The Contrast In Essence
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. (5:18–19)
The fourth contrast between the one act of Adam and the one act of Christ is in regard to essence. These two verses summarize the analogy of Adam and Christ.
As with the many in verse 15, Paul apparently uses all in verse 18 for the sake of parallelism, although the two occurrences of the term carry different meanings. Just as “the many died” in verse 15 refers inclusively to all men, so life to all men here refers exclusively to those who trust in Christ. This verse does not teach universalism, as some have contended through the centuries. It is abundantly clear from other parts of this epistle, including the first two verses of this chapter, that salvation comes only to those who have faith in Jesus Christ (see also 1:16–17; 3:22, 28; 4:5, 13).
Paul’s primary teaching in these two verses is that the essence of Adam’s one transgression (v. 18a) was disobedience (v. 19a), whereas the essence of Christ’s one act of righteousness (v. 18b) was obedience (v. 19b). When God commanded Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit, Adam disobeyed and brought death. When God sent His only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die, the Son obeyed and brought life.
Made translates kathistēmi and here carries the idea of constituting, or establishing. Adam’s disobedience caused him and his descendants to be made sinners by nature and constitution. In the same way, but with the exact opposite effect, Christ’s obedience causes those who believe in Him to be made righteous by nature and constitution.
From beginning to end, Jesus’ earthly life was characterized by perfect obedience to His heavenly Father. Even at the age of twelve, He reminded His parents that He had to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to do His Father’s will (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; cf. Matt. 26:39, 42). In His incarnation, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Christ’s obedience to the divine commandments is often called “active obedience,” and His death on the Cross is called “passive obedience.” Though He obeyed the law perfectly in His life, He also submitted to the penalty of the law in all its horrible fulness. Both active and passive obedience are included in the perfect righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers. It is therefore a righteousness that satisfies all the demands of the law, including the law’s penal requirements. The obedience of the One thus secured redemption for the many who will be made righteous in God’s sight. God—“who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5)—can therefore declare still-sinful believers fully righteous without any taint on His righteousness. he is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
The “practical use” of this truth is that genuine believers can truly sing with H. G. Spafford in his great hymn:
My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Justification by Grace
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
I do not know when or where it happened, but somebody was sitting in his apartment, getting ready to go to bed, when he heard his neighbor drop a shoe on the floor above him. The upstairs neighbor was obviously getting ready for bed, too, and the man below him waited for the thud of the other shoe. Afterward he must have talked about it, and the expression “waiting for the other shoe to drop” became an expressive figure of speech in our language.
Now we come to what we have been waiting for ever since we started to study Romans 5:12–21. Our expectation arose because Paul began this great passage with a contrast: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.…” But just when we were expecting the second half of that thought, he broke it off, and everything we have been studying since has in a sense been a digression, or parenthesis.
In fact, there have been two major digressions, which it might be helpful to review before proceeding.
First, Paul explained the sense in which “all sinned.” He did not mean that all have become sinners and have therefore sinned, though we would naturally think this, but rather that each of us was declared a sinner because of Adam’s original sin or transgression. It is true that we also sin and should be condemned for that, if there were nothing more to be said. But that is not Paul’s meaning. He meant that all have been accounted sinners in Adam, so that those who were going to be saved could be accounted righteous in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since this digression finished at the end of verse 14, we again expected the other shoe to drop. But instead of completing the contrast introduced by verse 12, Paul worked in another long parenthesis to show the differences between our union with Adam, on the one hand, and our union with Jesus Christ, on the other. This second digression started at verse 15 and occupied the next three verses.
It is only when we get to verse 18 that the second shoe finally falls and we get the full impact of the contrast. Paul backs up to give it, restating the first part again, although in slightly different words: “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men,  so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”
There we have it!
But then, lest we have fallen asleep in the meantime and have somehow missed the point after this long wait, Paul makes it again in verse 19, adding: “ For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners,  so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
What a great list of contrasts is implied here! In a previous study we have already seen “Three Great Contrasts” in verses 15–17. They were intended to show the ways in which the work of Adam and the work of Christ were dissimilar. The new list of contrasts in verses 18 and 19 shows the fullness of what Paul is teaching and serves as a summary. Those contrasts are:
Adam versus Christ
The one trespass of Adam versus the one act of righteousness of Christ
The disobedience of Adam versus the obedience of Christ
Death versus life
Condemnation versus justification.
