What is stopping you from coming to Christ? There is a common myth we must address. Something gets in the way of the gospel. Often, it’s moralism — sinners who know they are sinners who really want to come to Christ, but who assume they must first clean themselves up in order to make themselves worthy of him. This is a myth, and a gravely mistaken myth. This is not how the gospel works — not at all — as Pastor John explains in his sermon on Romans 5:12–21. And what he says in the following clip led to the conversion of an APJ listener named Leah, who sent this to us. I’ll share her story with you in a moment. But first, here’s Pastor John.
And Paul says that relates to you. He did that for you. Do you see that in Romans 5:19? “So by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
Now I’ve got to pause here and stress something. This is the gospel. It’s not the only way to talk about the gospel; it’s just the way Paul’s talking about it here. Our job as believers, among many other jobs, but ultimately, is to spread the gospel to everybody who doesn’t know the gospel — all the people groups of the world. This is called missions if you cross cultures to try to get the news to them.
Now, what’s the news? The reason I’m asking this is because so many people make missions so complicated. There are endless discussions of contextualization, and they’re way over the top, in my judgment, on some of them.
“Death flows from Adam; life flows from Christ. Death flowed because of sin; life flows because of righteousness.”
Picture this way of thinking about the gospel. The first thing we see here is that it is universally and absolutely relevant for every human being on the planet — no exceptions — with barely any contextualization.
“There was an Adam,” you say to somebody who doesn’t know.
“What is Adam?”
“The very first human being. You are a descendant from him. He sinned, and you’re dead because of his sins.”
That is understandable. You may not agree with it, but you can say as a human you inherited that. The reason you die is because he sinned. You’re a sinner. You’re all going to die.
Second stage in the gospel presentation: The Son of God is like that Adam. He came to start a new humanity by rescuing people from this old humanity. And he came into the world, and he never sinned like your and my forefathers sinned — never. Perfect obedience. We will one day stand with him before an infinitely holy God to face him because we’ve all sinned. His righteousness was performed in order that you might be counted as obedient and righteous and perfect through faith in him. So, just as you are united to Adam and died because of his sin, you may be united to Christ and live because of his obedience.
That word must be told everywhere, with barely any contextualization. You’ve got to learn the language, but it’ll blow their worldview out of the water, of course, just like it blows your worldview out of the water. We think that we white folks, Americans — we’ve been here three hundred years and have absorbed Puritanism — have got the worldview figured out. Our mindset in America just fits perfectly with this book — just like a hat. Wrong. This book blows American brains — and every other culture’s.
And our job is to say it, because every human being you meet is in Romans 5. Your family is in chapter 5. Your kids are in chapter 5. Your parents, your colleagues at work are in chapter 5. Every human you see on the street is in chapter 5. And the same truth is true about every one of them, and the same gospel applies to every one of them. And it isn’t complicated; it’s just mind-blowing.
Look at Romans 5:21 now. This is the reign of life, the triumph of life, the sovereignty of life. “As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Death flows from Adam; life flows from Christ. Death flowed because of sin; life flows because of righteousness.
“Christ’s obedience is yours. His grace is yours. His life is yours. And now his Spirit will be yours.”
You’re not righteous, and so you’re dead — unless there can become a connection, a union, with perfect righteousness. This is called justification. When by faith we receive Christ as our substitute, our representative righteousness, sacrifice, treasure — all that he is — we, in him, are righteous and will have eternal life.
Let me point you to verse 17 and ask you if you have received it the way this verse describes it.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
So, my question on God’s behalf is this: Have you received this grace, this obedience, this life? It’s free grace; it’s free obedience performed by another, offered to you for the having; and it’s free life.
Let me just close with a warning. In my experience of talking with unbelievers and reading about those who do talk with unbelievers, it appears that one of the greatest obstacles for people to actually become full-blooded Christians — to move from death to life and unbelief to belief, from non-Christian to Christian — is the thought, “I can never do it. I could never do it. I can’t measure up. I’ve read enough of the Bible to know you’re supposed to love your enemies. And you’re supposed to put to death the deeds of the body, like lust, and I can’t.” And that keeps millions of people from being saved.
Here’s the reason that’s a satanic lie: The gospel is set up in a way by God to remove that objection. God has come into the world and set up a gospel that says, “You don’t get yourself ready at all for salvation.” Anybody who thinks, “I’ve got to clean up my act; you don’t know what I did last night” — God does. And it’s irrelevant. We are saved by an alien obedience performed by Christ, counted as ours by receiving it. And receiving (that’s another word for faith) is saying, “I can’t and I’m wicked and I’m dirty, and if you touch me, Jesus, you’re going to get dirty.” And faith says, “But if you’re coming with grace and with obedience and with life, I want it. I receive it. I’ll bank on it. I’ll rest in it.”
At that point, you are saved. You are counted righteous. You are a child of God forever. And because you’re righteous in Christ, the wrath of God is removed. And when the wrath of God is removed, guess what happens? He is totally for you. And he’ll move into your life by the Holy Spirit and begin to help you conquer some of that junk you thought you had to get rid of before you believed.
I hope you heard that, because if you get it backward, you’ll never be saved. You’ll become a fake, legalistic Christian, or you’ll stay an unbeliever. But if you turn it around and get it right, grace, obedience, and life were wrought for you in Jesus.
You don’t work it. He did it. And then you receive him and that union by faith alone. Faith alone, the great Reformation herald, makes you one with him. His obedience is yours. His grace is yours. His life is yours. And now his Spirit will be yours, and little by little, we stumble toward heaven together.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.