Natural Born Sinners (Romans 5:12-21)
When I was a kid, I used to rush home for lunch. I was only a few minutes away from school, so I could run home, make a quick sandwich, and turn on the TV in time to watch the lunchtime episode of The Flintstones. Remember that? We would rush back in time to make it back to school, but almost every day we would have time to see what was happening in the life of Fred and Wilma.
Occasionally, when Fred had a decision to make, these two characters would pop up over his shoulders and fight with each other. Fred was in the middle, and he would have to make up his mind which one to listen to. One was evil – the bad side of Fred. It had the pitchfork and the horns, and was red, and it would try to convince Fred to do the wrong thing – which wasn’t very hard. Then there was the good Fred, like an angel, making a case that Fred should do the right thing. Most of the time, Fred would end up making the wrong choice and end up doing what was wrong.
I know it’s only a cartoon, but I wonder: why is it so much fun to do the wrong thing? We like to think of ourselves as fundamentally good people, so why do we even have this battle going on in our heads? Why do we get that momentary rush when we give in to one of our passions – even when we know that we’re doing the wrong thing? I mean, when you give somebody a piece of your mind, doesn’t it feel good to have put them in their place? When you give in to a craving and do something that you know you shouldn’t be doing, doesn’t it feel good – at least for a moment – to have indulged yourself?
Most of us go through life believing that we’re fundamentally good people. I don’t know many people who walk around saying, “I’m bad. I’m evil to the core.” Most of us honestly believe that we’re really good people at the core, who want to do good things but occasionally mess up and make mistakes. Even when we make mistakes, most of us think that we just have to try a bit harder and be a bit more sincere and we’ll make it. We believe that we’re fundamentally good people who occasionally do bad things.
We even believe that when we get to heaven, we’ll stand in line and wait for God to judge us. When it’s our turn, we probably will be okay, because there’s a lot worse than us in line. Sure, we’re not as good as Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, but we are pretty good. And when we stand in front of God, we’ll admit that we’ve made mistakes, but then we’ll say, “But nobody’s perfect.” And then we’ll just wait for God to look at us, and open the doors, and let us into heaven, because we are pretty good. We could have been better, but we’re good. Most of us walk around thinking that we’re good, but not perfect, people.
The fact that you’re at church probably means that you recognize that you need a Savior. The tendency for a lot of us is to think that we’ll do so much, and Jesus will do so much, and together we’ll make it into heaven. And we’re trying our best to be really good people – but the problem is that we let ourselves down. And we end up beating ourselves up because we keep on messing up. And if you’re like me, you’re occasionally very frustrated with yourself because you want to be good, but you keep on doing bad things. You can’t figure out why you’re good, yet you sometimes want to do bad things.
I want to take you to a passage of the Bible today that will explain the problem, and it will also give you a solution. And it’s all based on a premise: you’re not good. The Bible says that you aren’t a good person who occasionally does good things. You are a bad person who occasionally does good things. We don’t like to hear that, and it might offend you, but it’s the truth about who we are.
That’s why we get frustrated. If we’re always losing our temper, or getting impatient, or lusting, or being unkind, why don’t we just stop? If we were fundamentally good people, we could go for counseling and pay our $90 per hour, and the counselor could just look at us and say, “Stop being bad. Just stop.” But instead we find that our issues are deeper, and our struggles are more persistent, and no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to stop doing the things we don’t want to do.
Every person who’s stood at the altar to be married has wanted to be a good husband, a good wife. But a lot of us are in marriages now after five or ten or fifty years, and we look at ourselves and say, “We haven’t been good. I wanted to be good. But I haven’t always been a good husband, a good wife. It hasn’t been for lack of trying. I just haven’t been good.”
There’s this pull in us to do the wrong thing, and sometimes the harder we resist, the more we want to do it. We can’t figure out what the problem is, but God can. The problem is sin. The problem isn’t a mistake. A mistake is when you add up numbers wrong and forget to move the decimal. The problem is sin. The problem isn’t an act. The problem goes deeper than that. It goes to our very nature. If you don’t believe that, then just think of your children. You never have to teach a child, “Here, let me show you how to hit your sister. Today’s lesson is how to be disrespectful to your mother.” We don’t have to teach that, because there’s something in our nature as human beings that just knows and wants to do the wrong thing. And the solution comes when we recognize this as our problem, when we come to grips with reality, and when we also figure out that there’s a solution that God has for our most fundamental problem.
Look at me at Romans 5. Paul’s just spent a lot of time proving that nobody’s righteous before God, but Jesus died so we could be declared righteous despite the fact that we’re not righteous by ourselves. But somebody who is logical might have thought, “Paul, what difference does Christ’s righteousness make for me? I mean, Jesus was righteous – I accept that – but how does that make a difference in my life?” And Paul begins to explain that there’s something in us that can be changed – something that goes far deeper than our behavior. It’s called our nature. It’s who we are. And Paul begins to explain what exactly it is about our nature that God wants to change.
