Sunday, June 23, 2013

A New Humanity in Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 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! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 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!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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What do you think of these photographs? (Photos from Ansel Adams) Are they interesting? Arresting? What do they have in common? 

Well, they are all black and white. In black and white photo composition, light contrast is an effective way of directing our attention to the center of interest. When light and shadows are captured at a certain angle, you find greater depth and finer texture that emerge from the picture – be it the wrinkles on a face, a weather-beaten rock, or the tones of a cloud.

In the passage we read just now, the apostle Paul paints a broad portrait of humanity by contrasting two men: Adam and Christ. Sin entered the world through Adam. Death and condemnation reigned as a result of his action. But justification and life came through the grace of Christ. Adam is the head of a fallen, corrupted humanity. Christ is the head of a new, redeemed community. By doing so, we gain a deeper appreciation and perspective into the shadows of human guilt and the light of divine grace. We can see a contrasting, textured portrait of our human nature.

Just a few chapters earlier, Paul has already shown that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. The extent of our guilt and depravity is universal. Everyone stands silent and condemned before the throne of God. He has also shown us the heights of God’s mercy and grace in and through Christ. We are declared righteous, justified through faith in Him apart from our moral achievements. As a result of that, as we have learnt from Elder Tom’s sermon last week in Romans 5, as a result of the gospel: We have peace and reconciliation with God, we rejoice in the hope of glory, we rejoice in our sufferings, we shall be saved from God’s holy wrath. Paul exclaimed: “For if, while 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!”

That’s good news! But how can one man’s sacrifice bring such great blessings to so many? How can it be that billions of people are affected, for good or for evil, by one person’s actions?

Therefore… and now we come to the passage today in Romans 5:12 onwards… Paul is not shooting randomly in the dark, he’s expanding his arguments here…

Therefore, as a logical development of what goes on earlier, we come to the analogy of Adam and Christ to show the answer to that question. And it is a very complex answer as Paul struggles with human concepts, with the limitations of language and words to convey a reality of cosmic-scale proportions. This is one of the most difficult and controversial passages in the entire letter of Romans to interpret. So let us try to follow his thoughts closely and carefully:

What is Original Sin?

Paul wrote: Therefore just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… but he didn’t finish the sentence. You would expect him to say: Just as sin entered the world through one man, so also through one man, righteousness enter the world and life came to all because all shared in his righteousness. But no, he left it hanging there in order to explain and justify what he has just said. If my Bahasa teacher were to mark Paul’s letter here, she would circle this sentence and write: Ayat tergantung. A suspended sentence… It’s as if Paul was writing or dictating his letter to his secretary, and then he stopped “Uh oh. Wait a minute. I better explain this part or else you may get it wrong”. And he didn’t complete his “just as… so also” thought until we come to verse 18-19 where he says:  “Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people”. One for all…

What is it that Paul wanted to explain and clarify? Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Death then entered the world through his sin. In this way, death came to all people because all sinned.

Now what does he mean by that? In what sense have all sinned so that all die?

There are two possible answers here: Either all sinned by following Adam’s bad example, imitating his sin, and repeating Adam’s rebellion in our own actions. Or all sinned when Adam sinned in the sense that all were included in his sin. Either we all have sinned just like Adam or we all have sinned in Adam’s sin and we sin with Adam’s sinning.

Well, it is true that we all have sinned and when we sin, we are re-living, re-enacting the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Like our first ancestors, we also think that we can know what is good or evil on our own, apart from God. We, too, reach out for the forbidden fruit because it is appealing to our eyes. Because we listen to the serpent’s lie that God does not really love us and wants to withhold what is good from us. Behind every sin is the sin of loving something, anything more than what is most lovely and beautiful – that is, God. Behind every sin, first and foremost, is the sin of rejecting God’s love and wisdom. You cannot commit any sin without first committing the sin of idolatry. It is trying to find happiness and security apart from God. But there is no happiness apart from God. Only death and sorrow and despair… Every time we sin, we are repeating the story of Adam in Eden.

That’s all true. But that is not what Paul is saying here. So he has to break off his argument… leaves his sentence suspended and clarifies his point like this.

In verse 13, he says: Yes, sin was in the world even before God gave Moses the Law and the Ten Commandments. After Adam, people in Sodom and Gomorrah and in the days of Noah continued to sin against the conscience written in their hearts. They continued to live for themselves instead of God. But sin was not charged against them; sin was not imputed against them or not counted against them where there is no law. The purpose of the law is to define the boundaries of sin. Without the law, people do sin but they do not violate any explicit divine commands.

