Summary: The difference in the 1) Effectiveness (Romans 5:15), 2) Extent (Romans 5:16), 3) Efficacy (Romans 5:17), 4) Essence (Romans 5:18–19), and 5) Energy (Romans 5:20–21) between the works of Adam vs. Christ.
In the world of sports, most sports today are seasonal. We wait for the warmer weather for field sports. But in an effort to transcend the unpredictability of weather, more and more sports are being played on turf instead of grass. Although they have the ability to not flood, don’t need fertilizer, or mowing and don’t get dry patches, they are more fragile. At a turf baseball diamond we were at last week in Chicago, there were some severe restrictions. There was a strict ban on foreign objects like sunflower seeds, lest they become permanently lodged in the turf and create hard spots. Even metal cleats, which enable a player to grip grass, would tear a turf field. Just one player could cause permanently damage the field for everyone.
As we come into this world, we are a fallen race because sin was introduced in one act of disobedience, just one act, but it was such a revolutionary act, an act that made the whole race become rebellious in principle, me-centered at its core, with a fallen nature that begins all of life’s experience by making God other, by making ourselves god by preference. But when Christ died on the cross, he didn’t just pay for that one act. Since that one act, you and I have sinned again and again, and not just you and I, but men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. All the sins of arrogance, pride, and hatred; all the sins of violence, resentment, and lust; all the cruelty; the petty bitterness; the nurtured resentment; all the cheating on the income tax; all the really grotesque genocides, perhaps 100 million people killed in the twentieth century apart from war (Carson, D. A. (2016). Death through Adam; Life through Christ. In D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Ro 5:12–21). Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.).
Perhaps you think in unfair of God to have Adam as your representative. You perhaps think that you would have done better. That thought in itself, challenges the sovereignty of God and shows your need for a savior. Whenever we claim that something is unjust with God, we must be careful in seeking justice. If God was completely just, we would receive the eternal punishment that we deserve for transgressing His law. We need grace and have God’s justice satisfied by another.
In Romans 5:15-21, as if to examine every facet of this marvelous analogy, Paul explores five essential areas of contrast between the condemning act of Adam and the glorious redemptive act of Christ. Those acts were different in their 1) Effectiveness (Romans 5:15), 2) Extent (Romans 5:16), 3) Efficacy (Romans 5:17), 4) Essence (Romans 5:18–19), and in their 5) Energy (Romans 5:20–21).
1) The Contrast In Effectiveness (Romans 5:15)
Romans 5:15 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many (ESV)
The first contrast is clearly stated as being between the free gift of Christ and the trespass/transgression of Adam, acts that were totally opposite. By definition, all gifts are free, but charisma (free gift) refers to something given with special graciousness and favor, and therefore could also be appropriately rendered “grace gift.” When used of what is given to God, the term refers to that which is right and acceptable in His sight; when used of that which is given by God, as here, it refers to that which is given completely apart from human merit. In regard to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, both meanings are involved. Going to the cross was Jesus’ supreme act of obedience to His Father and therefore was wholly acceptable to the Father. His going to the cross was also the supreme act of divine grace, His free gift offered to redeem His people.
Trespass/Transgression is from paraptom¯a, which has the basic meaning of deviating from a path, or departing from the norm. By extension, it carries the idea of going where one should not go, and therefore is translated “trespass.” The one sin of Adam that was bequeathed to all his posterity and that brought the reign of death on the world was a trespass/transgression from the one command, from the single norm for obedience, that God had given. Adam functioned as a representative for humanity. A representative involves those they represent in the fruits of his or her action, for good or ill. In philosophy and theology, this has often been called “federal headship.” The word “federal” comes from the Latin foedus, or “covenant.” A federal head is a person who, through a covenant relationship, represents or stands in for someone else (Keller, T. (2014). Romans 1–7 for You. (C. Laferton, Ed.) (p. 126). The Good Book Company.).