The Reign of Grace

Romans 5: 20-21[1]

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In these verses Paul presents the reader with an image of grace reigning. This is the radical result of the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Understanding this fully requires some background knowledge that Paul spends some time in chapter 5 of Romans articulating to his audience.

Paul explains to his readers that sin came into the world through the sin of one person (Romans 5:12). This sin was a purposeful action; an action that Adam knew was against the will of God. Paul’s point though is that it was only one sin, by only one person and yet it infected the whole world. Through this one action the world was made open to sin and the power of sin spread. It could be said that the action of sin on Adam’s part created a small gap in the good that was God’s creation, a very small gap, but sin still squeezed through it and began to multiply in the world. Sin leads to death because sin and death have an action and reaction relationship. Sin causes this death by driving people away from the presence of the Creator who gives life and sustains life. Even though only one person acted out the original sin, sin then infected all humanity and the power of both sin and death on earth multiplied exponentially.

Even more significant though is that grace also entered the world through one person (Romans 5:15). Grace is God’s answer to the presence of sin in the world and the cure for the death that sin brings. The problems the world faced when trying to overcome sin was first that, just as Adam was sinless before he committed the first action of sin, so the person who brought grace into the world must be sinless. Secondly death must be conquered. To live a sinless life and die is not enough, for if one lives a sinless life and dies than sin has still won. Until Jesus Christ was born there had been no one capable of fulfilling the requirements for overcoming sin and death. No one was sinless and no one was able to face death and overcome it.[2] Jesus was born to a woman, he was completely human and so he qualified as one person. He lived a sinless life and he died sinless. However, Jesus didn’t just die, he rose from the dead, alive and whole in bodily form, hence the tomb was empty and he was able to appear to the disciples and his followers. For the first time in history death had been defeated, for the very first time in history death had not been able to hold a person against his will. One man had opened the door and others began to walk through it. Those who had died and waited for the grace of God rose with him. The victory of one person spread and all believers were and still are able to take advantage of the grace of God and so to be free from the reign of death over the world.

The death of Christ and his resurrection from the dead opened the door for grace to come into the world. Grace, a gift from the Father, is able in turn to give the gift of righteousness that makes a person sinless in the sight of God Romans 5:17). So through the death of Christ the Creator actively opened a way for his creation to return to him so that he would not have to be separated from his creation any longer. This process of the active redemption of humanity appears to indicate a longing on God’s part to be in relationship with human beings. In fact the scriptures tell us that God is unwilling that any person should perish (2 Peter 3:9). The pain and anguish of the Son of God’s experience at the cross speak powerfully of the great lengths that God is willing to go through to be with his people in eternity (John 3:16).

There are more subtle revelations for the reader in the letter writing of the Apostle Paul as well. He speaks of the reign of grace, he tells us how grace reigns in this life for the purpose of bringing about eternal life for people (Romans 5:21). The same power and authority that the Lord Jesus used to defeat death and sin in order to rise from the dead has now been delegated to grace, that grace might extend this to all people who are willing to accept it. It is important to remember that accepting the reign and authority of grace also means accepting the death and resurrection of the one who delegated that authority.

Grace does not seem like a very concrete thing to humanity. It does not appear as something to be touched or held, it is not something in itself that can be seen and understood in the physical form. So how does it work, how does it operate, when it is so seemingly intangible in our physical world? Grace works through people, it first worked through Jesus, now it works through his followers. Since the resurrection of Jesus people again have authority to take dominion in this world (Genesis 1:28), something that had been lost since the first time a person sinned. It is a reclaimed authority, however the method is more powerful that the original because it is authority delegated directly through Christ (Luke 10:19). The authority though comes through grace, without the grace of God there is no authority (Colossians 2:10). Because of this it is reasonable to expect that this will effect the actions of the one who bears this authority, for example this recognition of authority through grace would bring a level of humility to the bearer of the authority.

So grace, which has the reigning power over death and sin, is what enables believers to live their lives undefeated by sin and be free to follow God’s call on their lives. Interestingly the work of the Holy Spirit works in harmony with grace and works through the authority of grace.

Another wonderful point that the Apostle makes is that it is not, as we commonly say, just the death of Jesus that saves us, but rather, because of the death of Jesus we were reconciled to God and now Jesus’ life is able to save us (Romans 5:10). It was the resurrection that defeated sin and death and it is the continual life of Jesus that makes that victory ongoing and eternal. Jesus is still alive, he rose again to live forever and as such death is eternally defeated. It is just a matter of us, as people, choosing to accept this grace and its reign of victory and power in our lives.




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Barker, K. (Ed.), (1995). The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Brand,  C., Draper, C., & England, A. (Eds). (2003) Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference.

Davis, J.D. (1977), Davis Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Goodrick, E. W., & Kohlenberger, J. R. (2012). The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Thompson, F.C. (Ed.), (1988). The Thomson Chain-Reference Bible: Fifth Improved Edition. Indiana, USA: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc.

Zondervan. (2010, November 1). Updated NIV Bible Text. Retrieved from

[1] All scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Bible, unless otherwise stated.
[2] Enoch was taken to God and did not die, because he did not face death, he cannot be said to have overcome it.

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