In America, we love to debate sin (i.e. what it is and what it is not). The current debate is over homosexuality. Thirty years ago it was divorce and 80 years ago it was alcohol. Who knows what the culture wars will be about in the future. The concern I have with these debates is that many people misunderstand the nature of sin; which then leads to the misunderstanding of the nature of righteousness.
Romans 5:19 helps us understand the nature of sin. It shows us that sin is not so much a rule as it is a condition. We are told we are “made sinners.” What this is saying is that once Adam disobeyed God in the Garden, Pandora’s Box was opened, and every person who descended from Adam was born a sinner. I was born a sinner, you were born a sinner, everyone was born a sinner. Think of it as a disease. Sin is not only something you do, it is something we are. The law (i.e. don’t murder, don’t covet, don’t lust, etc.) is what God uses to show us the condition of our heart. God uses rules to show us that we are rebels (“made sinners”) at our core, and we do not have the capacity to love Him (i.e. obey). The law acts like a mirror into our souls and causes us to see that we are by nature sinners.
The interesting thing is that the debate over what is and what is not sin actually provides more evidence that we are rebels at heart. If we weren't rebels we wouldn't work so hard to move the line of God’s law so as to argue for our self-righteousness.
So why is it so important to realize that we are sinners by nature? Because we must recognize that we don’t just need to tweak our behavior (or move the line regarding what is sin), we need a fundamental change of who we are. If we think sin is just a choice from moment to moment, we tend to try to earn our salvation with each battle we face. However, if we recognize that our problem is not circumstantial, but systemic, we will seek a cure that wins the war, not just the battles. The great news is that the war has already been won by the person of Jesus Christ. We see this in the second half of verse 19.
Verse 19 talks about “the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Who is this one man? Is it us? No, remember we are sinners and we can’t obey. None of us can. The only man that ever obeyed God completely is Jesus Christ. He lived a perfectly obedient life. He is not a sinner. He is God’s Son in whom God is well pleased. It is his obedience alone that Romans 5:19 tells us that we need to be made righteous. Jesus alone is the cure to our disease. Jesus alone is the answer to our condition. We need his righteousness alone, because we have none.
So the bottom line is that we are all “made sinners”. I am a sinner, you are a sinner, everyone is a sinner, and this is the purpose of the law. It is not about culture wars as much as it is about God’s perfect law showing us our imperfection. God’s Word shows us our rebel hearts with the purpose of causing us to see that we need to be made righteous and this by the means of One Man…Christ alone.