Commentary on Romans 5:12-19
In our quest for human existence and meaning, we often forget where our desire to be on our own started and in Romans 5:12-19, one cannot help but hear Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 3.
Of particular significance is the perennial question God raised with both Adam and Eve, when God said, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9b). Whether it is Easter, Christmas, baptism, or joining a church, the voice of God in this question should always be heard because in whatever human predicament, God calls on humanity to answer this question and also to experience the compassion of God in all of what we go through in life. In other words, it is not a question of hiding because God knows that human beings are gifted with hiding, but the message is that God wants us to be open, bring ourselves to accountability, and be assured of a God who is always following and looking after humanity.
While our human predicament cannot rescue us, just as with Adam and Eve, Paul uses the original human failure as a pathway to envision ways through which God worked in Jesus Christ to bring us back to reconciliation. It’s through the death and resurrection of Jesus that God’s grace becomes the space open to all who seek to live in relationship with God and one another. For the apostle Paul, authentic relationships are only possible through grace.
Humanity justified by God’s grace: Romans 5:12-19
The human family has its roots in Adam and Eve, and our original relationship with God has meaning, purpose, and foundation in the first couple, who first experienced God’s compassionate voice of grace (Genesis 3:9). Although they fell short in whatever they did, God still came back to them and had a plan for the human family, and that plan manifested itself in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Consequently, that plan should be present in the church, and in some way, the ecclesia is God’s plan of serving and reconciling the world. God’s plan of salvation was and is still revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Life was distorted in what Adam and Eve did, but Jesus Christ reversed our sin by giving us new life through resurrection.
While resurrection is new life in Christ, Paul calls on 21st-century believers to see God’s grace that was embodied in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15). What humanity continues to distort is the authentic relationship between God and each other, so Paul calls both clergy and lay believers to embrace each other in grace-filled ways, just as God showed mercy to Adam and Eve.
In theological and spiritual ways, the death and resurrection of Jesus is still the gospel needing to be proclaimed to all humanity. The impact of the gospel on human relationships and in justifying all humanity whose faith is in God is what the apostle Paul hopes Christians in Rome, and consequently in the 21st-century world, hear. Jesus’ death and resurrection is indeed a reversal of what Adam and Eve did when they sought to disrupt their dependence on God. It is probably reasonable to see the garden in Genesis 3 as a metaphor signifying that humanity is called to be obedient to God’s generous offer of grace, then, now, and in the future.
Unfolding of theological themes in Romans 5:12-19
Several themes deserve our theological notice and these build on the grand idea of God’s generosity. First, we have grace as the underlying theme of which the gift of God’s love undergirds all other relationships. It is this love of God that is poured into the hearts of believers that Paul expounds on from Romans 5:1-11 and in the rest of Romans 5. Having been set into the right relationship by God’s offer of salvation (Romans 5:9-11), humanity must also respond by extending love to others who feel alienated or are in the church but not of the church. In practical ways, the loving actions of the church will indeed bring hope, transformation, and renewal into a world under desperation. Individualism has become the enemy of humanity, and Paul, in verses 12-19, invites the human family to be builders of communities of all people.
In our original humanness, we cannot do anything right, but when our humanity is baptized in the events of the cross and resurrection, a new family will emerge. As Adam was the leader of the human family, his sins affected all others, and in a similar way, if our 21st-century clergy leaders fail to lead, the church and all who attend its worship will also fail. It is in our failure that God comes to rescue us and offer us a new path. While humanity is bent on embarrassing those who fall short, God is on the other hand, filled with mercy and compassion, and all who believe in what happened on the cross will be restored.
In verse 17, the apostle Paul focuses on “those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” as the ones who most likely embody Jesus Christ in ways they seek to restore others. In the entire chapter, the church is called out to be the space where God’s gracious purposes unfold. However, with sin as the present reality in human life, with people refusing to live within the bounds God established in the garden or the world, the work of proclaiming the gospel is urgently needed in the 21st-century world. The theme of sin is generally overlooked by so many Christian denominations, and yet, the apostle Paul argues in this chapter that as offsprings of Adam and Eve, humanity has an entrenched tendency to rebel against God, and everyone is a candidate for sinning.
Implicitly and at times explicitly, the human family builds walls of separation with others, with the intent to control, silence, and marginalize others. Embedded in this chapter is both humanity’s failure to live by God’s offer of love to all and the ever-present reality of God’s generosity in terms of mercy, justice, and grace of which the church is the instrument of God’s garden in which compassion is manifested.