Of these five contrasts, the greatest is the one between condemnation and justification, since this is what the chapter has been dealing with in one way or another all along.
By Faith or by Grace?
In the previous study, I said that we would be dealing with the subject of God’s grace through the end of Romans 5, and for that reason I have called this study “Justification by Grace.” But I wonder if that sounds right to you. We already know about “justification by faith.” It was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther having said that it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. But if that is so, why should we speak of justification by grace? The answer, of course, is that both statements are parts of the same truth, since the justification that is received by faith alone (sola fide) is also by grace alone (sola gratia).
A full statement of the doctrine would be: “Justification by the grace of God alone, received through faith alone.”
Justification is an act of God as judge by which he declares us to be in a right standing before him so far as his justice is concerned. We are not just in ourselves, of course. So the only way by which we can be declared to be in a right standing before God is on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, he bearing our punishment, and by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us by God’s grace. This grace is received through the channel of human faith, but it is nevertheless utterly of grace. It is apart from all deserving.
Is Etymology Helpful Here?
“Justification” is what this great section of Romans is all about, and we need to see the passage’s force. But before getting into the text, let me mention another reason why some people might be confused about justification and thus misunderstand it—the problem lies with the word’s etymology, its linguistic history.
Anyone who knows Latin can tell at a glance that “justification” is constructed out of two Latin words: iustus and facio, facere. The first word is an adjective meaning “just,” “equitable,” “fair,” or “proper.” In legal terminology it means “having a right status in reference to a law.” We have preserved the Latin term in English words like “just,” “justice,” and “justify.” The second word is a verb; it means “to make” or “to do.” We have it in such words as “factory,” which is a place where things are made, or “manufacture,” which literally means “to make a thing by hand.” Putting these two Latin words together, we have a meaning for “justification” that would go something like this: “to make just, right, or equitable.” Used of people, this would suggest that they are literally to be made righteous.
But here the etymology of the word justification is misleading to most English speakers. The reason is that “justification” actually refers not to a righteousness attained by or produced in an individual, but to the act of God by which the righteousness of Christ is credited to that person.
The context of Romans 5 is of great help in coming to understand and appreciate this term. You will remember from the list of contrasts I presented earlier that justification is contrasted with condemnation in verse 18: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” If this is the contrast, we need to ask what happens when people are “condemned.” Does the act of condemnation make them lawbreakers? To use biblical terminology: Does it make them sinners? Or does it merely mean that they are declared to be such? The answer is: It means that they are declared to be sinners. They are lawbreakers already. The act of condemnation merely declares this to be so and subjects them to whatever penalty the law in the case prescribes.
The same idea applies to justification. Even though the etymology would suggest that justification means “to make just or righteous,” the term actually means “to declare one to be in a right standing before God’s law.” In human courts, this might be on the basis of the individual’s own personal righteousness. But this can never be the basis in God’s court, since no one is truly righteous, as Paul has shown in the preceding chapters.
How can God declare us to be righteous, then? Only on the grounds of Jesus’ own perfect righteousness imputed to us. That is, we are justified by God by grace alone.
There is another explanation derived from the wording of verse 19. Paul says that on the basis of Adam’s one act of disobedience many “were made sinners.” We have already seen how that is to be taken. It does not mean that all were affected by sin and thus became sinning individuals, though that did happen and is true. Rather, here it means that the entire race was declared to be sinful because of Adam’s sin. That is why death passed upon all, even upon those (like infants) who died before they had any opportunity to sin. If “the many were made sinners” in that sense, it must be in a corresponding sense that “the many will be made righteous,” namely, through the one act of obedience by Jesus Christ.
