5:1 In chapter 5, Paul begins to talk not only about the process of salvation, but the results of salvation. The process, as he has said before, is that we have been declared righteous by faith. While faith leads to righteousness, it also leads to peace with God. Previously, we were God’s enemies. We were at war with him. Now, through Jesus, he has drawn us close and made us his friends.
There is another important commonality to point out here. Adam gave us sin through imputation. He deposited sin into our accounts so that we were born with it. Because he was our representative, when sin and death entered Adam, death spread to all people, because all sinned (5:12). The way out of death and into life is similar: Christ imputes righteousness and life into us. He is our representative, and in his righteousness we find our righteousness.
5:15 Adam may have given us life, but his main legacy is that by the one man’s trespass the many died. He left the legacy of death for us, but we don’t have any grounds to complain, because we prove every time we sin that we wouldn’t have chosen any better than he did. God’s gift of grace is not like the trespass. Unlike Adam, who gave us life and death, Jesus gives us only life. And while we earned Adam’s penalty of death, we receive the grace of God as a gift.
5:16-17 You can group the human race under two people—Adam or Christ. Every person you meet is either in Adam or in Christ, and that’s a difference with eternal consequences. The path of Adam leads to judgment, resulting in condemnation. But the path of Christ results in justification (5:16). God saves us so that we reign in life—that is, live lives of spiritual victory rather than spiritual defeat.
5:18 The sin we inherited from Adam—called original sin—is overridden by the death of Christ because through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone. By “everyone,” Paul means everyone. Thus, even though we are all born sinners, Christ’s blood covers us until we reach an age of accountability, that time when a person is capable of choosing to transgress and reject his revelation. So while there is condemnation for everyone, there is divine covering through Christ for those who have not yet chosen to rebel against God’s law. This explains how babies or people born with mental handicaps are saved by Christ’s death, since original sin is no longer the issue in those cases.
5:19 We are saved by works—just not our own works. We are saved by the works of Christ. Through Christ’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Because he lived the perfect life we should have, we can share in his perfect record.
5:20-21 The law came along to multiply the trespass (5:20), which would be a tragedy without God’s intervention. But the beauty of the gospel is that where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more (5:20). Indeed, anyone who has a deep understanding of his own sin knows this from experience: the more we see our sin as a violation of God’s perfect law, the more we stand in awe of God’s grace toward us. God’s grace, Paul says, is stronger than our sin. Sin may have reigned in death, but through Christ grace will reign through righteousness (5:21). Sin is simply not strong enough to overpower grace. Between sin and grace, in fact, grace wins every time. This is why it is essential for all believers to grow in their understanding and appreciation of the magnificent grace of God (see Titus 2:11-14; 2 Pet 3:18).