"THAT GRACE MIGHT REIGN THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS"
By Ian Potts
“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:21
This verse sets before us, in stark contrast, two reigns - two rules, two dominions, two powers - and the effects of their reign: the one unto death and the other unto eternal life.
The contrast could not be more vivid. The consequences could not be more opposed. Their importance cannot be overstated.
Yes, one reign is unto death, but the other is unto life - eternal life.
The first is the reign of sin. What a reign this has over men, and how devastating the consequence – death! How far reaching are the effects of sin, how vast is the kingdom over which sin has reigned, how many are its citizens! As we read in Romans :
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”
Yes, all have sinned. There is not one of us who has escaped the reign and the dominion of sin. It entered the world by one man, Adam, when he turned from God his Maker in disobedience and rebellion, and has been passed down to all his posterity ever since. We are all born with the same sinful, rebellious, selfish, wilful and disobedient nature into which Adam fell and by which the dreadful consequence of sin entered the world - death: “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”. We can no more escape the consequence of sin - death - than we can escape or ignore the cause - our sin - and its permeating effects upon all we do and say.
Sin reigns, and mankind finds himself captive to this reign. Not only do we find ourselves captive to a decaying and death-filled world, not only do we see the effects of death in our bodies as we age, and suffer illness, weariness, pain, tiredness, sorrow and misery as the days of our lives pass by towards their inevitable conclusion, but we also find ourselves captive to a spiritual death. We find ourselves unable and unwilling to approach God. We have no desire for Him. Sin leads us in another direction. The true communion which man, in Adam, had with his Maker was shattered when he turned his back upon God. The LORD God once walked with Adam in the garden, but when sin entered the world God cast Adam out from His presence and a great gulf was fixed between man and God. That gulf was caused by sin and by its result – death.
When Adam chose to turn his back upon the Tree of Life which was in the midst of the garden and eat instead from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - by the eating of which he desired to become as a god (Genesis 3:5) - he chose a terrible pathway unto death. By choosing to put himself under another reign from God’s, by choosing to place himself under another dominion mankind became a captive to it. Man in his lust for power desired to reign himself, but in his folly, his own sin took reign over him and he fell captive to it. Sin’s lusts, desires, motives, intentions and resolves all drive man in a certain direction – away from God; away from the only One in whom is life; away from Jesus Christ, who to know is life eternal; away from God and into death, for “sin hath reigned unto death”.
What a reign sin has over us. How captive we are under it. But how captivated we are by it! Not only has sin reigned over us but we have lovingly embraced its reign! Not only are we unable to turn from sin to God, but we are also unwilling. We choose to go this way. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Romans 3:10-11. Not one of us can claim innocence for like our father Adam we have willingly embraced the fall, we have said of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “We will not have this man to reign over us”, and in our pride and lust for power we have sought to place ourselves upon the throne. We will reign, won’t we? Don’t our natural hearts speak that way? But in such foolish desire our sin takes hold of us and keeps us captive. Sin reigns… unto death.
But praise God that Romans doesn’t end with just this one reign! Praise God that there is another reign whose power is so much greater and whose results are so gloriously different! Praise God that this verse has an “even so” in the middle!
“…even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:21
Even so. Even so despite the reign of sin. Despite its power and its awful consequences. Even so, though mankind has willingly embraced sin. Even so, though mankind willingly sinned and brought death upon himself. Even so, though mankind has chosen this reign of sin and deserves nothing better.
“Even so”. Even so, might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Yes, though God would be just to leave man to himself; though God could justly destroy His creation and the rebellious creatures who turned against Him, nevertheless, even so, God has chosen to be gracious. He is a God who delights in showing mercy. A God who is longsuffering. A God who is love. A God who saves. A God who graciously sent His Son to save His people from their sins.
For there is a reign greater than that of sin: the reign of grace. What a contrast we see in Romans 5:21. Sin reigned unto death, but grace reigns unto eternal life.
The reign of sin was a reign of man’s rebellion and disobedience towards his God, which brought in death. But the reign of grace is that of God showing His unmerited favour towards man, in spite of his rebellion, in order to freely give him eternal life in Jesus Christ. The one is of man and the other is of God. The one brings death but the other brings life. The former was earned, merited by man’s actions, but the latter is unearned, unmerited, it is a free gift from God to man for no other reason than God’s mercy and loving-kindness to those whom He chose to have mercy upon. The one is chosen by man through his free will but the other is granted freely by God through His Sovereignty. The one abounds under the law which demands of man and condemns his offences, but the other abounds much more being freely given to repentant sinners and forgiving their offences. Oh, what a contrast we see in these two reigns!