Imagine if we were to walk besides a beautiful lake in Paya Indah Wetlands with giant crocodiles and hippos inside. But there is no signboard that says: “Beware of crocodiles! Do not swim here”. If we jump into the lake and swim there, it is still deadly and dangerous but we did not violate any laws or explicit instructions. We have no knowledge of the prohibition. But if there is a signboard and we still ignore the warning and jump in, not only is it dangerous and foolish and deadly… we have transgressed an explicit prohibition, we have crossed a line. We have trespassed into forbidden places.   

Nevertheless, even when there was no law, death reigned from Adam until Moses. That is, everybody died. Death has a controlling power over everyone.

Now what's the point that Paul wants us to see? He wants us to see that death was not solely the result of individual sins against the Law. People died even though their own sins against the law were not the reason for dying. Instead, the reason all died is because all sinned in Adam. Adam's sin was imputed, accounted to them. "Death reigned even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam." There are those who died without knowing a law and choosing to sin against it. For example, infants who died without understanding any moral law in their hearts or have the mental capacity to make a moral choice. Yet they died. Why? Because of Adam’s sin and the imputation of that sin to the human race… Verse 18 sums it up: "through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men." We were all included in his sin. We all have sinned in Adam’s rebellion. Not only did we inherit a tendency, a bent, a corrupt inclination to sin like he did, we all stand guilty and condemned in union with Adam’s fall. Here is the bad news.

And it’s exceedingly difficult to understand and accept, isn’t it? Why should we be condemned for someone else’s sin? Isn’t that so unfair? Especially, if we become more individualistic in our thinking. But many Asians still retain a strong sense of collective solidarity with our extended family, our tribe, nation or race. When you do something wrong, it’s not only you who sinned.

Imagine the Asian mother who scolds his son: “What? You bring home a C+ in your Science paper. How can you bring such shame on the “Chong” family?”
“Or you cannot be a singer. You must study law because you belong to the “Selvaraj” family. Your parents, grandparents and great grand parents are all lawyers. How will I answer to all your ancestors if you choose to be a jazz singer?”

In many Asian cultures, it’s not only about you. Somehow in your exam results and your actions, even your grandfather, grandmother and all your ancestors (nenek moyang) became involved. They are somehow bound up in our own identity. There’s solidarity with the extended family. The idea that we are part of a bigger whole, still connected to the earlier generations still makes a lot of sense in our culture. Perhaps that helps somewhat to understand how the action of Adam, our first ancestor, the great father of the human family, can have a profound impact on all of his descendants.

And throughout the centuries, Christians have wrestled with this question and came up with some possible answers. Some believe we are all actually present in Adam. Even though we were not yet born, each of us acted in Adam so we are rightly implicated for his sin. For example, Abraham paid tithes and offering to a priest called Melchizedek. But the writer of Hebrews (chapter 7) says that Levi, the father of the priestly tribe, paid the tithes to Melchizedek since he was still in his father Abraham’s body at that time. It shows that the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the Levite priesthood since even Abraham, Levi’s father paid tithes to Melchizedek and is blessed by him.

There is another view: In the Reformed tradition, Adam is seen as the “federal” head of humanity. He is like a Prime Minister representing our country in signing trade agreements. He is like a CEO making strategic decisions that impact the whole company. Like a king who acts on our behalf. All of these actions can have huge impact even on future generations. In a similar way, Adam represents us in a covenant with God: “If Adam obeys God’s command not to eat from the forbidden tree, he would live in fellowship with God. But if he disobeys, death and separation from God will result.” And so Adam acted on our behalf.

From the perspective of law, I understand that the law can hold me accountable for acts done by someone else. If I hire an assassin to murder someone, I can be charged with first degree murder even though my hands never touched a gun and I’m not at the scene of the crime. I am guilty for what my representative did on my behalf. But who hired Adam?

One may say: “Well, at least, in the case of our government, we can still elect our representatives. We cast our votes. (Aside: whether our Election is fair or unfair is another matter, haha!) But I didn’t choose Adam to act on my behalf.” The crucial issue here is not whether we chose Adam or not. We can choose someone to represent us but as we can see even in Malaysian politics, the people we choose may not necessarily carry out our wishes. Some elected officials jump ship (like frogs). Others betray our trust even though they seemed to be nice at first. But our knowledge is limited.  Later, they may say things or make decisions that we do not support. Just having a choice doesn’t really guarantee that our representative would do what we would have done.

So the real question is: Did Adam truly, accurately, represent us? Would we have done the same if we were in the Garden of Eden? Would we have believed Satan’s lie that God does not want to give what’s best for you? From personal experience, I’m sure I would have fallen too. I could do no better than Adam. And the choice of Adam as our representative (as our federal head) is made by God himself. He knows everything about Adam and He knows everything about us. He is just and fair in all of his dealings with us. So there is good reason to think that Adam accurately represented us when he acted on our behalf, so we are justly condemned in his sin. Yes, we are sinners because we do sins. But the deeper problem is: We sin because we are by nature sinners.

