One of the most recognized names in the world of art is Rembrandt. Though he lived and painted more than 350 years ago, some would say the technique and emotive beauty of his works has been unsurpassed since then. As a testimony to the enduring nature of his work, two years ago, a matching pair of portraits of a young married couple painted by Rembrandt in 1634 sold for $180 million.
Rembrandt was known for his portraits and for depicting biblical themes. But what distinguished his works from others of his day was a sense of realism; other painters — both Protestant and Catholic — tended to paint pictures for the church that were mythological and unrealistic. But Rembrandt departed from that tradition throughout his works, but perhaps nowhere did he depart from the common practice as much as in his painting, “The Raising of the Cross.” In that work he not only depicted Christ on the cross being raised up in crucifixion, but he painted himself at the foot of the cross as one of the men who was helping to lift that cross into position. It was his way of saying that through his own sin, he was guilty of crucifying the Savior.
The picture is a stunning and harsh reminder of the reality of the sinful condition of all men. It was not just Rembrandt that was condemned as a sinner; Rembrandt has reminded us that we are all under condemnation because of our sin.
But of course our condition is much worse even than that. We are identified with Adam. He was our federal head, our representative, and when he sinned in the Garden, all mankind was condemned with him. This is Paul’s emphasis in Romans 5:12-21. The sin of Adam has condemned us. Having looked at this passage for four weeks, we can offer some summary applications and principles:
Our identity with Adam has left us personally culpable. God judged Adam and us for Adam’s sin with a sentence of death. The fact that death is present and reigns in this world indicates God’s condemnation against all sin. But not only are we culpable for the original sin that is in all of us at birth, but we are also culpable for our own sins. So Paul says in v. 12 that death spread to all men “because all sinned.” Not only was original sin in them through Adam, but all men also sinned themselves, demonstrating the righteousness of God’s wrath against them. So my problem is me. My problem is that I have sinned. I have wandered away from the truth of God and His righteousness. I have rebelled against God. I am responsible and I God has rightly judged me with a death sentence.
And that means that our identity with Adam has rendered any good works useless. Because I am a sinner both by nature and deed and because there is no part of me that has not been tainted by my sin nature, there is nothing I can do to please God. The inclination of the flesh is to attempt to self-justify. But the nature of the flesh is incapable of being justified. I simply can’t please God by my own “righteousness” (nor can any man). I can do nothing good and I will not do anything that God will find acceptable. All attempts at merit-based religion will only lead to condemnation (and that truth will shape how we share the gospel with those who are insistent that they can please God).
But thanks be to God that Christ has interceded. While Adam was a type of Christ (v. 14) in that the actions of both Adam and Jesus impacted and changed all those who followed each of them, Christ superseded Adam in every way. And for those who are identified with Christ through faith, their identity with Adam and sin and death are irrevocably changed.
Our identity with Christ means our sin is not victorious. It sometimes feels like sin is victorious in our lives, but the forces of sin and grace are not equal. Sin is powerful and destructive. It enslaves (6:16; Jn. 8:34; 1 Pt. 2:11). And sin kills (6:16, 23). Where does all the violence we see in the world come from? Sin. But even worse than that, sin kills the soul and leads to eternal death. But grace is always powerful over sin. Grace has the ability to remove sin permanently. And grace has the power to give life eternally. Once the grace of life has been granted, death is vanquished (1 Cor. 15:54-57). However much sin is increased, there is grace that is even more abundant than that sin to justify and declare the sinner righteous. Sin is not triumphant; grace is triumphant. Sin is great; grace is always greater.
There is our hope for living. There, in Christ, is the hope that we can be transformed, that we don’t have to sin and that we can live righteously and pleasing to God. We can’t please God by our own works, but with Christ in us and the Spirit working through us, we can please God.
All men are in Adam, but the work of Christ has transformed and changed us so that our identity is no longer Adam, but Christ. Our deeds are no longer only sinful, but now can be righteous. God’s judgment is no longer “death” but “life.” Our future is not eternal wrath but eternal hope and joy. And that’s why, while Adam was a type of Christ, we do well to remember that Christ is the second and greater Adam. What Adam took away, Christ not only restored, but gave much more. What was lost in Adam (sinlessness) has been superseded in Christ (righteousness). That’s our hope, and that’s why we worship Christ.