We see here that however great the reign of sin might be, the reign of grace is greater! However powerful a force sin might be, it is nothing compared to grace. However strong a grip sin might have upon man, it can not stand before the invincible power of God’s grace in saving sinners. For we read that “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20) and that although through the offence of one (Adam) many are 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) and “…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” Romans 5:17.
The reign, the power, of sin, however great is nothing compared to the power of God’s grace. When God sets his grace upon a sinner nothing stands in its way. When grace reigns all other dominion is cast aside. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14.
In fact the only way that man can be delivered from the reign of sin over him is by God’s grace. There is no other way. Sin is within man, it rules him, it motivates him, it reigns over him. Only by an act of God’s grace in delivering man from his sin, in taking that sin away, in blotting it out so that sin is no more, can man be free of its dominion.
No reformation of character or manners can achieve such a deliverance. No works or effort that man can make to live more uprightly can deliver him from the absolute tyranny of sin under which he finds himself. The very best deeds of mankind, the most noble exploits, the most charitable actions he can bring himself to do are still tainted by that sin which he finds within himself. He is ruled by it. “For even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. That’s right, even our righteousnesses. Our best deeds are marred by sin.
Some would turn to the law of God in an attempt to subdue sin and live a life pleasing to God. They think that if they can attain to its requirements they will find favour with God. But they couldn’t be more wrong because when sinful man puts himself under that law, far from subduing sin the law inflames it! Far from it leading man to life it simply shows man the vileness of his own heart, it stirs up sin within and so it condemns him. As we read “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.” Romans 5:20. Not subdue, notice, but abound. That is why God gave the law, to show man his sin. That the offence might abound, that man might be condemned and that he might be led to flee unto that one Deliverer from sin and death, even Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The law might set forth a standard of righteousness which God expects of man and demands of man, but experimentally when man puts himself under that law, the knowledge he acquires, in experience, is not one of righteousness but of sin. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20. This experience of sin actually abounding under the law is what Paul knew and wrote about in Romans 7: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”
There is nothing wrong with God’s law. The problem lies with the sin within us and the effect of that law upon sin. The law “is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” Romans 7:12-13. Yes, as Romans shows, when the law entered the offence abounded. The law provided no deliverance from sin – it made it worse, in order to show us our sin.
“…But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” Romans
But praise God that there is a deliverance from sin. There is another reign, a greater reign: the reign of grace! And how wonderful that where sin abounds - in those shown their sinfulness by God through the application of His law demonstrating to them their sin and inability to deliver themselves from it and its reign - that grace much more abounds! There is no sin too great, no sinner too sinful, for grace to overcome - for where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!
Yes, grace reigns – and what a reign! What a power grace is. How great is its kingdom, even the kingdom of heaven. How many are its citizens! But grace and its reign can no more be considered apart from the One who grants them any more than sin and its reign can be considered apart from the one by whom they entered the world. Sin entered by one man - Adam, but the grace of God comes by one Man - even Jesus Christ the Lord. It is this fact that makes grace so glorious and its reign so triumphant. The first man is earthy and brought in sin and death, but the Second Man, the Last Adam, is heavenly - a quickening spirit - and He brought in righteousness and everlasting life. Christ, the Son of God, is both man and God, both human and divine. As God He is sovereign over all, He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. Hence His grace reigns for it is the grace of a King, the grace of a sovereign. It is Sovereign Grace and as a King Christ gives it to whom He will. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Romans 9:15. Oh! To be a recipient of such grace. Oh! To be under its reign!
Yes, grace reigns, but it does so…
Grace reigns through righteousness. Grace does not reign in isolation. God’s mercy towards man is not at the expense of His justice. No, grace reigns through righteousness and God’s grace is seen in His righteousness, in His justice. Without righteousness, without justice, there could be no reign of grace for the reign of sin must be overcome. Sin must be dealt with in order for God to be just and the justifier of the ungodly. Grace reigns, yes, but it reigns through righteousness.
