17 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.
Verse 17 presents the third contrasting parallelism between Christ and Adam.
17 For if [assumed true—since], because of one man’s trespass [Adam’s original violation of God],
The Greek grammar indicates that this statement of death reigning because of Adam’s transgression is a true statement (first class condition). Verse 17 is the basis for verse 16; the evidence for the condemnation of Adam’s posterity and the grace gift of God’s own righteousness from Christ is this verse. This confirms verses 12 and 14 as true.
death reigned [at one point in the past when Adam sinned—aorist] through that one man [Adam],
Adam’s sin brought the curse of physical and spiritual death upon all men. Universal death is the consequence of universal sin in Adam. Death came upon all not due to any sin of their own but by virtue of their sin in Adam. Death is a tyrant dominating over every person.
He 2:15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
God originally intended that Adam rule over the earth as a theocratic king, but his sin caused death to reign over him. Death is supreme; no one escapes its sovereignty without the grace of God.
much more [greater degree]
This is the fourth use of “much more” in this chapter:
the “much more” of salvation from wrath (Ro 5:9)
the “much more” of God’s keeping power (Ro 5:10)
the “much more” of Jesus federal headship over Adam’s headship (Ro 5:15)
the “much more” of what God does to Christian life (Ro 5:17)
Jesus provided salvation for all those “in Adam,” but He saves those “in Christ” by accepting His provision by faith. The issue here is one of degree.
We get what we deserve by sin—death. Grace, however, does not operate on what we merit. It functions on superlative generosity. God’s principle of justice and absolute righteousness was satisfied by the death of Christ on the cross.
God’s grace operates on superlative generosity over any sin or condition of sin.
The triumph of Christ in the Christian life is far greater than what slavery to sin did in mankind.
The deed of Adam and the deed of Christ issued in two different dynamics: the dynamics of sin produced death and grace offers provisions for time and eternity. Death was despotic domination. The individual is not in control, but sin and death are. Sin is the method whereby death brought man under its power. Death is dominant. It not only ends our physical life but it reigns over life itself; it destroys lives.
Jesus, however, does not take people by force. His is an offer of grace. He makes His power available to all. To settle for anything short of grace is to sell ourselves short. This is the polar opposite to slavery to sin.
All this is a reversal of the role of master and slave. We now reign with Christ’s life in time. We now have the right to make right choices for God. True, many Christians do not live this life, but we cannot confuse true Christian living with a substitute. Christians are free to draw on this Christian life like they would withdraw from a great resource in a bank that is in their account. Yet many live miserly lives. We can live as kings but we choose to live like paupers.