The Obedience of Christ
This brings us to another important idea: the obedience of Jesus. Paul mentions this in verse 19, and it is the first time he has used the word. He has really been speaking of the difference between Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience all along, but up to this point he has used different terminology. What is the significance of his use of the phrase “through the obedience of the one man” here?
In discussing the obedience of Christ, theologians usually distinguish between what is called the active obedience of Jesus and the passive obedience of Jesus.
The active obedience of Jesus refers to his submission to and active conformity to the law of Moses. Do you remember how in Galatians Jesus is described as having been “born under law, to redeem those under law” (Gal. 4:4–5)? This means that when Jesus became man he deliberately subjected himself to the law of Moses, so that when he went to the cross to die for our sin, it might be known that he did so as a perfect sin-bearer, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).
Jesus’ baptism signified the same thing. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John protested at first, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). He meant that Jesus was perfect, that he needed no baptism of repentance from his sins. But Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). In other words, Jesus did not come to John for a baptism of repentance, as the others were doing, for he had no sin for which to repent. By his baptism he identified with us, putting himself under law as our federal head or representative. The law was there to be kept, and Jesus kept it. Throughout his life he exercised a full and active obedience to God’s standards and thus showed himself to be the only acceptable sacrifice for sin.
The passive obedience of Jesus Christ is something else. It refers to his submission to the cross. Do you recall how Jesus wrestled with this in Gethsemane? He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me …” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus was not asking if he could somehow escape the cruel death of crucifixion. It was his being made sin for us that troubled him. He was to be placed on the cross, and the full weight of the sin of men and women was to be placed on him and punished there. The Father was even going to turn his back upon him. That is what Jesus dreaded and what he referred to when he asked if there were not some other way open.
This was Jesus’ passive obedience, and it is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the obedience of the one man” through which “the many will be made righteous.” Christ’s active obedience qualified him for this role. But it was his one act of passive obedience, corresponding to Adam’s one act of disobedience, that atoned for our sin and made it possible for the Father to credit Jesus’ righteousness to our account.
Where are Your Sins?
But enough explanation. Here is an illustration from the life of Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of my predecessors as pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. It is the story of his conversion.
When Barnhouse was about fifteen years old he heard the testimony of a man who had been a narcotics addict but had been delivered from that life and become a minister of the gospel. Barnhouse approached the man and asked about his experience of Christ, because he believed that the preacher had something he himself lacked. The preacher gave him an object lesson. He took Barnhouse’s left hand, turned it palm upward and then said intently, “This hand represents you.” On it he placed a hymnbook, saying, “This book represents your sin. The weight of it is on you. God hates sin, and his wrath must bear down against sin. Therefore, his wrath is bearing down on you, and you have no peace in your heart or life.” It was a good statement of the truths in Romans 1, and Barnhouse knew it was true.
Then the preacher took the young man’s other hand and said, “This hand represents the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior. There is no sin upon him, and the Father must love him, because he is without spot or blemish. He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased.” There were Donald’s two hands, the one weighted down by the heavy book, the other empty. Again he knew it was true. He had the sin. Jesus had none.
Then the older man put his hand under Barnhouse’s left hand and turned it over so that the book now came down on the hand that previously had been empty. He released the left hand, its burden now transferred to the hand that stood for Jesus. Then he said, “This is what happened when the Lord Jesus Christ took your place on the cross. He was the Lamb of God, bearing away the sin of the world.”
While the hymnbook representing Barnhouse’s sin still rested on the hand representing Jesus Christ, the preacher turned to his Bible and began to read verses that taught what he had just illustrated.
First Peter 2:23–24: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sin in his own body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.…”
Isaiah 53:4–6 (the verses to which Peter was referring):
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
The preacher stopped reading and addressed the young man directly. “Whose sins were laid on Jesus?” he asked.
“Our sins,” Barnhouse replied.
“Whose sins does that mean?” the preacher probed.
“Our sins,” came the same answer.
“Yes, but whose sins are those?”
“Well, everybody’s sins—your sins, my sins …”
The older man interrupted and caught the words almost before they were out of Barnhouse’s mouth. “My sins; yes, that’s it,” he said. “That’s what I want. Say it again.”
