Do you ever read a familiar passage from scripture and see it more clearly than you ever have before? Ever had that happen and not really know why? This morning, I read the New Testament lesson (Romans 5:12-21) and thought, “You know, I don’t know why, but that actually makes sense to me today.”
Paul writes about sin. He’s using some typology that I’ve always found both helpful and confusing: Adam and Moses and Jesus and sin and grace. This time, though, instead of trying to line everything up, I think I read the lesson as a broad-brush picture, and I saw something new. This morning, one little piece of the puzzle jumped out at me, and I find myself celebrating the modernist Paul whose words stick out of this lesson like a 19th-century rationalist.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned-- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)
Paul uses the Genesis account of Adam to explain something more basic than that. He isn’t necessarily insisting on Adam’s role in sin, but he’s offering that as a tool that we may or may not find helpful. Basically, what I hear this morning is this:
Sin is real.
Sin is universal.
Sin leads to death.
The law highlights that fact.
But the law doesn’t change it.
Only Jesus can.
Anytime we deal with fundamental forces of human nature, we like to use stories to convey those truths. It’s harder to talk in the abstract about “original sin” and the human condition. It’s easier to tell a story that we all identify with. My problem has always been reading what Paul wrote as if it was a systematic approach to sin and redemption. You can systematize Paul, and Romans is a great place to start. But I wonder if that leaves something hanging.