THE GIFT OF GOD: THE GIFT BY GRACE
Adapted from a sermon preached by Mr Sim Yeow Meng
at PCC Evening Worship on Lord’s Day, 30 July 2000


“But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead,
much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ,
hath abounded unto many”
(Romans 5:15).


We can hardly use the word “contrast” to describe a comparison between a hole caused by a footprint in the mud on the one hand and a little mound made by an ant colony on the other hand. Such a contrast is hardly worth mentioning. But if the two things being contrasted are the Marianas Trench on the one hand and Mount Everest on the other hand, we should be somewhat awed by the greatness of the divide between them. Now, the contrast that Paul is proposing in this text is even more magnificent. It is of such a nature that if we were to use the same kind of analogy we have been using, we would have to describe the difference as being between the bottomless pit and the highest heaven. Such is the greatness of the antithesis between the offence and the gift that the Apostle Paul is comparing in this verse.


The Offence


But what is the “offence” that Paul has in mind? Clearly, he is referring to what he has already mentioned in verse 12, namely, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men.” It is through this offence that the entire world experienced the entrance of sin and death.


Who committed the offence referred to? It was Adam, no doubt. Paul names him explicitly as the transgressor in verse 14, “nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” The offence which our text refers to must, therefore, be Adam’s eating of the tree for which God forbade him to, by expressed commandment and warning (Gen 2:16–17; 3:6).


Now concerning this offence, we may note in verse 12 that Adam was not alone in it. It was an offence which has direct and immediate bearing on each of us. His offence, in accordance to God’s warning, resulted in death for him. He suffered spiritual and eternal death immediately, and the process of physical death begun immediately, so that in due time he returned to the dust. But because physical death is so obviously significant for man, the Scripture often uses physical death as representative of, and inclusive of, all the other aspects of death for the natural man.


Now, history and experience tell us that death has never been restricted to Adam alone. Paul tells us in verse 12, that it has passed upon all men. But why? Why is the divine sentence of Adam’s offence passed upon all men? Again the Apostle gives the answer: “for that all have sinned,” i.e., because all have sinned.


And to further prove his point, he continues in verses 13–14. He says that during the time of Adam to Moses, death reigned. Now we ought to understand the Apostle’s words here. The period of Adam to Moses is the time when the written law of God was not yet given. The written law was only given during the time of Moses. Now, if there were no law, then sin cannot be imputed, since sin is a transgression of the law (cf. Rom 4:15), hence, there ought not to be any death, which is the wages of sin. But the fact is that “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (v. 14). How is that so? The conclusion can only be that there must be some law of God before the Mosaic law was given, and that law was violated, and as a result of that, “death [the wages of sin] reigned from Adam to Moses.” And that violation of the law, or sin, must somehow find its origin in Adam.


At this point, someone may object, Though there was no written law existing then, there was the law of God in the hearts of men, and men sinned against that inner law of God. Could that not be a reason why they died? But we read that the Apostle does not only bring out the fact that death reigned during that period of Adam to Moses, but that it reigned “even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” Death reigned even over those who had not sinned in the like manner of Adam, i.e., in their own person, in actual transgression. Who are they? They are commonly understood as referring to infants. How about the infants then? We know intuitively that infants do not have the ability to transgress the law actually. Yet, death also reigned over them. How then can one account for their death, except that they must be guilty in some way, for death reigned over them also. How did they incur guilt worthy of death? The answer is again found in verse 12, “by one man” all have sinned,… hence death passed upon all men. We ought to realise that there is a connection between Adam and all men in that offence.


This connection is also reiterated by the Apostle throughout the text to the end of the chapter. For instance, in verse 15, he says, “for if through the offence of one many be dead.” Again, in verse 18, he continues, “by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” Furthermore, in verse 19, he repeats, “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.”


Effects of the Offence


One may then ask, Why am I involved in Adam’s sin? Why am I being implicated by his offence? From all these verses, the reason may be seen. When God commanded Adam not to eat of that fruit, He did not deal with Adam merely as a private person, or an individual. Rather, God dealt with Adam as a public figure, as a representative of the entire mankind and human race, of which he is the root, from whom all men proceed. Adam, when receiving that command from God, represented all mankind.


