission and its surprising success in their fall through crucifying Christ, that is being told. Our default level reading, putting “me, myself and I” at the centre of the text, and not the gospel story of Israel Paul was narrating, causes us to miss the basic narrative construction of the letter to the Romans.
Israel knew they were called to heal the world by undoing the paganism brought into the world through the fall of Adam.
Abraham was called to reverse Adam’s fall, to restore the image of God in man, and restore Adam and Eve’s priesthood vocation within the whole creation. But Israel didn’t know how this reversal would be achieved. They thought it would come about through forcing circumcision upon the world, as Paul was doing before he met Christ. But here, in Romans 5, Paul is revealing the surprising truth of the gospel.
Israel’s mission is fulfilled by their crucifixion of Christ. It is there where Adam’s sin was nailed to the cross, setting our hearts free from its dominion. It was in weakness, not in power, by his Spirit, not by might, that we are saved, and the creation is healed. The salvation that Paul has in view, by centering it upon Adam’s situation, is the healing of the cosmos, the creation, to bring about a Christlike rule of the world, according to the original vocation of Adam. This was Israel’s mission. This new creation was the witness of the Old Testament Prophets.