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Grace Alone – sermon

Romans 5:12-21

Look at yourself in Adam; though you had done nothing you were declared a sinner. Look at yourself in Christ; and see that, though you have done nothing, you are declared to be righteous. That is the parallel. We must get rid of all thoughts of our actions there is no boasting. We do nothing; all we are and have results from the obedience of the One – our Lord.” –Martyn Lloyd-Jones preaching on Romans 5:18,19, taken from: Romans 5: Assurance, p274.

Sermon audio here (sorry, my sermon not the Doctor's!)

Text below...

Romans 5:12-21

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Any idea what part of the bible that phrase comes from?

Trick question.  That is NOT in the bible.  Actually Benjamin Franklin said it.  But it’s become so popular and so religious sounding that in a recent survey of evangelicals in America over half of evangelicals thought the verse was from the bible and 84% of them thought that it was a thoroughly biblical idea.

But this evening we’ll see it is NOT a biblical idea.  It’s the very opposite of the bible’s teaching about salvation.

It’s NOT that God helps those who help themselves.  Tonight we’ll discover the truth of God’s grace.  God’s grace means that God, out of incredible love, helps and saves and blesses those who are completely helpless, completely unlovely, completely unworthy of salvation.  In fact the whole way that God sets up the world is so that our good works, our helping ourselves, has NOTHING to do with our standing before God.

No we are saved by grace alone.

That is the next phrase we’re studying in August.  We’re looking at the five great “alone” statements that were developed in the 16th century.  Martin Luther and John Calvin and others kicked off an incredible reformation of the church by returning to these biblical truths:


We are saved:

[by God’s] Grace alone

[through] Faith alone

[in] Christ alone

[revealed in] Scripture alone

[all to] God’s glory alone.

Last week we looked at the central truth – we are saved by CHRIST alone.  We thought last week about how Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father come down to save us.  We thought about Who He is: He is our Maker and Redeemer.  We thought about What He has done: In rescue He’s come and lived our life and died our death and risen again to God’s right hand to take us to be with Him.  He has plunged into hell and come back up, taking His people with Him. His Person and His work are SO IMMENSE that there’s no room for any other Person or any other work.  It’s Christ alone because He has taken all of our salvation into His own hands.  It’s all in Christ alone.


This week, as we study grace alone, we’ll see that the gift of Christ alone is a sheer gift to us. God sends Jesus to us not as a Reward but as a Rescue.  God doesn’t give Jesus to us because we’re worth it, because we’ve earned it.  We haven’t done anything to merit being given Jesus.  The only thing we merit is hell.  But instead of sending fire and brimstone, God sends His Son and He unites us to Jesus and gives us salvation in Him not because of any of our works but by grace alone.

This is so important because we are so prone to losing this truth.


When I think about myself, my sins, my good works and my God I am tempted to think of some system, whereby who I am is down to how much sinning I’ve done in the last week.  This week I’m up a percentage point cos I read my bible, last week i was down ten points because I committed that sin.  That’s the system we always get mired in.  And throbbing beneath it all is a view of a God who is sat back with a clip-board and pen marking us up and down with a look of slight disgust on His face.  That’s the world I’m tempted to believe in if I’m not reading my bible and paying attention.  And THAT is spiritual death.  It’s my prayer we’ll all be saved from spiritual death by studying these truths!

Let’s turn to Romans 5 to get shaken out of our natural ways of thinking.  As we turn here, get ready for your world to be turned upside down.  Because Paul will give us some mind-bending truths in Romans 5.

Here Paul is basically answering the question: How can our salvation depend on Christ alone?

How can it all be up to Him?  How can one man – Jesus Christ – be so important?  How can one man determine the fate of humanity?

Well Romans 5 answers – Welcome to planet earth.  One man determining the fate of humanity is as old as Adam.

From the very beginning, God has determined the human race through one man.

Verse 12 begins by saying: sin entered the world through one man – Adam.  When Adam ate the forbidden fruit he broke the one and only commandment in the whole world.  Sin was unleashed into the world and hot on its heals came its end result death.

But death didn’t just come to Adam for his sin.  Verse 12 says,

“Death came to all men because all sinned.”