As a result of that, what he did in that act, all mankind may also be said to have done in him, and what he received from God as a result of that act, all mankind may also be said to have received in him from God. Therefore, so long as a man ordinarily descended from Adam, he is to be affected directly and immediately by what Adam did. In Adam, he has already sinned against God and hence liable to the wages of sin, i.e., death. Death reigned over him and there is no way he could escape it. He is born a sinner and born to die. And he sins throughout his life because right from the inception of his life in his mother’s womb, he is conceived in the state of sin. In the most direct and immediate sense, he is affected by his father Adam’s sin.


But you may ask, How do I know this is true? How can I be certain that this is factual?


The Apostle says very plainly in verse 12. First, look at the universality of sin. Sin is something that no man is a stranger to. It is in us, around us and all over the world, permeating every place where man may be found. We see, hear and read of it in all kinds of forms everywhere: pride, covetousness, thefts, dishonouring of parents, immorality, adultery, divorce, wickedness, murders, all kinds of perversion, blasphemy. We see, hear and read of it everywhere in all ages, clearly reflecting the sin in man. We are unable to find a man who is not a sinner. How can one explain that? What is the cause and origin of it all? The Apostle explains, “By one man, sin entered into the world.”


Secondly, look at the universality of death. We also see death in all ages and at all places where men may be found, whether they be great or small, young or old. Not only so, we also continue to see it among infants for whom our finite mind finds no rational reason why they should die. Again, how can one explain that? The Scripture says that it is because “all have sinned” in Adam.


Now, these facts are not just theoretic notions to be trifled with. They have far-reaching consequences for everyone, which we must not ignore. Consider, first of all, man’s spiritual condition. The Apostle describes the condition of fallen man before conversion in these words: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). Fallen man is without strength, and ungodly. He has become helpless and sinful. He lives continually in sin and is unable to live otherwise, unable to live a sinless life in accordance to the law of God. Since that offence of Adam, man not only bear the guilt of Adam, but he also inherited a corrupted nature from him. His whole nature has been corrupted. All his faculties are inclined to evil, his understanding darkened and his affections vile and filthy. He would rather believe that he evolved from some animal, than to believe that he is created by God. Accordingly, he has become a bond slave to sin and from him proceeds all kinds of sin, wickedness, evil and perversion. He does not know the ways of righteousness and peace. Being blind to his Creator and to spiritual truths, he finds the law of God hateful and contemns it. He is far from God and His truths, yet he does not see the need to do anything about it. As he lives, he sins, and everyday, he accumulates his offence and guilt before God. That is why the Apostle says he is without strength, and ungodly. By nature, he is a child of wrath. His condition is most miserable and hopeless. Even more so is that he himself is blind to his miserable condition.


Secondly, consider also his physical state. A couple of chapters after this passage, in chapter 8, the Apostle writes, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:22–23). Since the Fall, not only is the whole creation suffering as a result, but the Apostle rightly says that we are also groaning within ourselves. We are not only made liable to all the miseries in the spiritual realm, but also in the physical realm. Consider a man’s life. Many are his struggles, troubles and sorrows. He has to toil to earn a living to survive. His body is also vulnerable and subject to all kinds of sicknesses, diseases and pains. And when the peak of his strength and youth is reached, his body begins to deteriorate and everyday he lives to see his body deteriorating. In addition, each day draws him nearer and nearer to death. Furthermore, wherever he puts his happiness of life in, he is bound to be disappointed and to be let down. Should he place his happiness in wealth, material goods and pleasures, he would find that he derives no real satisfaction in them. Should he place his happiness in his loved ones, they shall also fail him. They shall not live up to his expectations and, of a certainty, before long, they shall leave him by death one day, leaving him with more sadness and pain than what they afforded him. All paths to happiness are but short and temporal, and will inevitably come to a sad end. His end is an end of gloom and sadness. He looks for happiness and the meaning of life everywhere, but he finds vanity. He finds himself chasing after the wind. His life is a life of plain vanity and sorrow.


All these are the baneful effects of the Fall of Adam, and our being represented by him. Oh, who would deliver us from such a misery?


The Gift


Thanks be to God, He has provided us the way of escape from the bottomless pit. And not only so, He sets all who are His, as it were, in the highest heavens that we may know how great a deliverance He has wrought for us and how great and precious is the Gift He has bestows upon us.


