Reigning in life by Christ
For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17
In verse 17, we have a contrast between Adam and Chirist. But here what the apostle does is to sum up the content of the previous two verses in order to establish the conclusion that what Christ has done secures our final victory over death. Note the emphasis on the reign of death or the reign of sin in death throughout this passage (ver. 14, 17, 21). Sin and death sit like kings over this present order. We must remember that in that time, kings were not constitutional monarchs: they held absolute power. Paul is saying that when Adam sinned, death came in to reign like a king over people. The book of Hebrews presents a similar picture when it describes those who through fear of death were all their lives subject to slavery (Heb. 2:15). This is the kind of rule that death holds over us: it is the rule of slavery and bondage.
How can we be delivered from it? By Christ. Because of the abundance of grace (ver. 15) and the free gift of righteousness (ver. 16) that come through the one man Jesus Christ, “much more” will we “reign in life” (ver. 17). The dominion of sin and death is completely overturned by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He delivers us from death and brings us into the dominion of life. We not only live, but reign in life. This is not just deliverance from death; it is more than that. It is the enthronement of the saints in eternal life, forever out of the reach of sin and death.
It is important to see that this life is both present and future. The fullness of the life is yet to come. We will not fully experience it until the end when death is finally defeated in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-28). Death and sin have been dethroned, but they are still waging guerilla warfare against us. Nevertheless, there is a present aspect to this life as well. When we are born again, and given newness of life, we enter into the first-fruits of the life that is to come. Thus, in 6:4, the apostle argues that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
But one of the implications of this is that once we have this life, it is not something that can be taken away. The “much more” of Christ’s victory over Adam’s sin and the death that followed it should keep us from thinking that we can have this life and then lose it. Thus, the overall thrust of this passage is one which should cause the saints to hope and to be assured that their hope is secure. Adam cannot take away what Christ has purchased by his death. We do not reign in life if we are always in danger of losing that life. No, the saints are secure; their hope is sure and firm. For Christ is not only like Adam, but gloriously different as well.