All humanity sinned when Adam sinned.  Do you hear how radical this teaching is?  All humanity sinned (past tense) – we ALL sinned – when Adam sinned.  One man took the whole world down to condemnation.

And if you don’t believe Paul, he’s going to give you some proof from v13.  Essentially he’s going to say ‘think about it - how many laws for humanity were there from Adam until the time of Moses?

Only one.  “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.”  I mean sin is in the world – there’s still lying and murder and theft etc – but in all those centuries no-one’s actually transgressing a boundary until Moses and the ten commandments.

Nonetheless – everyone’s dying.

So whose sin are they dying for?  Adam’s.  That’s the argument from v13

13 for before the law was given [by Moses], sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam.

Grave after grave after grave is being dug between Adam and Moses but no-one is actually transgressing.  The only person who has broken a commandment has been Adam.  But he sins – and everyone dies.


And that’s what the bible says: When Adam sinned and fell and was declared guilty and judged – humanity sinned and fell and was declared guilty and was judged.  What happened to Adam happened to us all.

Because think about it, Adam – whose name just means “Man” or “Humanity” – Adam, when he’s in the garden, He IS the totality of the human race.  Adam IS man, he IS humanity.  And Eve comes out of Adam – she is just a part of Adam.  They sin and are driven out of the garden. Then they have kids, and their kids come out of them.  They are chips of the old block, and in turn those kids have kids who are, again, chips off the old block.  And on and on until – here we all are.

We have come from Adam.  Really.  Actually.  We have come from Adam.  You weren’t formed out of the dust the way Adam was, were you?  No, where did you come from?  You came from your parents, who came from their parents.  And if we trace our lives back up the family tree to our source – we would find ourselves IN Adam.

And when he sinned, we sinned.  When he was declared guilty, we were declared guilty.  When he was cursed with the judgement of death, we were cursed with the judgement of death.  Because we are in Adam.  In a deep sense we ARE Adam.

Sometimes people wonder whether they would have sinned if they were in the garden. That’s not how the bible thinks about it.  We were in Eden because we were in Adam.  His sin is our sin, His guilt is our guilt, His judgement of death is our judgement of death.

This is the doctrine of original sin, and it’s absolutely indispensible to true Christian faith.  You and I were born into a state of sin and guilt and judgement because we were born into Adam’s humanity.

We were not born good.  We were not born neutral.  It’s not even that we were born with a feeble nature that’s inclined to do wrong.  We were born sinful, guilty, deserving of judgement – because we were all born in Adam.

Now why on earth would God set things up like that?

Well keep a finger here and flick forward to Romans 11:32 – a really key verse:

32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.

God’s intention is to have MERCY on ALL people.  That’s His intention.  But notice He wants to have MERCY.  God wants to be gracious to all.  He does not want to be a rewarder of all – sitting back with a clip-board, waiting for us to impress Him.  He wants to have MERCY.

He wants a universe that runs on grace, not a universe that runs on merit.

So he doesn’t want a whole pile of people born neutral who try to earn their way while He grades their performance.

He has created a universe which operates on the principle of mercy – of undeserved favour and kindness.

And so He binds all people over to disobedience, so that life will not be about your efforts to be good.  No you are bound to be disobedient.  Rather, life will all be about His mercy in saving you.

And – turning back to Romans 5 – here’s how God does this.  Here’s how He binds humanity over to disobedience and then has mercy.  First He binds us to Adam in His sin and then He binds us to Christ in His righteousness.  That’s always the intension.  He determines the whole human race first in Adam so that He can have MERCY on ALL in Christ.

Look at how verse 14 ends:

Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

The whole purpose of Adam – was as a pattern of Christ – the One to come.

God sets up humanity so that we are determined by the Man at our head.  We are born in Adam but God desires humanity to be born again in Christ.

The whole point is for Christ to come and sum up a new humanity in Himself.  And where Adam failed, Christ would succeed.  Where Adam sinned, Christ would be righteous.  And Christ’s righteousness and salvation would be given to all who are in Him.  Just as Adam’s sin and condemnation was given to all who were in Him.

In one sense Christ does something very similar to Adam – He acts on behalf of His people.  But in another sense, He is the polar opposite, because He takes them in the very opposite direction.  That’s what v15-17 are about:

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Christ’s work more than answers Adam’s work.  Adam fell in the garden of Eden.  Pathetic.  Christ triumphed in the garden of Gethsemane.  Glorious.

