"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." (Romans 5:18 ESV)
A number of years ago, my wife and I had a fellow minister and his wife over for dinner. While we were enjoying our meal, the doorbell rang. When we opened the door, two Mormon missionaries greeted us. My friend and I began to engage them in conversation, asking them about their beliefs. Quite obviously, these two eager young men had paid attention in their training, rattling off evangelical-sounding answers to our questions. At one point, one of them said, “We believe that Jesus died to forgive us our sins.” I then asked him, “Is that all you need to enter heaven?” He thought for a moment and then looked puzzled. “I’ve never been asked that before,” he confessed.
How would you answer that question? We have seen that our sin disqualifies us from heaven. We are so wretched, so fallen that nothing we can do will save us from God’s wrath. Furthermore, as we will see next week, at the heart of the gospel is the cross, where Jesus made full atonement for our sins. But, in our text today, Paul says that the cross was the culmination of Jesus’s lifelong obedience. Jesus did not just appear on the scene of history and go straight to the cross. Instead, he lived roughly thirty-three years. Why? Paul tells us in this text.
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts the work of two Adams. The first Adam represented the human race and, as the old saying goes, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” Adam was required to obey God personally and perfectly, but his failure doomed all of us. Paul contrasts Adam’s lack of obedience with the triumph of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. His “one act of righteousness” was his entire life of obedience to God’s law, doing what the first Adam failed to do. Jesus never sinned in thought, word, or deed. The Old Testament makes clear that God not only requires a sinless substitutionary sacrifice; it also emphasizes that God requires a life of perfect obedience to his law (Lev. 2:1-16; Ps. 24:3-5). Here’s the main problem for all people: none of us can live a life of perfect obedience before God. What are we to do? The only solution lies in what Paul teaches us here in Romans 5. The perfect, sinless life of Jesus, climaxing in his sacrificial death, provides us with the required perfect obedience. The amazing news of the gospel is that Jesus’s perfect life is credited to our account, as it were, when we trust in him by faith alone.
God’s word to us here in Romans 5 is nothing short of astonishing. We learn that what God requires—absolute perfection in our lives, which none of us can obtain because of our sin—God provides in Jesus’s perfect obedience to his father during his earthly life. No other world religion, philosophy, or worldview teaches anything like this. Think about it this way. What are you ashamed of? What, if your friends found out about it, would cause you to want to stay in bed all day? The gospel tells us that Jesus’s life substitutes for all of our shame and all of the guilt that is ours before God. When we sin, when we fail, we must come again to this refreshing stream, this fountain of pure joy: Jesus is my righteousness. Not my doings or lack thereof. Therefore, take the words of the treasured hymn, make them your own this week, and receive joy unspeakable: “Upon a Life I have not lived, upon a Death I did not die, Another’s Life; Another’s Death, I stake my whole eternity.”