Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | July 17, 2011

Sermon on Romans 5:12-15

It’s not unfair

  • Common Service (p15)
  • Lessons: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Romans 5:12-15, Matthew 10:24-33
  • Hymns: 396, 419, 378, 754

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Paul says in Romans 5, Death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).  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 (Romans 5:14).  Many died by the trespass of the one man (Romans 5:15).  Without qualification Paul describes humanity:  Sin entered.  Death came.  All sinned.  Death reigned.  All died.

Consistently, Scripture speaks this way about man, saying: …every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood (Genesis 8:21).  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).  Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies (Psalm 58:3).  From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts (Mark 7:21ff).  The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so (Rom. 8:7).  You were dead in your…sins…. [W]e were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1, 3).

Despite this overwhelming testimony, many cry, “Foul!”  The basic argument?  “It’s just not fair.  How can I be punished for something I didn’t do?”

Let me hit you with some Latin.  Ex post facto.  Lex retro non agit.  Nulla poena sine lege.  These Latin phrases define a cherished legal principle:  You can’t punish someone for something that wasn’t a crime when they did it.  Our Constitution speaks against it.  Most countries have determined that it violates justice to make laws that function retroactively.  No punishment without a law.  To speak like Paul:  Sin is not taken into account when there is no law (Romans 5:13b).

So, how can Romans 5 work?  Isn’t it unfair of God to operate in this manner?  Shouldn’t He give each one of us the chance to screw things up on our own?

God gave that chance to Adam.  And He blew it.  “Don’t eat the fruit,” God said.  “Obey me.”  Adam wasn’t born with sin.  God told him how to avoid sin.  But Adam brought it in.  Sin entered the world through one man (Romans 5:12).  It wasn’t there until Adam did it.  Neither was death.

Which means, the ex post facto argument no longer works.  Even Adam and Eve couldn’t complain.  The moment you’ll eat of it, you will surely die (Gen. 2:16-17), God said.  You can’t complain.  These are the rules.  It’d be like joining a card club and complaining that they play too much cards.  Or signing up for a parks and rec baseball team and whining when they don’t play football.  It’s no longer God’s fault, but yours.

Or, we could remember that just because there’s no rule, doesn’t mean you can’t screw up.  Paul says, Before the law was given, sin was in the world (Romans 5:13a).  Cain can vouch for that.  He murdered his brother.  God called him to account.  Cain lied about it.  Why?  He knew he’d done something wrong even though no one had ever said, “Do not murder.”  And God punished him justly.  The same situation applies with kids, doesn’t it?  Can’t your sons and daughters sin and break rules even before you’ve made the rule?  You don’t have to say, “Don’t stay out all night,” before it’s wrong to stay out all night, right?

Even though the Ten Commandments hadn’t yet been given, people were breaking them left and right.  Because God put the law into people’s hearts.  Before sin, Adam and Eve knew exactly what to do and how to do it.  And they loved it.  After sin, most of that was lost and corrupted, but not all of it.  Paul points out that non-Jews obeyed the Ten Commandments even without the benefit of haven been given them.  They legislated murder and theft and perjury.  Because people know that those things are wrong without being told.

But it usually becomes necessary to tell them, doesn’t it?  Because we’re just that bad.  To the Galatians, Paul said, [The Law] was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19).  In other words, Israel so ignored the law of God in their hearts, that He had to come down and say, “Do not murder.”  “Do not commit adultery.”  “Don’t steal.”  “Stop worshiping idols.” Etc. etc.

Something similar happened after World War II.  When the war ended, and people realized the extent of what we call the Holocaust, the Allies determined to put Nazi war criminals on trial for waging such a destructive war and trying to eliminate whole races and classes of people.  The charges?  Crimes against humanity.  Waging aggressive war.  Conspiring to do so.  The problem?  No such laws on the books.  No one had ever made these things a crime.  But what happened under the Nazis was so bad, that it must be punished.  A law made after the fact punished them.

Paul was right.  We’re that bad that God had to explain the rules, like a parent with children.  And those rules are because of us.  To make it clear.  To make us conscious of our sins.  It’s not unfair.

Come at it from a different angle.  Since the end of the Civil War this has been the law of the land:  All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States (14th Amendment).  How many infants born in American hospitals are aware of their US citizenship and the laundry list of rights, privileges and protections?  I’ll wager…zero.  And yet we don’t take those rights away because of that, right?  Nor do we mock someone who treats an infant like the American citizen that they are.  That’s just what they are.  Born that way.

It’s no different spiritually.  Death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12b).  From the moment life began.  It’s just what people are.  And Paul’s point in Romans 5 is that even if you don’t know you’re sinning, you’re still sinning.  Even if you can’t be declared guilty of a specific crime based on a specifically written statute, you’re guilty.  Just as much as someone born in this country is an American, so also someone born of a sinful mom and a dad is sinful, condemned to death apart from Christ.

Because there’s a third principle of juris prudence at play.  If a police officer unlawfully searches a person’s home and discovers a murder weapon or some piece of evidence that leads a suspect to confess, or leads the police to a new suspect, all that evidence can be thrown out, even if the person is beyond a shadow of a doubt guilty.  Because it’s poison fruit.  The illegal, unlawful, 4th Amendment-violating search invalidates everything that comes afterwards, because it never would have happened had the illegal search not happened.  We don’t like it.  Every Law and Order episode that sees a confession thrown out for this reason steams us.  But it’s the law.  Poison fruit from a poison tree kills.  Everything.  And everyone.

You can talk all you want about the hypothetical possibility that someone could be good and perfect all on their own.  That mankind isn’t really totally depraved, just mostly, or kind of.  Well, where is this hypothetical person?  And how early doesn’t it get ruined.  It’s not like we can point to people who made it 90% of the way to perfection and just fell short, like a pitcher throwing a perfect game for 8 and 2/3 innings.  They fail at the earliest moment from our point of view.  Even earlier, according to Scripture.  And it’s not unfair.  It’s the way it is because of the poison fruit that all of humanity ate, both Adam and Eve.  Despite God’s clear and simple command.  All sinned.  Don’t believe it?  Then I ask, “Who here will die?”  Case closed.

But then Paul said that Adam was a pattern of the one to come (Romans 5:14).  What one?  Christ.  But that doesn’t make sense.  Or does it?  Understand Paul’s point.  Adam is a type, a picture, a pattern of Christ, even though what he did (sin) and what Christ did (not sin, give gracious gifts) aren’t the same.  The point of comparison is in the one man.  One man sinned, and all died.  The poison tree led to poison fruit and infected all that followed.  One man didn’t sin.  One man died, and all live.  What a contrast!

Paul said, 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 (Romans 5:15)!  Sin entered.  Death came.  All sinned.  Death reigned.  We died.  But then God’s grace overflowed.  In Christ.  A man born not of sinful mom and dad, but conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  And now the poison fruit principle changes radically.  Because this one man gave a gift – His perfect, unblemished body and soul – that gift overflows, is passed down, comes to all men.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, Paul told the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:31).  And now in Romans 5, Paul says, “Rejoice in the not guilty verdict God declares, because you know what your condition was before and apart from Christ.  You know the gift Adam gave you – death!  Now, know the gift of your heavenly Father and His Son, Christ – Forgiveness of sins and life!  Eternal life!”  Amen.


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