Romans 5:12 says, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” The Bible describes the effects of the first sin committed by the first person who ever lived as having brought sin and death into the entire world. What Paul is saying is this: God created humanity as fundamentally good. But Adam made a choice that fundamentally changed the nature of humanity: Adam did bad, and as a result all of humanity became bad. And when all of humanity became bad, all kinds of other things happened as well – both sin and death entered the world. Romans 5:12 says that when Adam sinned, all of us sinned.
You may be there saying, “That’s not fair. I wasn’t there. I never appointed Adam as my representative to decide whether I would be a sinner or not.” You may even feel that if you had been in Adam’s place, you would have made a different decision. It may not seem fair – but it’s true anyway. We can’t really complain too much about being guilty for Adam’s sin, because we’ve committed enough sins of our own anyway. It may not seem fair, but it’s true.
If a baby is born to a crack mother, I’m told that the baby just cries constantly. There are places in which volunteers come to hold these crying babies all day and all night who are crying, because their mothers used crack. It’s not fair that those babies are suffering for a choice they never made – but it’s true. And Adam’s choice to sin likewise affected you and affected me, so that you are a natural born sinner. You aren’t a sinner because you sin; you sin because you’re a sinner. It’s who we are by nature.
In the 1980s, zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes. They had never been here before. They came in through normal shipping traffic – perhaps introduced by just one boat. Scientists believe that it’s impossible to completely eradicate the zebra mussels from the Great Lakes since they’ve been introduced. One boat may have contaminated the Great Lakes forever. One spore has been known to wipe out 2,200 acres of forest. One sin contaminated all of humanity.
Biologists are discovering the truth of what Paul has written. Time Magazine came out with an article a few years ago called “Science and Original Sin.” It said that scientists are discovering that we are born with a genetic predisposition to do wrong. We have a hereditary dark side. In fact, it’s possible that some immoral behaviors are passed on to us by our parents – things like a propensity for alcohol, drugs, perhaps even a bad temper. You may be thinking, “Whew! That let’s me off the hook. I can’t help it. I was born this way.” And you’d be partly right – you were born that way. The Bible’s been teaching it for years. We were born with a sin nature.
We think, “Okay, I’m a sinner. I know what I’ll do to compensate. I’ll try to do good things. I’ll try to follow God’s law.” When Paul wrote Romans, he writing to a group of some people who had tried their best to keep God’s law as a way to earn his favor. But Paul explains in verses 13 and 14 that their problem isn’t even keeping the law or not keeping the law. It goes deeper than that. It goes to their natures. “Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. And though there was no law to break, since it had not yet been given, they all died anyway-even though they did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did” (Romans 5:13-14). That’s our problem – not God’s law. Even if God hadn’t commanded us to do anything or to not do anything, we would still be born with a problem. Breaking God’s law isn’t what leads to death. The problem is that because of Adam, we were born as something less than God created us to be. The law is only there to show us our problem. Romans 5:20 says, “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were.” But the real problem is that we’re born with a nature that is less than what God intended. We’re born with a sinful nature.
That’s why we continually let ourselves down. That’s why we keep struggling with issues and can’t seem to change. The problem isn’t our behavior. That’s a symptom of the problem. The real problem is our nature. It’s that we were born with a sinful nature, and no amount of trying or effort will fix the problem on that level.
The good news is that God is also able to fix us at the level of the problem. What God messed up, God fixed up. Romans 5:14 continues, “What a contrast between Adam and Christ, who was yet to come!” Most religions have books. Most religions have places of worship and prophets. But only Christianity has a Savior. Paul explains that Jesus came to undo the mess that Adam had made. Jesus came to give us a new nature.
Paul explains that Jesus came to make two huge differences in who we are, at the level of our nature:
1. JESUS CAME TO FREE US FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN
Romans 5:15 says, “And what a difference between our sin and God’s generous gift of forgiveness. For this one man, Adam, brought death to many through his sin. But this other man, Jesus Christ, brought forgiveness to many through God’s bountiful gift.” Adam brought death to us because of his sin. Jesus brought forgiveness to us as a result of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus came to bring forgiveness where Adam brought us death.
Verse 16 continues, “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but we have the free gift of being accepted by God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Adam introduced sin to humanity through only one act, but that one sin has rippled down through the ages and caused unimaginable sins. It’s caused wars, hatred, murders, all kinds of violence. Think of the most unimaginable acts. You can trace it back to Adam’s original disobedience. But Jesus came to bring forgiveness – not only for what Adam did in introducing sin, but in what you and I have done in perpetuating sin. Jesus came to give us the free gift of forgiveness for all the wrongs that we have committed.
Verses 18-19 say:
Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life. Because one person disobeyed God, many people became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many people will be made right in God’s sight.