Young Barnhouse obeyed. “My sins,” he repeated.
The preacher then went back to Isaiah 53:6. He put the hymnbook back on Barnhouse’s left hand and pressed down upon it as he read, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” The pressure was strong. But then he turned the book and hand over once again, so that the burden was transferred to the hand that represented Jesus Christ, and he continued his reading: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Barnhouse understood it then, and he never forgot it. In fact, he used that very illustration to teach many others about justification and lead them to the Savior. He also expanded it. For just as the transfer of the hymnbook showed the transfer of our sin to Jesus, where it has been punished, so also is it possible to show the transfer of the righteousness of Christ to us by movement in the opposite direction. As I showed when we were studying Romans 4, a double transfer is involved. Barnhouse used a Bible to show this corresponding reality.
Horatio G. Spafford knew these truths. He wrote:
My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! O my soul.
All of Grace
But this double transfer is all of grace! Nothing compelled God to act this way toward us. Nothing made Christ die for your sin or made God credit the righteousness of his Son to you. There was nothing in you, under that great blanketing weight of sin, that drew his love downward. God did it because it pleased him to do it, and because it is his nature to be gracious.
At the end of his very excellent treatment of these verses, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks whether we have understood the doctrine of justification by grace, and suggests (rightly I think) that there is a connection between understanding this and being truly saved. He does not mean that everyone who is saved understands everything about justification, of course. None of us does. He means that if these truths seem impossible or even crazy to you—if you are objecting, “But how could God possibly treat us as if we were in Adam and as if we are in Christ? How can he save us because of something someone else has done?”—it is probably because you are not saved.
For those who are not saved, these doctrines will always sound foolish. They may even sound like an invitation to sin, which is the objection Paul deals with in the very next chapter of Romans. It will always be thus, for how can those who do not possess the Spirit of God understand spiritual matters? Ah, but to those who are saved, these truths are wonderful. They are the very essence of life—which is, of course, what Paul speaks about here: “Justification that brings life for all men.”
If you understand this and it seems right to you—not pointless, incorrect, or irrational—and if you believe it, you are one of those saved persons.
19 Another term for Adam’s failure occurs in v. 19, namely, “disobedience” (parakoē, GK 4157). This word accents the voluntary character of his sin. Matching it is the “obedience” (hypakoē, GK 5633) of Christ (see esp. Php 2:8). This concept was highly meaningful for Paul, as we know from Philippians 2:5–11. The interpretation of that passage along the lines of a latent comparison between Adam (unnamed, but in the background) and Christ is most satisfactory. Instead of grasping after equality with God, as Adam had done, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient, even to the point of accepting death on a cross.
The result of Christ’s obedience is that “the many will be made righteous.” Does this refer to righteous character? Possibly so, if the future tense is definitely eschatological in its thrust, pointing to the consummation in glory, when imputed righteousness will have become righteousness possessed in unblemished fullness. But “will be made righteous” may simply be the equivalent of “will become righteous” in the forensic sense, as in 2 Corinthians 5:21, in which case the future tense need not be thought of as eschatological but as embracing all who in this age are granted justification. Most of these were indeed future to Paul’s time. Paul’s thought has not shifted away from the forensic.
Does the sweeping language used (“the many” being equivalent to “all,” as argued above) suggest that all humanity will be brought within the circle of justification, so that none will be lost? Some have thought so; the language sounds that way. But if the doctrine of universalism were being taught here, Paul would be contradicting himself, for he has already pictured some as perishing because of sin (2:12; cf. 1 Co 1:18). Furthermore, his entire presentation of salvation has emphasized the fact that justification is granted only on the basis of faith. Note the implied reference to faith in the words “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace” (v. 17). We must conclude, therefore, that only as “the many” are found in Christ can they qualify as belonging to the righteous. When it comes to describing the saving work of Christ, however, Paul does not shy away from universal language. Rather, he must portray it in absolute terms and with the broadest strokes. In principle, de jure, Christ’s obedience—his atoning death on the cross—can only be thought of as outstripping the effects of Adam’s disobedience. Paul would not be amenable to language that described the work of Christ as a “limited atonement.”
