ROMANS 5:18-19: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous."
1. The CONTEXT of Romans 5:18-19:
Let's briefly review the context of verses 18-19 in relation to the whole passage of 5:12-21. The parallel between Adam and Christ that Paul had begun to make in verse 12 is finally brought to its full and intended completion here in verses 18-19. The truth that Paul draws out here in verses 18-19 is the same truth he had begun to declare in verse 12. The “just as” of verse 12 finally finds its corollary comparison in the “so then/even so” of verse 18. Paul had begun to talk about Adam's imputed sin in verse 12 and his design was to make a parallel comparison to Christ's imputed righteousness—to show that we are justified in Christ in exactly the same way that we were condemned in Adam. But before Paul can come to the second part of the comparison, he realizes that he has to clarify a few things. Before he can get to talking about imputed righteousness, he realizes he has to say a few more things about imputed sin.
First, he realizes that, just like today, there would be people in his day that would be skeptical about the doctrine of imputed sin. There would be people who didn't like it; people who wouldn't agree with it. So before he can say anything else, the first thing he does is take some time to prove the doctrine of imputed sin; and that's exactly what he does in verses 13-14. And he proves it by showing that: 1) all men suffer the judicial penalty of death; 2) which means that all men are guilty of violating a law; 3) but this law cannot be the Law of Moses, since multitudes died well before the Mosaic Law was ever given; 4) nor can this law be the moral law written on the hearts of all men, since infants die—who though corrupted with original sin—cannot be said to have committed any actual sins. So, it can't be because of actual sins that men are condemned and punished—either actual sins committed against the Law of Moses, or actual sins committed against the moral law. Rather, all of us stand guilty and condemned before God on account of the sin of Adam. As the covenant head and representative of all his posterity, his transgression has been counted as ours, his disobedience has been reckoned to you and I, his sin has been imputed to us.
Next, after proving the doctrine of imputed sin in verses 13-14, Paul feels that he must first contrast Adam and Christ before he can compare them. This he does in verses 15-17. Again, he wants to show us that we're justified in Christ in exactly the same way we were condemned in Adam. But before Paul can get to comparing Adam and Christ, he wants to show us that in a very real sense, they are infinitely incomparable: Adam brought God's judgment to men; Christ has brought God's righteousness to them. Adam brought condemnation; Christ has brought justification. Adam brought us death; Christ has brought us life. Adam plunged the whole world into condemnation and death through his one sin; but Christ has brought justification and life to the many even despite our own innumerable personal sins.
Now that Paul has given us ample proof for the doctrine of imputed sin (vv13-14), and has drawn out the infinite contrasts that exist between Adam and Christ (vv15-17), he's finally ready, here in verses 18-19, to complete the comparison he had begun back in verse 12: “[just] as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” What is Paul telling us? We've been hinting at it for a while, now it's time to explain it.
2. The MEANING of Romans 5:18-19:
Throughout this passage, Paul has been relentless in his declaration of imputed sin. He actually refers to this doctrine of imputed sin no less than six times over the course of the passage:
Verse 12: “through one man sin entered into the world. . .and so death spread to all men,” . . .
Verse 15: “by the transgression of the one the many died,” . . .
Verse 16: “the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation,” . . .
Verse 17: “by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,” . . .
Verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men,” . . .
Verse 19: “through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” . . .
And now we can see that the whole purpose for Paul showing us so emphatically the reality of imputed sin in Adam is to help us see the parallel glories of imputed righteousness in Christ. You see, Paul had all kinds of opponents who were going around preaching a gospel of Jesus—plus salvation: Jesus plus circumcision, Jesus plus keeping the Law, Jesus plus something else you have to do; and what Paul is doing here is showing the world that the Scriptures teach a gospel of Jesus plus nothing. Salvation is by grace alone, and it's based on Jesus alone and has nothing to do with you at all. One preacher put it this way: “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 parallel.”1 This is the very heart of the gospel. Just as you were condemned in Adam totally apart from what you did or didn't do—so too you are justified in Christ totally apart from what you do or don't do. Just as in Adam we were condemned solely because of what Adam had done, so now in Christ we stand justified solely because of what Christ has done. This is Paul is wanting to show us in verses 18.
And just in case we somehow missed Paul's point in verse 18, he reiterates it once again for us in verse 19. Though the language is different in verse 19, the structure and doctrine remain essentially the same: Just as all (in Adam) have been condemned on account of the transgression of Adam; so too all (in Christ) have been justified on account of the righteousness of Christ (verse 18). Just as the many (in Adam) were made sinners on account of the disobedience of Adam; so too the many (in Christ) will be made righteous on account of the obedience of Christ (verse 19).2
1 From Lloyd-Jones in V4.
2 Since the verb behind the phrase “made sinners” and “made righteous” (kathistami) is literally “to appoint; constitute,” these phrases are better rendered “constituted to be sinners” or “constituted to be righteous,” as they are—just as in verse 18— referring to the forensic reality of imputed righteousness; that people are inaugurated into a state of sin/righteousness (see Jms.4:4; 2Pet.1:8 for same Greek verb). Hodge says: “It is not our personal righteousness which makes us righteous, but the imputation of the obedience of Christ. And the sense in which we are here declared to be sinners, is not that we are such personally (which indeed is true), but by the imputation of Adam's disobedience.” Murray: “this involvement must be interpreted in forensic terms. Our involvement [in Adam's sin] cannot be that of personal voluntary transgression on our part. It can only be that of imputation. . .[and] The same principle of solidarity that appears in our relation to Adam, and by reason of which we are involved in his sin, obtains in our relation to Christ. . .just as the relation to Adam means the imputation to us of his disobedience, so the relation to Christ means the imputation to us of his obedience.” (pp205-206). Moo: “Some argue that [the verb here] means nothing more than 'make.' But this translation misses the forensic flavor of the word. It often means 'appoint,' and probably refers here to the fact that people are 'inaugurated into' the state of sin/righteousness. . .This 'making righteous'. . .must be interpreted in the light of Paul's typical forensic categories. To be 'righteous' does not mean to be morally upright, but to be judged acquitted, cleared of all charges, in the heavenly judgment.” (p345).