Adam took humanity from innocence to guilt.  But Christ took humanity from a reign of death, from a gajillion sins, from oceans of judgement – and brought us (v17) to reigning in life.

Adam went to his tree to serve himself and he bought death for the human race.  Christ went to His tree to serve US and he bought righteousness and life for the human race.  On that cross Jesus was summing up all of Adam’s humanity, all of Adam’s guilt and sin and condemnation.  He faced it in full and conquered it all.  He rose up again new – completely beyond sin and death and judgement.  And He ascended to the Father’s right hand – the place of honour and rule and blessing.  And He took His people with Him.

What does this mean?  It means that we are either in Adam - under condemnation.  Or we are in Christ – on top of the world.

Listen to Paul unpack the consequences in v18:

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Do you understand this comparison of Adam and Christ?  It’s crucial to understanding God’s grace because, think of it this way:

Think of yourself in Adam, though you individually have done NOTHING, you are condemned.  Now think of yourself in Christ, though you individually have done NOTHING, you are saved, you are justified, you are righteous, you are on top of the world.  And it’s got nothing to do with your works.

You are either in Adam or in Christ.  You are born in Adam.  You must be born again in Christ.

But neither state has anything to do with your individual performance.

You are damned in Adam apart from your individual performance.  You are saved in Christ apart from your individual performance.  It’s not up to you – it’s up to your head.  If your head is Adam, you’re stuffed.  If your Head is Christ you’re saved.  It’s got nothing to do with ANY of your efforts.  It’s all by grace.

Jesus was always talking about this.  He was always talking about two kinds of trees that a person could be.  Matthew 7; Matthew 12; Luke 6; John 15.  Jesus keeps saying a person is either a bad tree or a good tree.  And you have to be made into a good tree.  A good tree produces good fruit, a bad tree produces bad fruit.  But the fruit doesn’t make the tree, the tree makes the fruit.  The fruit just reveals what kind of tree it is.

All of this is a picture of us.  We’re either in Adam or in Christ.  And in Adam we produce a certain amount of bad fruit – sins that we individually commit.  Some people commit a lot of sins – they are very fruitful bad trees.  Others manage to prune back most of their bad fruit.  But they still ARE bad trees.  They still ARE in Adam.  And if you ARE a bad tree, you can’t suddenly become a good tree by producing a whole pile of good works.  A non-Christian trying to become a Christian by doing good things is like stapling a banana onto a cactus and calling it fruitful.  No good works don’t make you a good person.  You need to be made into a good person – then you’ll start bearing fruit in good works.

But you must become a new plant.  As Jesus says in John 15, you need to get grafted INTO Jesus.  He says I am the True Vine, you are the branches, grafted into Me.  Apart from Jesus you can do nothing.  IN Him you start producing good fruit.

But you don’t become a right person by producing right works.  Being a right person has nothing to do with your moral performance.

Now at that point someone might object and say, “Hang on, slow down, cool your jets.  What about God’s law?  What about all those things God has told us to do?  Isn’t the law the way that bad people become good people?”

Well Paul answers that objection in v20.  Hold onto your hats.

20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase.

Increase!  The law comes to multiply transgressions.  To define all our wrong-doing according to hundreds of different rules and boundaries and to map the extent of our sinfulness, and to count it up and to provoke it.  Nothing makes you want to walk on the grass like a “Do not walk on the grass” sign.  The law multiplies sins until they become a gigantic mountain that no-one could possibly handle.  Except for one Man – Christ.  Law comes and trespasses INCREASE.

Why would God do that?  The verse continues:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus comes and looks at this mountain of sin and death and condemnation and He sums it up on the cross, takes the hit, puts it all to death and rises up again in triumph.  So that when Christ triumphs He doesn’t just triumph over Adam’s one sin but over humanity’s gajillions of sins.

So the law serves a great purpose.  But its purpose is not to make us good boys and girls.  It’s to show us that we’re NOT good boys and girls and to increase the sin that Christ would atone for.

So the law does not prove that God’s interested in works.  The law serves God’s grace.