19 In case we have missed his main point, Paul reiterates it in this verse, using the same basic structure as in v. 18 but with different language. In contrast to the “all people” of v. 18, Paul denotes those who are affected by the acts of Adam and Christ by “the many” (as in v. 15). Two other differences are more important, suggesting that v. 19 is not just the repetition of v. 18, but its elaboration.
(1) Paul calls Adam’s destiny-determining action an “act of disobedience” (parakoē) rather than simply a “sin” (v. 12) or “trespass” (vv. 15, 17, 18). The characterization is, of course, a fair one since Adam and Eve had been explicitly told not to eat the fruit of the tree. In keeping with the careful contrasts that Paul has used throughout the passage, then, Christ’s work is characterized as “an act of obedience” (hypakoē). Paul may be thinking of the “active obedience” of Christ, his lifelong commitment to do his Father’s will and so fulfill the demands of the law. But Paul’s focus seems rather to be on Jesus’ death as the ultimate act of obedience. This is suggested by the parallel with Adam’s (one) act of disobedience. Note also the language of Phil. 2:8—Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”—and the consistent connection Paul makes between justification and Jesus’ death.
(2) As Paul chooses different language to characterize the era-initiating acts of Adam and Christ, so he also uses different language to describe the results of their respective acts. Rather than states, or destinies (death/life, condemnation/justification), Paul now describes these results in more personal categories: through Adam, the many “were made sinners”; through Christ, they “will be made righteous [people].” The verb that Paul uses in both phrases (kathistēmi) has a forensic flavor, often meaning “appoint.” Here it refers to the fact that people are “inaugurated into” the state of sin/righteousness. Paul is insisting that people were really “made” sinners through Adam’s act of disobedience just as they are really “made righteous” through Christ’s obedience. But this “making righteous,” in light of the focus throughout this text on one’s state or position, means not to become “morally righteous” people but to become “judicially righteous”—to be judged acquitted, cleared of all charges.281 The future tense of “made righteous” may suggest that Paul is here thinking of the final aspect of justification, the verdict rendered on the day of judgment.
In both parts of the verse, then, we are dealing with a real, though forensic, situation: people actually become sinners in solidarity with Adam—by God’s decision; people actually become “righteous” in solidarity with Christ—again, by God’s decision. But there is one important difference, plainly hinted at in the emphasis on grace throughout vv. 15–17: while our solidarity with Adam in condemnation is due to our solidarity with him in sinning, our solidarity with Christ in righteousness is not because we have acted righteously in and with Christ. While Rom. 6 suggests that we were in some sense “in Christ” when he “obeyed even unto death,” that obedience is never accounted to us as our own. In other words, while we deserve condemnation—for “all have sinned”—we are freely given righteousness and life. It is this gratuitous element on the side of Christ’s work that enables Paul to celebrate the “how much more” of our reigning in life (v. 17) and that gives to every believer absolute assurance for the life to come.
19 Verse 19 is confirmatory and explicatory of verse 18. This is apparent not only from the construction and content of verse 19 but also from the way in which they are related; verse 19 begins with “for”. “For as through the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, even so through the obedience of the one the many will be constituted righteous.” We have here again a completed comparison after the pattern of verse 18. Though the doctrine is substantially the same, new facets of this doctrine are set forth.
(1) “The disobedience of the one man.” The sin of Adam is characterized as transgression (vs. 14), as trespass (vss. 15, 17, 18), now as disobedience. Each term possesses its own emphasis and indicates that the fall of Adam was regarded by the apostle as sin in all the respects in which sin may be defined.
