This review of Romans 5 is provided by David Clark, a former Mormon and present day generic Christian.
Romans 5 contains two main themes. The first theme, in vv 1-11, reflects on how and why Christians should boast. They should not boast of anything they have done, but of the work that Christ’s death has done. The second theme concerns the nature of justification, namely that it comes by the free gift of the grace of God.
Of course the contents of Romans 5 is much more complicated than my simple summary. However, I wanted to focus on one part of Romans 5, verse 12:
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
What strikes me here is the complicated nature of sin. I grew up thinking that sin was simply doing something bad. That agrees with the last part of the verse, “all have sinned,” in other words we all do bad things. However sin is more complicated than that.
There is also a global, structural nature to sin, apart from what we do. Paul sees sin as coming into the world and affecting everyone, the proof of this, for Paul, is that everyone dies. Since death is the result of sin, and since everyone dies, everyone is affected by this aspect of sin. Of course Paul sees a connection between this global, structural nature of sin and the act of committing a sin, but they are not the same for him.
It is verses like this that lead me to the conclusion that justification must be by grace alone. Even if one could stop the act of sin, there is still the global, structural problem of sin that pervades our lives. Different traditions identify this problem differenly. Catholics see it as original sin, Calvinists as man’s total depravity, etc. However a tradition looks at this problem, it is a real problem which man cannot solve. No matter what you do, you can’t escape the problem of death; you are going to die no matter what. Likewise, you can’t escape the root cause of this death, this sin which pervades everything and is the cause of death. Hence any salvation has to be by grace alone, because there is nothing you can possibly do to escape this quandry.
So what is left for us to do? Plenty! Look back at verse 5:
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Since God’s love is now in the believer’s heart, the believer must share this love through service and proclamation. By doing this the believer becomes an instrument of God’s grace.
All quotes come from the NRSV