You can hear what Paul’s saying. Adam – condemnation; Jesus – life and righteousness. Adam – disobedience and sin; Jesus – obedience and a verdict of “not guilty”. Just as we were in Adam and all sinned when Adam sinned, we can be in Jesus when Jesus died for us, so that when Jesus committed his “one act of righteousness” – when he died for us – we were there too being made righteous because of what Jesus did for us.
You may have been coming to church thinking that you just had to try harder or to work a little better and being good, but Paul says here – you can’t help it. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact. You can’t help being bad. You were born that way. That doesn’t take away your guilt; it just means that you were born guilty. But Paul also gives the solution, and it isn’t to try harder or to be more sincere. The solution is trusting in what Jesus has already done for you. When you do this, you are forgiven and rescued from the penalty of sin.
But Jesus didn’t just come to rescue us from the penalty of sin. That’s what we usually talk about, but there’s more.
2. JESUS ALSO CAME TO FREE US FROM THE POWER OF SIN
Romans 5:17 says, “The sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” You may feel sometimes like it’s impossible to do the right thing – that sometimes you want to do what’s right, but you can’t. Paul explains the reason: that before God changes us, death is ruling over us. Not just death, but sin. Verse 21 says, “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We’ve all felt the power of sin, and now we know why. Sin and death have ruled over us.
But Paul gives us some good news: just as sin ruled over us, so now “all who receive God’s wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” We’re going to look at this next week. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re now dead to sin. You live in victory over sin. Jesus didn’t just come to rescue you from the penalty of sin. Jesus came to rescue you from the power of sin.
I want you to look up here. You may find all of this confusing. This may be a completely different way of thinking. That’s okay. But it does make a difference in your life. But I want you to hear what this means for your life.
If you’re here and you don’t have a relationship with God, here’s the takeaway. We spend so much time trying to do better and to be better. And what we need to understand is this: I’m fundamentally not a good person. Yes, I occasionally do good things, but my problem isn’t really that I occasionally mess up. My problem is that at the most basic level, we are not good people. And at the most basic level, we don’t need to try harder or be more sincere. At the most basic level, we need a Savior.
I know it’s tough to hear that. Our problem isn’t our parents and how they raised us, or our boss and how he just sets us off. Our problem isn’t that we need more counseling or education. Our problem is that we need a Savior. That’s why Jesus came – not to help you but to change you. Jesus came so that you could me a new you.
If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, if you’re a Christian, here’s the takeaway. We spend so much time trying to fight this thing that we call sin. We get so frustrated, because we know we’re new people; we know that we should do better, but we still fall into sin. We still get so frustrated, because we let God down. We hurt others. We disappoint ourselves.
For those of us who are believers, the takeaway is this: it’s a new understanding. It’s to understand what no sermon can make you change, no song can inspire you to realize: it’s to understand the basic truth that when you come to Jesus Christ and trust him with your life, sin has no power over you. You are not a slave to sin. When you are in Jesus Christ, there’s a fundamental change in your nature. Jesus has not only changed the power of sin over your destiny, but Jesus has also changed your will.
You may be sitting there thinking, “Well, I know my will hasn’t been changed. I know that I still want to sin.” Yes, and we’re going to look at this in the next couple of weeks, and how this new understanding can work itself out in your life. But for today, what a difference to understand: I’m not a slave. This thing called sin is no longer the core of who I am. I don’t have to give in. Sin has no power over me.
When you become a Christian, whatever it is – lust, anger, impatience, materialism, whatever – it can still tempt you. You can still make a choice to fall into that behavior. God doesn’t take away your ability to make choices. But God does give you the freedom from its power. You don’t have to give in. And when tempted, it all begins with saying, “Wait a minute. My nature’s been changed. I’m no longer a slave to sin.” It’s to be able to say to that sin, when you’re tempted, “You are not my master.” You’ve been set free.
Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.” We know all about that. We know about what sin can take away – how it can deceive us and damage us. We know how it affects everything – our relationships, our work, our marriages. But Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” Jesus didn’t come to just give you eternal life one day. Jesus came to give you life and freedom from sin right now. Jesus came to give you his life, so that he could live in and through you.
My prayer for you today is what Paul wrote in Ephesians: that you would “understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead’ (Ephesians 1:19-20). My prayer is that God would open the eyes of your heart to realize that sin has no more power over you. You’ve been changed. There’s a new you.
Father, this goes so deep to the core of who we are. I would ask you to do today what no sermon could do, what no Bible study, what no song could do. I ask you to open the eyes of our hearts so we could see that sin has no power over us; that we have been freed from the power and the penalty of sin. Open our eyes so we could see that it’s not in our striving but our abiding that we can experience victory in our lives.
My prayer is that we would understand the freedom you’ve already given us, so that we could begin to experience that freedom perhaps even this week.
If you haven’t give your life to Jesus Christ, if you realize today that at the core of your being you are not a good person, and if you want to be rescued from both the penalty and the power of sin, would you pray to receive a new life – to accept what Jesus has already done for you, to accept the fullness of live that Jesus came to give you.
“Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). May we experience that new life this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.