(2) “The many were constituted sinners.” In the preceding verses we found that death passed on to all men by reason of the sin of Adam (vss. 12, 14, 15, 17). We found also that condemnation was pronounced upon all men through the sin of Adam (vss. 16, 18). Implicit in these reiterated declarations is the solidarity that existed between Adam and posterity. It would have been a necessary inference from the solidarity in death and condemnation to posit a solidarity in sin also, because death and condemnation presuppose sin. But we are not left to inference. The apostle is now explicit to the effect that the solidarity extended to sin itself. We discovered earlier that the only feasible way of interpreting the clause in verse 12, “in that all sinned” is that this refers to the involvement of all in the sin of Adam. But again the propriety of that interpretation is demonstrated by what is now said expressly in verse 19, “through the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners”. The expression used here “constituted sinners” is definitely to the effect that the many were made to be sinners, they were placed in the category of sinners. Not only did death rule over them, not only did they come under the sentence of condemnation, but sinnership itself became theirs by reason of the sin of Adam. It is here again that the variety of terms which the apostle uses to characterize sin becomes eloquent of what is meant by being constituted sinners. Sin is transgression, trespass, disobedience, and therefore solidarity in sin is involvement in the disobedience, transgression, trespass of Adam. The last clause of verse 12 likewise can mean nothing less, for it says “all sinned”. By a confluence of considerations inherent in this passage we are informed that the sin of Adam was the sin of all and the solidarity in condemnation and death is traced to its source and ground, solidarity in sin. To attempt to escape from this conclusion is to waive exegesis.
(3) “Through the obedience of the one.” This is parallel to “through one righteous act” in verse 18 and there can be no doubt but it refers to the obedience of Christ. Even if doubt should persist as to the import of the “righteous act” in verse 18 there can be no doubt in verse 19. The obedience of Christ is stated to be that through which the many are constituted righteous. The concept of obedience as applied to the work of Christ on behalf of believers is more embracive than any other (cf. Isa. 42:1; 52:13–53:12; John 6:38, 39; 10:17, 18; 17:4, 5; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7, 8; Heb. 2:10; 5:8, 9). It is significant that it should be used here. It indicates the broad perspective from which we must view that accomplishment of Christ which constitutes the basis of God’s justifying act. Undoubtedly it was in the cross of Christ and the shedding of his blood that this obedience came to its climactic expression, but obedience comprehends the totality of the Father’s will as fulfilled by Christ. And this brings into the clearest focus what was implied in “the grace of the one man Jesus Christ” (vs. 15), “through the one, Jesus Christ” (vs. 17), and “through the one righteous act” (vs. 18).
(4) “The many will be constituted righteous.” The notion of being constituted righteous cannot be in a different category from the “justification” of verse 16 or “the free gift of righteousness” of verse 17 (cf. vss. 15, 16) or the “justification of life” of verse 18. We could not suppose that at this climactic point in his argument the apostle had introduced a category extraneous to the foregoing context or to his main thesis up to this point. This is to say that “constituted righteous” has the same forensic character as justification and must be a variant mode of expression. This consideration gives us the direction in which we are to interpret the antithetic expression, “constituted sinners”. While we must not tone down the latter so as to eliminate our involvement in the sin, transgression, trespass, disobedience of Adam, yet this involvement must be interpreted in forensic terms. Our involvement cannot be that of personal voluntary transgression on our part. It can only be that of imputation, that by reason of representative unity the sin of Adam is reckoned to our account and therefore reckoned as ours with all the entail of implication and consequence which sin carries with it. In the judicial judgment of God the sin of Adam is the sin of all.
Though the expression “constituted righteous” belongs strictly to the forensic sphere, yet we must not overlook the distinctive aspect from which justification is viewed in the use of this formula. Justification is a constitutive act, not barely declarative. And this constitutive act consists in our being placed in the category of righteous persons by reason of our relation to Christ. 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. And 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. Justification means our involvement in the obedience of Christ in terms of the same principle by which we are involved in Adam’s sin. Nothing less is demanded by the analogy instituted in this verse. Again, the involvement in the obedience of Christ is not that of our personal voluntary obedience nor that of our subjective holiness. This would violate the forensic character of the justification with which the apostle is dealing. But we must not tone down the formula “constituted righteous” to any lower terms than the gracious judgment on God’s part whereby the obedience of Christ is reckoned to our account and therefore reckoned as ours with all the entail of consequence which righteousness carries with it. This interprets for us “the free gift of righteousness” (vs. 17) of which believers become the recipients and also how “through the one righteous act” judgment comes upon them “unto justification of life” (vs. 18).
