“Are you saying that Adam is greater than Jesus?” This is a comment I often hear from those who preach universal salvation. It usually comes at the end of a conversation like this:
Me: Jesus died and rose again so that we might have new life, His life. Repent and believe the good news!
They: No, everyone is already saved, already righteous, already alive because Jesus died. His was a finished work. Your faith-works add nothing to it.
Me: I agree that His work was perfectly perfect and cannot be improved upon. But grace only comes through faith.
They: Yes, but not our faith – His faith. All the key verses on faith actually refer to the faith of Christ.
Me: I’ll grant that the righteousness of God comes to us on account of the faith of Jesus Christ. That’s Romans 3:22. But read the rest of that verse. It comes to “all who believe.”
They: Keep reading: “There is no difference.” It makes no difference whether you believe or not – we’re all righteous.
Me: If it makes no difference, then why did Jesus, Paul et al. challenge us to believe the good news? Paul told Timothy that his transformation from “worst of sinners” served as an example for those who would believe on Jesus and receive eternal life. Grace unmixed with faith is worthless. That’s Hebrews 4:2.
They: So you’re saying Adam did a greater work than Jesus?
They: Adam’s sin killed everyone – whether they believe Adam or not. That’s Romans 5:12. Are you saying that new life is only given to those who put their trust in Jesus? If so, then you’re elevating Adam above Jesus. You’re saying that first Adam did a greater work than last Adam.
If you have ever had a conversation with someone who believes in universal salvation, chances are you’ve heard something similar to this. Is Adam greater than Jesus? This is the trump card, the final word, because how could anyone say Jesus did an inferior work to Adam?
This is one of the most profoundly important questions you could ever ask. It is so important that I have written a study note to help you answer it. The note is an easy-to-read study of the ten verses of Romans 5:12-21.
So how did last Adam improve upon first Adam? In this post I want to briefly look at the traditional and wrong answer to this question and then, in my next post, I will give you Paul’s far better answer from Roman’s 5. I plan to upload the next post on Good Friday. If you can’t wait that long to hear some stunningly good news about God’s purposes for your life, read the study note.
So, what was last Adam’s greater work? To kick off, here is the wrong answer: “Jesus raised everyone from the dead. Everyone is now saved, righteous, and seated with Christ. They may not know it but it’s true nonetheless.” This is the main claim of those who preach historical reconciliation. Everyone has been made alive. A variation on this is: Everyone will be made alive. This is the view taken by those who preach ultimate reconciliation or universalism.
These two claims appeal because of their symmetry: Adam killed everyone; Jesus raised everyone. Perfect! The world is back in balance. These claims also appeal to some because of their sovereignty: King Adam’s trespass brought condemnation for all; King Jesus’ act of righteousness brings life for all. It sounds good – but wait a second. Where is faith in this equation? Faith doesn’t come into it. And this should be a warning sign that something is not quite right.
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (Joh 5:24)
Without faith in Jesus, no one crosses over from death to life. Whoever believes has eternal life; whoever does not believe is condemned already (Joh 3:15,18). Not everyone believes in Jesus. So why do some claim that all have been made alive? Because of what Paul says here:
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. (Rom 5:18)
Does Paul say that all men will be given new life?
In Romans 5, Paul makes a number of comparisons between the “one trespass” of first Adam and the “one act of righteousness” of last Adam. Look carefully at how he compares the effects of each…
|Affected by Adam||Affected by Jesus|
|v.15||The many||The many|
|v.18||All men||All men|
|v.19||The many||The many|
Who died as a result of one man’s trespass? “The many.” To whom does grace now overflow? “The many” (see v.15). And again, who were made sinners as a result of Adam? “The many.” And who will be made righteous on account of Jesus? “The many” (see v.19). It’s the middle verse – verse 18 – that is the source of contention. There are two ways to read this verse:
How some read it: “All men now live; everyone has been (or will be) raised to new life.”
What Paul said: “Life has come and is now freely available for all men.”
Read v.18 in context and you will see that Paul never says anything that could point to universal salvation. If life had come to “all men”, then Paul is in error by saying that only “many” are the beneficiaries of grace in v.15 or that only “many” will be made righteous in v.19. But if Paul is correct in those verses, then those who argue that “all now live in Christ” are in error.
Jesus spoke plainly. “Only those who believe in me cross over from death to life.” So believe! Don’t be like the Pharisees who “refuse to come to me to have life” (Joh 5:40). If you refuse Jesus, how can you claim to have His life? This is not a pre-cross, post-cross distinction. Jesus has always been the Father of the Everlasting and the Author of Life. Long after the cross, Paul said that his radical transformation from sinner to saint would serve as an example for those who would believe (1 Tim 1:16). Wherever he went Paul challenged people to turn to God and have faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21). He would be horrified to learn that his words are now being twisted to dismiss faith.
What about Adam’s work?
“But Adam’s sin brought death to everyone! If all don’t now live, then you are elevating Adam above Jesus. You’re saying the work of first Adam is greater than the work of last Adam.” This sort of statement completely misses the point of the cross. No one is condemned on account of Adam’s sin. God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3). Since sin itself has been condemned, no one can be condemned for Adam’s sin. His sin, along with yours and mine, were done away with at the cross. Every single one of us faces the same choice Adam had; either we will receive the life that God freely offers us or we will condemn ourselves through unbelief. No one is lost through Adam’s unbelief but their own.
Those who spurn the love of their heavenly Father repeat the mistake of their earthly father. In choosing the self-life over Christ’s life they reap Adam’s reward. But again, their undoing is their doing, not Adam’s. Look at the cross and you will see that Jesus has taken Adam’s work completely out of the equation. Adam’s sin brought condemnation to all but there is now no more condemnation except that which we put on their own heads (Joh 3:17). Jesus doesn’t condemn anyone.
Jesus did not suffer and die to resuscitate the human race and put everything back the way it was. If Jesus merely raised those whom Adam killed, then His would not be a greater work but an exactly comparable work. Yet Paul says of Jesus’ gift, How much more! Jesus is the Great Redeemer and redemption always leaves you better off than when you started. Last Adam’s greater work achieved far more than merely reversing the effects of first Adam’s fall. As CS Lewis said, “Out of the Fall comes not a fix but a new creation.” As we will see in the next post, what Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection was something far beyond the wildest dreams of unfallen Adam. What Jesus now offers you is infinitely superior to what Adam lost.
- Is Jesus Savior of the world?
- Are we completely forgiven?
- How well did I understand grace before I understood grace?