and punishment

Romans 5:15–17 (NASB)

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Skeptics raise many questions about the gospel. Two common ones are addressed by this passage.

  • If Adam’s sin is the cause of our sinfulness, why does God hold us responsible? (There’s a predestination variant of this—If God is the first cause of our sinfulness, why does He hold us responsible?)
  • How does it make sense for God to punish His son instead of us for our sin?

This passage connects these two questions so that they answer each other.

But first we need a clarification. Number 2 is better stated in terms of God punishing Himself. Referring to the cross as God punishing His son makes it sound like He offered one of His kids as a child sacrifice. While Jesus is God the son, the trinity isn’t a family; it’s a Godhead. The decision for Jesus to take our punishment was a trinity decision. God suffered.

To be sure, there are levels of complexity in all this that we’ll never comprehend this side of eternity.

But this passage shows the similarity between how we acquired our sinfulness and how we got rid of it. The same God foreordained both things.

Through an amazing sequence of events, man started out with righteousness, lost it, and got it back.

This was God’s glorious plan.

This yields a beautiful combination—redeemed people who have no grounds for being smug about being redeemed.

Unfortunately, we tend to be smug anyway. Through faith we are credited with righteousness, but the actual righteousness is slow to develop. This disrupts our witness.

Paul is the perfect model of the right attitude; he sees himself as chief among sinners. Though he couldn’t be more certain that he’s going to heaven, he sounds like he will have a twinge of incongruity when he gets there. He knows he deserves hell, and he just can’t shake that feeling.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you Paul’s repentant humility.

We should forever wonder, “Why’d you pick me?”

All the weekly study guides, which include all five devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.