The future tense in “will be constituted righteous” must not be taken as referring to an act that is reserved for the consummation. This would violate the nature of justification as a free gift received by believers here and now in its completeness and perfection. The future tense can well be used to indicate that this act of God’s grace is being continually exercised and will continue to be exercised throughout future generations of mankind.36 In this respect it differs from the judgment by which men were constituted sinners; the latter was a judgment that passed upon all men once for all in the identification of the whole race with Adam in his sin. The change of tense intimates the progressive realization of the fruits of Christ’s obedience through the ever-continuing acts of grace in justifying the ungodly.
18, 19. Consequently, as one trespass161 resulted in condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness resulted for all men in justification issuing in life. For just as through the disobedience of the one the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One will the many be made righteous.
As the word “consequently” indicates, not only is Paul now returning to the thought expressed in verse 12; he is summing up the argument of the entire paragraph (verses 12–17). The present passage places over against each other one trespass, namely, that of Adam (Gen. 3:6, 9–12, 17), a trespass here called “the disobedience of the one,” and one act or deed of righteousness, called “the obedience of the One,” that One being Jesus Christ. Cf. Phil. 2:8. Since in the preceding context Paul has no less than three times mentioned Christ’s death for his people (verses 6, 8, 10; cf. verses 7 and 9), it is certain that also here in verses 18, 19 the reference is to that supreme sacrifice. However, we should not interpret this concept too narrowly: Christ’s voluntary death represents his entire sacrificial earthly ministry of which that death was the climax.
We can understand that one trespass resulted for all men in condemnation, but what does the apostle mean when he states that also for all men one act of righteousness resulted in life-imparting justification? If in the first case “all men” means absolutely everybody, does not logic demand that in the second instance of its use it has the same meaning? The answer is:
- The apostle has made very clear in previous passages that salvation is for believers, for them alone (1:16, 17; 3:21–25, etc.).
- He has emphasized this also in this very context: those alone who “receive the overflowing fulness of grace and of the gift of righteousness” will reign in life (verse 17).
- In a passage which is similar to 5:18, and to which reference has been made earlier, the apostle himself explains what he means by “all” or “all men” who are going to be saved and participate in a glorious resurrection. That passage is:
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward those who are Christ’s, at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22, 23). Here it is clearly stated that the “all” who will be made alive are “those who are Christ’s,” that is, those who belong to him.
But though this answer proves that when Paul here uses the expression “all” or “all men” in connection with those who are or will be saved, this “all” or “all men” must not be interpreted in the absolute or unlimited sense, this still leaves another question unanswered, namely, “Why does Paul use this strong expresssion?” To answer this question one should carefully read the entire epistle. It will then become clear that, among other things, Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles. Over against that erroneous and sinful attitude he emphasizes that, as far as salvation is concerned, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The reader should carefully study the following passages in order to see this for himself: 1:16, 17; 2:7–11; 3:21–24, 28–30; 4:3–16; 9:8, 22–33; 10:11–13; 11:32; 15:7–12; 16:25–27. As concerns salvation, says Paul, “There is no distinction. God shows no partiality.” All men are sinners before God. All are in need of salvation. For all the way to be saved is the same.
In a day and age in which, even in certain evangelical circles, the unbiblical distinction between Jew and Gentile is still being maintained and even emphasized, it is necessary that what God’s Word says about this, particularly also in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, be pointed out.
Note that in verse 18 we are told that the one trespass resulted in condemnation for all, but that the one act of righteousness resulted in justification issuing in life. This shows that justification not merely overturns the verdict of “guilty,” setting aside the sentence of doom, but also opens the gate to life. For this concept of life—cf. verses 17 and 21—see above on 2:7.
Also in verse 19 Paul does not say, “Just as through the disobedience of the one the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One will the many be made innocent or sinless,” but “… will the many be made righteous.” To be sure, this basically means “to be declared righteous.” However, when God declares someone righteous, does that action ever stand all by itself? See the explanation of 5:5.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 99–100). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 371–372). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.