We are like that tiger called Richard Parker in the movie Life of Pi (about a young boy stranded in the middle of the ocean with a tiger); it was raised in a zoo as a little cub but it would be a mistake to treat it like a pet. By nature, it is a carnivore and given the chance, it will kill for food. When it kills, it's doing what it is by nature. Richard Parker is a symbol of the ferocious, violent aspect of human personality.

How is Adam a fore shadow of Christ?

And the reason Paul wants us to get this doctrine of original sin is because: Adam is a type of the one to come. Adam is a fore shadow of Christ, a signpost pointing to the second Adam, a pattern or typology that is fulfilled in Jesus. Christ is the head of a new humanity. He is not just a tribal deity of only a certain nation. He’s not just the God of Israel or God of the Europeans. The scope of His salvation is universal – it covers every single person on the planet. He is the king of a new global community. A new people shaped by grace and life, not sin and death. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Unless you see the light contrast between Christ and Adam, you will not appreciate the depths of human sin or the heights of divine mercy. And the whole Christian life is a lifelong discovery of these two truths.

But how does Adam function as a typology of Christ? Firstly, Paul points out how Christ’s gift is not like Adam’s trespass. It is much more effective than his sin. He wants to bring out the contrast. Adam’s trespass is a fall away from the path of God to go his own willful way. But Christ’s gift (charisma) is an act of self sacrifice and obedience which overflows in undeserved blessing to many. In that sense, we are all charismatic because we are all saved by Christ’s charisma or gift on the cross.  

The immediate effect of their actions is also radically different (verse16). Judgment and condemnation followed Adam’s one sin, but Christ’s gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. That means, we are declared not guilty and declared as righteous instead. You would think that one sin brought condemnation so many sins would bring even more condemnation. But grace doesn’t operate like that: The accumulated sins and guilt of all the centuries have been answered by God’s free gift. That is mind blowing, insanely great, miracle of all miracles.

The ultimate result of Adam’s sin and Christ’s gift is also radically different. Death oppressed and reigned over us through Adam but how much more will those who receive God’s abundant grace and gift of righteousness reign in life through Christ (verse 17). Previously, death was our king and we were its slaves. You would expect that life would now be our king and we would be its subjects. But no, Paul says, how much more is God’s grace… it’s not the same… Christ delivers us from the rule of death so that we will reign in life. We will not be slaves but delegated with kingly authority from Christ. Heaven is not a boring place where people play harps all the time. It’s going to be We will implement the rule of God over all of creation in the new heaven and new earth.

How would that look like, I wonder? Two weeks ago, our brother Ken Yeong invited us to imagine how the lake next to us can be restored, renewed for wild life as well as for the flourishing of human community. Instead of dirty, polluted water there will be thriving wetlands. Instead of dead fish, there will be hobby fishing. Instead of overgrown bushes there will be paths for families to take strolls. Not that abandoned mining pond, but our restored lake. We will need people of different gifts, perhaps even different churches and NGOs to come alongside in this project. Perhaps that is a model of what Christian stewardship of creation can look like, of what it looks like when a small piece of God’s reign come on earth as it is in heaven. We will reign in life one day, Paul says. How would that look like today? In Puchong…

And now, having shown the contrast so you don’t think that Christ is exactly the same as Adam, Paul is ready to show how the similarity between Adam and Christ with the “Just as… so also…” structure of the last few verses. This is the good news:

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Dr. Lloyd Jones said: “Look at yourself in Adam; though you had done nothing you were declared a sinner. Look at yourself in Christ; and see that, though you have done nothing, you are declared to be righteous.” That is the beautiful symmetry. Remember our condemnation in Adam even when we had done nothing? In the same way, we are counted righteous, reckoned righteous, imputed with the active obedience of Christ himself through no credit of our own.  

His grace does not just wipe our records clean and leave us with a blank sheet of paper. Back to square one. It does not bring us back to the original position of Adam. But now we are imputed with the righteousness of Christ so that when God sees us, He doesn’t see our sins anymore… Instead He sees us as having the same righteousness as Mother Theresa? Something is not right here… No, He sees that we are as righteous as Billy Graham or Gandhi or Pope John Paul II? No, again. He sees us as righteous as Christ. How amazing is that? We take the credit for the righteousness of Christ himself. Is that fair? No it’s not. But it’s grace.  

I didn’t obey God’s will fully. I didn’t live a sinless life. I didn’t go to the cross. I haven’t done anything to deserve it one bit. But His righteousness is counted, reckoned and imputed as mine. It’s not fair, it’s grace. Even infants who died without the ability to make moral choices can be directly given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, rescued from Adam’s condemnation and justified freely by God’s sovereign grace.

But for the rest of us, how do you get this righteousness of Christ? Is it automatically given to everyone so that everyone is saved? Some people point to verse 18: just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. So all people will be saved, right?   

