Reigning Grace

That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:21 KJV)

Our subject verse concludes a section that began at Romans 5:12, in which the works of two men (Adam and Christ) are contrasted. On one hand, we have the condemnation and death of sinners by the offence and ruin of Adam. On the other, we have the justification and life of believers by the obedience and righteousness of Christ.hat as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:21 KJV).

The key to understanding this contrast is to see a contest between subjects that reign – between “death” (5:14,17a) and believers who receive the “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (5:17b); between “sin” (5:21a) and “grace” (5:21b). Our union with Adam bound us captive to the universal reign of sin and death. Our union with Christ not only liberates us from sin’s captivating power but sees us as conquerors who enjoy the continuous and abundant overflow of God’s immeasurable grace. The purpose of the contrast, therefore, is to show that believers, once justified and “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (5:10), enter into the “super abounding” blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ’s conquest over sin and death (both physical and spiritual). It is through this conquest that God’s grace reigns like a monarch.

To grasp the wonder of reigning grace, we must consider sin’s reigning power, because the Spirit of God uses a simile – “as sin hath … so might grace …” (5:21). Apart from metaphors, a simile is perhaps the most common literary form used throughout the Bible to explain one thing by another (e.g., Pro 10:26; Joh 3:14; Jas 2:26).

From Romans 1:19-3:20, the Holy Spirit leaves us with no doubt as to the reigning power and destructive influence of sin upon the entire course of mankind. Every class of humanity is reviewed in three categories: perverted pagans (1:19-32), moralist hypocrites (2:1-16) and privileged Hebrews (2:17-3:8). Evidence from every generation is brought before the court of heaven and examined by the “Judge of all the earth.” Every thought, word and deed is assessed. The indictment is “there is none righteous, no, not one” (3:10). The minds, motives, methods, movements and mouths of all mankind are marred by sin (3:11-18). None has been, nor is, able to stand innocent. As the Lord once said through Isaiah, “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isa 1:6 KJV). As far as this world is concerned, no one has been able to keep God’s law nor escape sin’s reigning power (cf. Ecc 7:20).

Powerless to sin’s dominion over humanity, the whole world is found guilty before a holy and righteous God (Rom 3:19). Whilst the present dispensation is yet to run its course, the sharp, death-dooming strike of God’s gavel has already sounded. No jury is called in for this case, for an impartial verdict would be worthless. No defence lawyers can help, and there will be no court of appeal. The law has spoken to all and “every mouth” is silent. All mankind, both Jew and Gentile, according to their own conviction is “under judgment to God” (3:19 JND). To seal the solemn verdict of God, it is added that “by works of law no flesh shall be justified before him” (3:20 JND). In other words, it is impossible for mankind to justify himself by personal righteousness, self-effort or obedience to the law. All have fallen prey to sin’s reigning power and are therefore found worthy of sin’s judicial consequence – death (cf. Gen 2:17; Eze 18:20; Rom 1:32; 3:23; 6:23).

At this point in the epistle, it is both fitting and right that we ask: “How then can man be justified with God?” (Job 25:4). Thanks be to God, the section from Romans 3:21-5:21 teaches that the answer is to be found in the gospel of the grace of God. In responding to the “how,” this section will provide a threefold answer: all may be “justified freely by his grace” (3:24), “justified by faith” (3:28; 5:1) and “justified by his blood” (5:9). Grace is the means by which the righteousness of God is made available. The shedding of blood and the exercise of faith are the grounds upon which it is made attainable. Chapter 4 illustrates the truth that justification comes “by faith” alone, and Romans 5:1-11 outlines the tremendous results of justification “by faith,” “by His blood,” and “by His grace.”

From Romans 5:12-7:25, the Spirit of God takes up a new thought. Here, we are taught how God enables all believers in Christ to share in His conquest over sin and its reigning power. Whereas Romans 1:19-3:20 dealt with sins and guilt (i.e., what we have done through the flesh), Romans 5:12-7:25 deals with sin and death (i.e., what we have in the flesh). In other words, the acts of sin and the fact of sin; the symptoms of sin and the disease of sin; the fruit and its root. Inasmuch as provision has been made for acquitting the guilty sinner from “sins” (3:25) and “offences” (4:25) against God, Romans 5:12-7:25 will show how provision has been made for liberating believers from sin as a reigning monarch – a cruel and despotic oppressor that has relentlessly spoiled the lives of all mankind.

The resounding blast of sin reigning over Adam and every subsequent generation is summed up in three words: “and he died” (Gen 5:5). Or, “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men” (Rom 5:12 KJV). Apart from Enoch and Elijah who were caught up, none has been able to escape the reign of sin “unto [or in] death.” Unless the Lord comes to take the Church home to be with Himself, the date of our death is inscribed in indelible ink upon the calendar of God, for “it is appointed unto men once to die” (Heb 9:27). “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground” (2Sa 14:14 KJV). Hence, sin reigns in death.

However, the prevailing conquest of grace over sin is that where sin has “abounded” (Strong’s G4121, pleonazo), grace has “abounded beyond measure” (G5248, huperperisseuo, Rom 5:20). In other words, where the tide of sin in a measure increased, the overwhelming flood of God’s grace immeasurably inundates. But how has grace prevailed? Just “as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life” (5:21 KJV). Here, a simile (“as … so …”) is used. It is the fourth simile in the passage (cf. 5:12,18,19), and serves to illustrate the prevailing nature and extent of the eternal reign of grace. In just the same way that sin reigned in the death of sinners, God’s grace will reign through the eternal life of believers, made available by Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing can snatch believers out of the Lord’s hand, nor “out of [the] Father’s hand” (Joh 10:28,29). What is more, death will be “swallowed up in victory” and the grave will be powerless (1Co 15:53-57). In this sense, grace will reign like a king without rival or compare; without challenge or defeat. Grace is an unconquerable monarch, and rules through righteousness in and through the risen life of Christ.