This Gift,—the Apostle Paul reveals with a triumphant note,—is none other than the Person Jesus Christ. This Gift, though parallel in one sense to the offence, is vastly antithetical to it: “but not as the offence, so also is the free gift” (Rom 5:15a). Why so? “For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (Rom 5:15b). Whatever damages and pains that Adam’s offence has inflicted on us, this Gift of God is able to restore, and not just to restore, but to restore overflowingly. This may be seen in two ways.


Firstly, insomuch as the one sin of Adam brought guilt and condemnation to us, Christ the Gift of God covers the guilt of that sin. And not only that sin, but of all other sins that we have committed or will commit in our life, that all who are united with Christ may stand guiltless and righteous before God. Paul says that in verse 16, “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.” Jesus Christ, the Gift of God, not only takes away the guilt and condemnation of Adam’s offence from all who would receive Him, but He also takes away the guilt and condemnation of all our sins in life and puts His perfect righteousness on us. Despite our guilt in Adam and our many sins, there is therefore now no condemnation for us who possess this Gift.


Secondly, insomuch as the one offence of Adam brought death to us, and made us destined to die, Christ the Gift of God, by His righteousness, restores us altogether. We see this in verses 17, 21, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.… That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” He is able to free us both from the bondage of sin and from the fear of death, so that instead of being reigned by death, we now reign in life. We are no longer bounded by sin, and death is now become a passage to glory. For God has prepared eternal, everlasting life for us.


Nature of this Gift


Observe several things about this Gift. Firstly, it is free. The Apostle calls it a free gift in verses 15 and 16. It is a gift without cost to the recipients. It is given freely to all who are enabled by the Spirit of God to receive it. Whoever sees and senses his wretchedness and misery in sin may freely receive it. The rich may receive it, so may the poor. The strong may receive it, so may the helpless and the outcasts. All may freely receive and partake of this Gift of God.


Secondly, note the gracious character of this Gift. The Apostle uses the word “grace” several times throughout the passage. It is spoken of specifically as “the grace of God,” and “the gift by grace”. This means that all who receive this gift are both unworthy and undeserving. Someone may say, I am not worthy to come to God. I am afraid to come to God, will God receive me? Then remember that this Gift is of pure grace. It is offered only to such as are conscious of their utter unworthiness. Christ says, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance“ (Mk 2:17).


Finally, observe also the all-sufficiency of divine grace in this Gift. Notice how the Apostle repeatedly speaks of the gift of grace in language of excess, such as “abound[ing],” “abundance,” and “much more” (see vv. 15, 17, 20). Thus we see the all-sufficiency of divine grace in this Gift. Another person may say, I am the most sinful, most vile and most filthy sinner. Can I still come to God? Then remember the all-sufficiency of divine grace in this Gift. God not only delights to save sinners, but He also is able to save the greatest of chief sinners. Where sin abounds, His inexhaustible grace abounds the more to every penitent sinner.


Conclusion


Dear reader, are you still without Christ? Consider the fact that you are a great sinner in God’s sight. You have sinned against God greatly. In Adam, you have sinned, and in your life, you have also sinned. Not only does the Word of God reveal this to you, but you can see it from the universality of sin, and death everywhere. The thing of the utmost importance that you ought to consider for yourself is this: How can I recover from that great fall in Adam, and escape from the certain judgment and condemnation of God to come? You ought to realise and acknowledge your sins and your need of a Saviour.


Are you conscious of the greatness of your guilt and sin? Then consider the gracious Gift of God that He has provided for the recovery of sinners. Think not that your sins are too great that God will not pardon you. His Gift for sinners is free and all-sufficient. There is no sinner too great that God is unable to save. Turn not to your own so-called good works nor your supposedly upright life nor idolatry to save yourself. Rather, flee to Christ, for He is the Gift of God, our complete recovery from sin.


Have we received the Gift of God? Then consider the fact that this Gift is of the richest and purest grace. It is not only entirely provided by God, but it is also purely by a heavenly hand that we have been led to this Gift. Should we not then be overflowing with deep gratitude in our heart for this Gift so rich and free? Should not the love of Christ constrain us to worship and serve Him alone, and spur us to seek to draw closer to Him, to be fruitful in good works and to increase in the knowledge of Him, who hath called us unto His kingdom and glory?


edited for publication by J.J. Lim
from initial adaptation by bro Sim Yeow Meng
Bro Yeow Meng is a licentiate examined and approved by the Session to preach and teach in PCC