The law doesn’t raise the bar for my performance. It raises the bar for Christ’s performance – so that He can answer for those sins and live the perfect life.  God does all things – even giving the law – so that (v21) grace might reign.

God is NOT interested in being a Paymaster or a Rewarder or a Moral Policeman with a clipboard.  He’s interested in showering MERCY on the undeserving.

The whole world has been set up from Adam onwards as a theatre for His grace – that’s the operating system.  Undeserved mercy.

So that when you’re born into the world there’s nothing in YOU that will bring you to God.  Nothing in YOU fits you for God.  If you’re going to know God and have eternal life it’s got to ALL come from outside of you.

It’s not about me.  It’s not about you.  There’s nothing in us that makes us fit for heaven, fit for God’s presence.  It’s got to ALL come from outside of us.  It’s got to ALL come from Christ alone.  It’s got to ALL be by God’s grace alone.

And that’s precisely how God has set up the world.  By virtue of being from Adam we have an inherited guilt.  By virtue of being in Christ we have an inherited righteousness.  It’s just not about us.  It’s Christ alone, coming to us by grace alone.

Which makes Christianity so different to the religions of the world.

All human religions are the attempts of Adam to put fig-leaves over his shame.

Do you remember how Adam and Eve responded once they’d sinned.  They felt ashamed of themselves and so they sewed together fig-leaves as a covering for their shame.

Interestingly the Quran has its own version of the Adam and Eve story.  In the Quran once Adam and Eve sin, Allah tells them to clothe themselves in piety (Sura 7:26), in their own good deeds.  And that’s what all human religions say.  “Cover your shame by trying to be good.”

But it’s ridiculous – fig-leaves were always a ridiculous covering.  And later the prophet Isaiah would say “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Is 64:6)  Even our best efforts are terrible coverings.  They can’t cover our shame.  They can’t atone for our sin.  They can’t make us new.  They can’t undo what Adam has done.  And they are not what the LORD wants.

Do you remember what the LORD did when He confronted Adam and Eve?  He found them and He covered them.  He obviously didn’t think their fig-leaf coverings were doing the job.  So the LORD clothed them with skins.  An animal gave its life, blood was shed because of Adam’s sin.  The animal didn’t deserve to die – Adam deserved to die.  But the animal died in their place. And they were clothed in this sacrifice.

That’s how the LORD deals with our sin.  He doesn’t tell us to go and clothe ourselves with good deeds.  He clothes us in a sacrifice.

And the Apostle Paul says repeatedly that the Christian is clothed in Christ.  Christ is that TRUE Sacrifice that covers our shame.  So that when we are clothed in Christ, the Father doesn’t see our shame.  And He doesn’t see our good works.  He sees Christ.  He sees us clothed in His beloved Son – and in Him, God is well pleased with us.

Christianity is not about covering ourselves with good deeds or right beliefs – it’s a fundamental change in being.  Once we were in Adam – born into his humanity.  Now we are in Christ – born again into His humanity, clothed in Jesus.

We thought last week about how the Christian is essentially married to Jesus.  Such that His all our debts go to Him and He absorbs them all on the cross.  And in return, all His riches are our riches.  His royal status is our royal status.  His name is our name.

One way of addressing Emma is by calling her Mrs Glen Scrivener.  In that instance my name covers her – she is known by my name alone.  Now you may not like that when it comes to marriage – you might think it’s old fashioned.  That’s fine.  But I’m really glad it’s true when it comes to God.  I’m so glad that Christ’s Name covers me.  I have His riches, His status, His righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5 says this:

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

In Adam, in ourselves – we are sinners plain and simple.  In CHRIST we have God’s own righteousness.  Because we are clothed in Christ, united to Christ, married to Christ, covered by Christ.  God looks at you and sees Christ.  That’s fundamentally what He sees when He looks at you.  Not the sins of this last week.  Not the sins of this last year.  Fundamentally, He sees His Son.  And so how does He feel about you this evening: “You are my Child who I love, with you I am well pleased.”  That’s His verdict on Christ – do you remember from Christ’s baptism?  And it’s His verdict on YOU who are clothed with Him, who are married to Him, who are IN Him.  And it’s His verdict on you even after you’ve done that sin again:  Even so He says, “You are my Child whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

Every Christian struggles with conscience, we all struggle to believe in the grace of God.  But let Martin Luther teach us what to do with guilt feelings:

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell.  What of it?  Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation?  By no means.  For I know One who suffered and made satis­faction in my behalf.  His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Where He is, there I shall be also.