That’s not a correct understanding because Paul clearly teaches that there are people who choose to reject God and will remain condemned. The verse 17 says “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” will reign in life. You need to give up your pride in moral achievements, and humbly receive this gift. We are justified through the empty hands of faith. It’s the only response that honors God as the only Giver. In another passage in Corinthians, Paul talks about this same Adam-Christ contrast like this: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22)”. That means: there are two humanities. One is in Adam, and all who are in covenant with him dies. The new humanity is in Christ, and all who are in covenant with Him will be made alive. So all people means all people (both Jews and Gentiles, no difference)… all people who are in Christ will be justified by grace alone through faith alone to the glory of God alone.

Friends, are you in Adam or are you in Christ today?

Do you ever doubt whether God still loves you…? You blew it big time… You think you have messed up really bad this time and you wonder if God will ever forgive you… or if you will ever forgive yourself. Do you ever despair that you’d be never good enough? Do you feel powerless in prayer? In such times, remember the gospel. Preach this gospel to yourself: That when God looks at you, He sees only the righteousness of Christ in you. He sees the perfection of Christ in you. He sees the moral beauty of Christ in you. He’s not saying, “Who let you in here? Or what’s your name again?”  He says: “Welcome! My child in whom I am well pleased”…  You are accepted, reconciled, justified and imputed by the active obedience of Christ... by the perfect obedience of Christ to God’s law. That’s good news.

Well, then, some people may ask: What is the purpose of the law? Since death reigned from the time of Adam, why do we still need the law of Moses? It cannot save us. Paul says: “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” You would think that the law is supposed to reduce sin but it actually increased it. The law serves to reveal sin, define sin and display it like the warning sign. The problem is not with the law. But due to our fallen nature, what is forbidden is always sweeter. I came across a study that suggests that instead of encouraging safer driving and reduce accidents, speed traps actually cause more accidents. People know there's a speed trap coming and step on the brakes, causing more accidents.

 The law ends up provoking sin instead of preventing it. So the purpose of the law is not to save us, but to show us how deep, how desperate is our need for a Savior. You will never get the good news until you see the bad news.

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So the reason why Paul wants you to see that your condemnation is in Adam and not just by your own sins is so that he can put it side by side with the glorious justification you have in Christ (not by your own works but by a righteousness that is not your own). It does not depend on your performance, it is all of grace. His perfection is credited into your accounts. God meets the ugliness of sin with the all surpassing beauty of His grace.   

Appendix:

Sometime back, I came across an article in Christianity Today and a copy of it is available at the back of the church talking about “The quest for the historical Adam”. What do archeology (the study of prehistoric human activity), paleontology (the study of fossils and prehistoric life) and genetic science tell us about Adam and Eve? If you google about blogs and books nowadays, you will find lots of discussions about whether Adam and Eve were literal/historical figures or a symbolic, mythic way of talking about human nature. Not all of us here ask these kinds of questions, but some would be interested. And this passage we are reading today is helpful to guide how we address this topic.

Recent discoveries about the features of human DNA seem to imply that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago. This is still being hotly debated. Maybe we need someone with Phd in molecular biology who will be much more qualified than I to evaluate the pros and cons of these findings. (Google for Vern Poythress response online)

If this is true, then it gives us a few possible options: One option is to view Adam and Eve as historical people living among many about 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize a large group of ancestors or a parable of each person’s rejection of God. Respected Christians like John Stott took the first view (you still have a historical Adam) while C.S. Lewis took the second view (no historical Adam). In my personal opinion, even if there is compelling evidence for these claims, it would not be knock out punch to the Christian faith because it’s possible to take positions like that.

However, as we have seen in Romans 5, we should be still careful to maintain a historical Adam and Eve because there are theological dangers in accepting an allegorical Adam.

Tim Keller provides a pastoral perspective into this discussion:

Some may say, “Even though we don’t think there was a literal Adam, we can accept that all human beings have sinned and that through Christ we can be saved. So the basic bible teaching is still there, even if we do not accept the historicity of the story of Adam and Eve.”
But the gospel is not good advice. It is good news of what has been done to save us in history, on the cross, so that when we believe in Jesus, we are "in Christ". We are in covenant with him through faith. So what he has done in history is imputed to us.

And just as Adam’s sin resulted in the condemnation of all people, so also the righteous act of Christ results in justification and life for all people. In Adam, all die. In Christ, all will be made alive. The argument works like this: What happened to Adam affects you just as what happened to Christ affects you. It is impossible to be ‘in’ covenant with someone who doesn’t exist. Tim Keller wrote: “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work "covenantally"—falls apart. You can’t say that Paul was a man of his time but accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”

That’s pretty serious implication. No literal Adam, no imputed sin. No imputed righteousness either – no hope without it. 

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