In Romans 5, Paul begins to interpret the conflicted situation in the Roman church(es) from an apocalyptic perspective. There’s far more going on than just a social tug-of-war between two factions in the Roman Christian community. That’s an interpretation from a merely human perspective.
Paul sets their situation within a larger drama on a bigger stage—there’s more going on than they’ve realized, and they won’t be unified until they come to grips with how their behavior is being affected by cosmic realities.
Paul, therefore, gives them a heavenly vision of reality that has a cosmic scope.
From this perspective, they need to see that there are two realms within reality. There’s a realm called “Adam,” in which all humanity is located. In Romans 5:12-17, it appears that Paul is giving something of a biblical history lesson, talking about what happened with Adam, Moses, the entrance of the Law, etc.
Paul is doing far more than recounting salvation-history, however. He speaks of these things in order to more fully describe this realm called “Adam.” It’s the realm with a history of oppression, enslavement to sin, and a future of condemnation. In this realm the cosmic powers of Sin and Death “reign” and the guilt of Adam spreads to all humanity.
And this is key for Paul’s argument throughout Romans 5-8: when the Law enters this realm, the cosmic power of Sin hijacks it to serve the purposes of Death (we’ll return to this when we get to Romans 7).
Everyone in the Roman church(es) was formerly located in that realm, but by virtue of being justified by faith, all those in Rome have been relocated.
They don’t live “in Adam” anymore. As Paul says at the beginning of this section,
having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:1-2).
Justification is more than a status that God declares in the heavenly court. “Justification” in this sense is something more like “rectification”—an act whereby God actually does something to us. He sets us right, rectifies us—transferring us from the realm where Sin and Death reign into a new location in the cosmos. Paul calls this new realm “this grace” throughout Romans 5.
It is a location within the cosmos in which we enjoy God’s shalom, and over which Christ reigns as life-giving Lord. God’s resurrection presence and renewing power radiate to all inhabitants of this realm by God’s Spirit. Because God himself permeates this realm and animates it, it has distinct operating dynamics and is subject to certain pressures.
It has a glorious history, stretching back to the death and resurrection of Christ. And it has a radically hopeful future, which is the “hope of the glory of God” (v. 2). The “glory of God” points to the full transformation of human bodies so that we finally will play our rightful role in God’s creation, a role called “the glory of God.”
This realm, then, called “this grace,” or “the gift,” is the realm of the “already” aspect of salvation, in which we are reconciled to God and in which the renewing power of God is at work. It’s the realm headed for the “not yet” of salvation, the final renewal of human bodies and all of creation—final “rectification.”
The distinction of these two realms is huge for understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 5-8, and especially for untangling what’s going on in Romans 7. Frankly, it’s huge for the whole of Paul’s theology. I’ll draw out Paul’s argument in Romans 5 over the next few days and hopefully we’ll see how Paul’s pastoral counsel hangs together.