That’s our identity!

See, Grace alone changes everything.

It changes how we see ourselves.  Our identity doesn’t fluctuate in and out depending on our sins or our works or our blood sugar.  I am IN Christ.  I have HIS righteousness before the Father.  I don’t mope around on the outskirts of God’s presence, I am His Child, clothed in Christ, adopted and fiercely loved.  I don’t look to my performance to tell me how I’m doing – I look away to Christ, and I am secure in Him.

Grace alone changes how we see our sins.  They are horrible, hell-deserving, fruit-choking weeds that spring up from our Adamic flesh.  Even if our spirits are new – our bodies are still from the old tree, aren’t they?  Our bodies are still from Adam.  And so sins – these noxious weeds – will arise from “the flesh” until our old body dies.  But these sins are not ultimately who I am.  I am not determined by my sins, I’m determined by Christ.  And He is much bigger.  So I will not take my sins more seriously than I take Jesus Christ.  He is my identity, NOT my sins.

Grace alone changes how we see our own good works.  They are fruit.  Simply fruit – mixed in with a whole pile of sins.  But nonetheless, now that we are in Christ, we can produce fruit.  And the more we enjoy our gracious union with Jesus the more fruitful we’ll become.  But with grace alone, my works aren’t about me anymore.  They’re just about Christ living His life in me and through me.

Most fundamentally, grace alone changes how we see God.  He is NOT a Paymaster giving us our just deserts.  He’s like a secret millionaire writing cheques for the undeserving.  He’s not a Taker.  He’s a Giver.  He’s not a Demander, He’s an Offerer.  God IS GIVER.

Next time you see the sun shining at full strength, remember Jesus’ words “God makes His sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.”  It’s a testament to the grace of God.  And next time you feel the sun on your face, know that God’s love is free as the sunshine.  Because God IS GIVER.  His very Being and this whole universe operates according to His grace alone.


12 thoughts on “Grace Alone – sermon

  1. Inilah Kebenaran

    Balm! Am hoping to read it out loud to my parents tonight! Please pray that there'll be an opportunity to take. Dad's not a Christian and "God helps those who help themselves" is mum's favourite (wrongly so) saying!

  2. Glen

    Hi Inilah,

    I will certainly pray.

    Tell me - how would 'original sin' play in your culture by comparison with a more western culture? I've spoken (for instance) with some chinese people before who have had absolutely no problem with original sin. (I think they were confucianists). Just interested...

  3. Inilah Kebenaran

    Thanks Glen! Not sure about how they view original sin, as I've been away for so long. But it would still seem to me that most people see themselves as good at heart, and from what I've observed in how adults treat babies and little children, they are not normally seen to be sinners. Also 'righteousness' is an important concept and 'quality' that is emphasised, but it's not a Christian understanding of 'righteousness'. Rather, the emphasis is on chivalry and loyalty to clans, family members and even triads. However, if the gospel really is 'embedded' in Chinese writing, the Chinese character for 'righteousness' is made up of 2 characters - a "Lamb" on top of "me". As I ramble on, another character, "beauty" is made up with the character "Lamb" superimposed on top of a "person". So I guess historically the Chinese did have a concept of original sin, maybe even still during the time of Confucius, but that has been replaced by false and popular notions of what humanity really is like.

  4. Heather

    However, if the gospel really is ‘embedded’ in Chinese writing, the Chinese character for ‘righteousness’ is made up of 2 characters – a “Lamb” on top of “me”. As I ramble on, another character, “beauty” is made up with the character “Lamb” superimposed on top of a “person”.

    What a wonderful visual reminder!

  5. Si

    Inilah - that's a great one. I also heard (at a separate time to Noah being the first emperor of China) that the character for ship is 'sailing vessel' next to 'mouth' on top of '8' - echoing the Ark's eight people. <- a quick google and I find a more visual representation, which has some Edenic backstories for characters as well.

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