Righteousness and the revelation of God’s righteousness are at the very heart of the Gospel. They are what give the Gospel its power. Hence Paul writes “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation…” Romans 1:16. Why? “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith…” Yes, it is the revelation of God’s righteousness in the Gospel which gives it its power. Righteousness is that through which God judges the sin of His people in Christ their Saviour and delivers them from its reign and its power. It is through righteousness, by the revelation of God’s justice (righteousness) in Christ’s redemption that God justifies His people freely by grace.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:24-26
In the Gospel God has revealed His righteousness by judging and destroying sin and its reign over God’s people in their Substitute, Jesus Christ, as He suffered and died in their place in order to deliver them from sin, death and condemnation and make them righteous before God in Him. Hence, God justified His people ”freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”.
God did this in His Son, Christ Jesus. Only one Man could die in the place of fallen sinners to redeem them from the reign of sin, and that man was Jesus Christ. Only He could deliver His people from sin because only He was without sin. Christ was perfect, righteous and holy. As God who took upon Himself human nature in perfect union with His divine person, as One who was made in all points like unto us, yet without sin, as the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice acceptable unto God in the place of sinners. God declared His righteousness by judging sin in His own Son upon the cross, in the One who was “made to be sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Christ knew no sin. For more than thirty years He lived and walked in this world as a man born under the law and He lived in perfection. He never sinned, He never disobeyed God the Father, He never disbelieved the Father, He never ceased to trust the Father, He never ceased to worship God with all His heart, mind and soul, He never sinned - He knew no sin. Christ was made under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law. The law tested Him in all points, the full rigour of God’s law and justice tested Him to the limit and found nothing in Him to condemn. He was perfect. Having magnified that law and made it honourable Christ then willingly submitted Himself to death upon the cross in the place of His people. Though perfect, though innocent, though without a single fault or cause of condemnation, Christ submitted Himself to the will of His Father and gave Himself up to be taken by the hands of wicked men and nailed to a cross to suffer and die in the place of transgressors.
But what happened when Jesus Christ was nailed to that cross and lifted up to die, what happened when the light of the sun was darkened at the ninth hour was a mystery which was hid from the natural eye. What happened during those hours of darkness as Christ suffered in the place of His people was a tremendous transaction between God the Father and His Son which no natural man could comprehend. This was no ordinary death. No ordinary suffering. When Christ suffered upon the tree it wasn’t the natural pain and suffering which slew Him, but the supernatural outpouring of the wrath of God upon Him and what He had become vicariously in the place of His people.
At the cross Christ and His people were united together in death. As Eve was taken out of Adam’s side while he slept, so in Christ’s death, His bride - His Church - were united to Him and brought forth from His side washed in the precious blood of Christ which justified them and cleansed them from their sins. At the cross Christ became one with His bride, united to her, being made what she was – sin. Her sin became His. Her transgressions became His as He bore them in His own body on the tree. And in response the wrath of God the Father poured down from the vaults of heaven upon Christ the sacrifice to judge sin in Him, to consume it, to destroy it, to blot it out. As Christ endured the cross, for the joy that was set before Him - as He looked by faith to His Father in hope of the glorious resurrection in righteousness with His people - He endured the full penalty of God’s righteousness, God’s unflinching justice, against all the sin and transgressions of His people. He endured it. He endured the hours of torment, the hours of unspeakable suffering. Why? “For the joy that was set before Him” Hebrews 12:2. At the last, Christ would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Isaiah 53:11.
Through death Christ justified His people, freely by grace. For grace is not cheap. It comes at a price. Grace reigns, God justifies His people freely to them by grace, but it comes at a cost to Him. It comes through righteousness. Christ gave His life for His own. That was the cost. But why did He do this? Because He loved them. As we read:-
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” Romans 5:8-9
Yes, Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it” Ephesians . When Christ died for those He loves He placed Himself under the full justice of God. In so doing the righteousness of God was revealed in the Gospel and God judged the sin of His people according to His own righteousness. Not just according to the righteousness of the law, but according to the very righteousness of God Himself, to justify to life not just for this world, but for the next, for all eternity; to reconcile a people to God, to bring them unto Himself. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” Romans 3:21-22. It was this way, and this way only that God could justify His people in blotting out their sins and delivering them from the reign of sin. It was this way that the reign of sin was conquered and the reign of grace could triumph. Grace reigns, yes. But it is through righteousness.
