Grace Abounding In Christ
The Law Magnifies Sin
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 24a of 83

“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

We are doing a survey study of the book of Romans. The central theme of the book of Romans is the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification teaches us that the ground of man’s acceptance with God is not in himself, but in Christ. The Christian life is a life of union with Christ. We are saved in Christ. We are saved on account of our identification with Christ. God deals with us not on our own merits but on the merits of Christ. God loves us and blesses us not because we deserve His love and blessing. He loves and blesses us because of our union with Christ. We are nothing. Christ is everything.

In our last study in this series, we saw how our relationship with God in Christ is not without precedence. The fact is: God has always dealt with man on the basis of representation. As we are by grace represented by Christ, we are by nature represented by Adam.

All men descending from Adam by natural generation are represented by Adam. Adam involved mankind in sin and death. The Church on the other hand is represented by Christ. And Christ involves us in righteousness and life. Both Adam and Christ are God’s appointed representatives for man. Adam is man’s representative in the Covenant of Works. Christ is man’s representative in the Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Works, eternal life is obtained by perfect obedience to the Law of God. Had Adam obeyed the Law of God perfectly, death would not have entered into the world. But Adam failed. All mankind sinned and died in him.

God in His grace, sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to represent us. The Lord Christ is fully God, and fully man. He was God’s perfect representative for Man. Though we He was born under the Law, He was without Original Sin. He was neither guilty of Adam’s sin, nor did He inherit Adam’s sin nature. This was so because He was born of a virgin and because the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed His conception in the womb of the virgin Mary.

Christ, the God-Man kept the Covenant of Works on behalf of those He would save. He merited eternal life for us by perfect obedience to God’s Laws and by dying for our sins. We are saved by grace through faith in Him. This is why we say that Christ is our representative in the Covenant of Grace.

Adam and Christ are, therefore, both covenant heads for man. But as we saw: Adam served to accentuate the greatness of Christ. And if Christ is so great compared to Adam, then we can expect that what damage was brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, Christ would more than undo by His obedience. We are and will be victorious in Christ. Nay, we are more than conquerors through Christ!

But as we pointed out previously, Adam was not the only thing in redemptive history that serves to accentuate the greatness of Christ. The Law of God also serves to accentuate the greatness of Christ.

Paul puts it this way (v. 20-21):

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

This paragraph is very rich. But it contains essentially three thoughts: (1) The Law magnified Sin; (2) Sin magnifies Grace; and (3) Grace reigns in Christ.

1. The Law Magnifies Sin

First, Paul says:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.[1]

Paul had earlier spoken about how the written Law was given only at the time of Moses. Before that time, there was no written Law. But yet during the whole period, death reigned even over those who had not sin after the way that Adam did (v. 14). So Paul concluded that Adam’s transgression must have been imputed on all. Everyone descending from Adam was regarded as having broken God’s command and eaten of the forbidden fruit. This is why death reigned over all.

But a few thousand years later, the Law was given. When was it given? It was given after God redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Where was it given? It was given at Mt Sinai. How was it given? The summary of the Law, namely the Ten Commandments, was spoken by God in the hearing of the children of Israel. The explication of the Law was given through the hand of Moses.

But why was the Law given? It was given, says Paul, “that the offence might abound.” The word “abound” speaks of abundance and increase. In other words, the Law was introduced so that sin might increase.

What does that mean? Well, in the first place, we must understand that it does not mean that the Law created sin. Before the written law was introduced sin was already in the world (v. 13). Sin was in the world because God’s Moral Law is eternal and unchangeable. Sin is a transgression of the law—whether it is known or not known. And moreover, man created in the image of God has the works of the Law written in his heart. So it is clear that the written Law did not create sin.

What then, does it mean that “the law entered, that the offence might abound”[2]? It means, no doubt, that the written Law magnified sin. It did not create sin. It magnified sin. But how does it magnify? It magnifies sin by displaying clearly the effect of Adam’s transgression.

Adam’s transgression resulted in sin in the world. But as long as the law was not yet given, man had only a vague idea of sin. Sin was already in the world, but it was not readily admitted.

The Law is like a microscope. A man is infected with some nasty bacteria. He is sick and dying, but no one knows why. Now, a drop of the man’s blood is put under a microscope. Immediately, the bacteria infection is discovered. So the Law magnifies sin and shows the sinfulness of sin.

Again, the Law is like a beam of light shining into a dusty and filthy room. Before the light shined into it, it was already dusty and filthy, but no one was disgusted by it. But when the light shines into, immediately it is clear how horrible the room is. So the Law discovers sin and show it to the world as sin.

Again, the Law is like a mirror to show us our sins. If you do not have a mirror to look at yourself, you will not know how untidy you look and you may not even realise that there are some mud stains on your face. But once you look into the mirror, you see everything immediately. So the Law makes us aware of our own sinfulness.

Without the law, we do not know sin as sin; we do not know the sinfulness of sin; and we do not know just how sinful we are. But when the Law is published, immediately we see sin as sin. We see its sinfulness. And we see how sinful we really are. Sin, therefore abound in our eyes. Sin is magnified in our consciousness.

This is what the apostle mean when he says “the law entered, that the offence might abound.” The Law magnifies sin.

This happened at the time when the written Law was given. When the Law entered, sin abounded. But did the Law magnify sin only then? No, no; what is true at that time is also true today. The law has already been given. But when the law is not known to us, we do not see the sinfulness of sin. When the law is made known to us, then sin abounds in our consciousness. Suddenly, we realise that we are sinners. Paul would later explain this function of the Law more clearly in chapter 7. This is what he says over there:

“I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.… without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom 7:7-9).

The Law, therefore, makes us aware of our sin. The Law make us realise our deadness and the condemnation which we deserve. Without the Law, we are kept in the dark about our depravity. We think we are alive and well. But when the Law shines into our hearts, suddenly, we see our sinfulness and helpless.

The Law then, is the first means by which God awakens and convicts us of our sin. The Law causes us to realise who we really are, and make us miserable by magnifying our sin.

But thank God, He does not leave us in that state of misery, for by His appointment sin magnifies grace.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim

[1] The word ‘moreover’ indicates that the apostle is expanding on a point that he has brought up earlier. What is this point? It is that the role of Adam in the fall of mankind serves to accentuate the role of Christ in the redemption of man. Paul is now adding to that thought. No only did Adam highlight Christ, the Law also serve the same purpose.

[2] It is likely that by “the offence” Paul is referring to “offence” in general and in the abstract rather than Adam’s offence, contra Matthew Henry. Every occurrence of the word “sin” following has the definite article.