Summary: In Romans 5:12-21 the apostle Paul contrasts the work of Adam with the work of Christ. This sermon examines the effectiveness, extent, efficacy, essence, and energy of the work of Christ.

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In Romans 5:12-21 the apostle Paul presents Adam and Christ as two “representative figures” whose acts determine the destiny of all who belong to them. Last week we examined “The Work of Adam” in Romans 5:12-14. And today, we shall explore “The Work of Christ” in Romans 5:15-21.

Let’s read Romans 5:12-21, so that we can see Paul’s entire argument in context:

"12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

"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. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

"18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 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. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:12-21)


In his booklet titled, “What Is Justification by Faith Alone?” J. V. Fesko says that all people must at some point stand in the presence of God and be judged. When that happens, there is only one of two possible outcomes. The person will be declared to be either “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” Or, in biblical terms, God will either condemn or justify the person who stands before him.

Because Adam’s sin has been passed on to all his posterity, all people stand under the condemnation of God. Since God requires perfect obedience to his law, every person will be declared “Guilty” by God and condemned as a law-breaker.

So then, how can a sinful person be declared “Not Guilty” rather than “Guilty” by God on the Day of Judgment?

The answer is found in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines “justification” as follows: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

So, how can a sinner be declared “Not Guilty”? Which is to ask, how can a sinner be justified in the sight of God?

All people are sinners. All people have broken God’s law. There is no-one righteous. But, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to obey the law on behalf of sinners. Jesus lived his entire life in perfect obedience to God’s law. He never, ever broke the law of God. He then offered to pay the penalty for sin, and also to credit sinners with his perfect obedience—the obedience which God requires. The sinner is then able to be justified by God—that is, to be declared “Not Guilty” by God—when he stops trying to present his own imperfect, inadequate obedience to God and believes that Jesus’ perfect obedience has been credited to him.

The sinner does nothing in order to receive a verdict of “Not Guilty.” He simply believes that God will accept him as righteous in his sight only because of the perfect obedience of Jesus that has been credited to his account.

It is because of this that the Scottish pastor, Horatius Bonar, wrote, “Thy works, not mine, O Christ, speak gladness to this heart; they tell me all is done; they bid my fear depart.”

Today, I want to examine further how Jesus is the representative head of all who are justified by faith alone.


In Romans 5:12-21 the apostle Paul contrasts the work of Adam (the sinful, representative head of all humanity) with the work of Christ (the sinless, representative head of all redeemed humanity). This is summarized in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthian 15:22).

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