At the cross God justified His people, freely by grace. His love was set upon a people who didn’t deserve it, a rebellious people, sold under sin, a people under the reign of sin and death. Yet at the cross God manifested His righteousness through the faith of Jesus Christ in order to destroy sin and its reign and deliver that people. God showed grace to a people who sought Him not, and that grace came at such a price – it cost the Saviour. He gave Himself for His own (Galatians ). Grace is God’s free gift to His people, but it came at a great price to Him. It came through righteousness exacted upon the Saviour as He stood in the place of His people, united to them in order to bring them through judgement unto everlasting life, carried through by His faith in the Father’s promise . At the cross God’s mercy and truth met together. At the cross righteousness and peace kissed each other. What a meeting place! What a transaction. What a reconciliation between God and man was made when Christ laid down His life that His people might live, when Christ was made sin that His people might be made the righteousness of God in Him, that they might have peace with God!
“Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:10.
Through the obedience of Christ, the obedience of faith, in giving Himself for His people, they are justified in Him, delivered from all condemnation, washed from every sin by Christ’s blood, justified freely by His grace. God in righteousness judged the sins of all His people in the Saviour, blotting them out through the shed blood, and, not only that, but He judged sin itself, that sinful nature His people inherited from Adam, by destroying it in Christ’s body on the tree, totally consuming it under His fiery wrath and indignation and taking it out of sight, so making that people perfect in Christ. In this way God could be just and the justifier of all those who believe in Jesus. In this way He could show His people mercy and grant forgiveness. In this way He could save His people from their sins by His grace. In this way He could deliver them from sin itself, Romans 6:6. In this way grace reigns - through righteousness. It is a victorious reign, a triumphant reign, a reign which overcomes all others, even that of sin and death which Christ conquered through His death as he took sin away and, having done so, rose again on the third day with everlasting life, victorious over all His foes. Nothing, not even death, could stand in the way of grace and its reign by Jesus Christ!
Yes, grace reigns, and it reigns through righteousness…
…unto Eternal Life by Jesus Christ our Lord
Grace has an end in view, a triumphant end – even eternal life. Whilst sin brought in misery and death, grace brings eternal life in Jesus Christ. What a glorious thing this is, what a hope is set before the believer, what an end is in view – eternal life. Everlasting life. Life without end. Life free from death, free from misery, free from sorrow, free from suffering, and free from the reign of sin. Yes, eternal life.
And how is this life brought in? By Jesus Christ our Lord. Grace reigns unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, because He is eternal life! As John testifies of Christ, the Word of God, the Word of life in 1 John 1:2: “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us”. To know Christ, is to know life, to have Christ is to have life, for Christ is eternal life. This is what grace brings – everlasting life in Christ Jesus.
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:12-13.
To have eternal life is to have Christ. To have Christ is to be in Christ. If we are in Christ we are made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians ) for we are justified by grace in Him, and if justified then justified unto life (Romans ). And if all this be true of us then we are under a new reign, the reign of grace, having been delivered from the reign of sin and death. Oh what a deliverance! What amazing grace that brings it. But at what a price! Grace reigns through righteousness. To save His people Christ died in their place, He endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). Why? “For the joy set before him”. What joy is this? To be glorified in the salvation of sinners. To be one with His people, His bride, united together in righteousness, in everlasting life, in eternal life around the throne of God. What joy! For grace reigns “through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord”!
Who are those who have eternal life? John tells us: ”He that hath the Son hath life”. And who has the Son? Those “that believe on the name of the Son of God” 1 John . Such are those who are “justified freely by his grace” Romans , those which “believeth in Jesus” Romans .
And just who are those who believe in Jesus? All those whom God chose in Christ before the foundation of the world to be saved by Him (Ephesians 1:3-12). All those upon whom God set His electing love, all the “election of grace” Romans 11:5.
Adam through his disobedience brought sin, death and condemnation to all his posterity, but Christ, the Last Adam, through His obedience brought righteousness and justification of life to all His posterity, the election of grace, Romans 5:18! For 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 5:21
Now, let us ask ourselves the question: which reign are we under? The reign of sin, or the reign of grace? Which do we love - sin or grace? What motivates us? What rules our life? What governs our thoughts and actions? Where are we heading?
Do we know grace and its reign over us? Has it been bestowed upon us? Are we recipients of it? Not claimants of mercy but recipients? Have we cried out to God for mercy, for grace, having been shown by God the Holy Spirit our desperate need of it, being full of sin and death, being held captive by nature under another reign? Do we know the reign of grace in our hearts? Does it reign over all our life, from start to finish? Do we know the SOVEREIGN KING who grants it? Are we citizens of His kingdom? Do we know Jesus Christ as Lord?
Can we say from our hearts with Paul “even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord”…?
Oh, to be able to join with Paul in saying“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20.
May God bless His word to His glory,