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That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Note 9 at Ro 5:21: The sin that is being spoken of here is not the individual acts of sin that we commit but rather the propensity for sin itself. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “propensity” as “an innate inclination; tendency.” It is this inherited inclination to sin that Paul was speaking of.
The word “sin” is used forty-five times in the book of Romans (Ro 3:9, 20; 4:8; 5:12-13, 20-21; 6:1-2, 6-7, 10-18, 20, 22-23; 7:7-9, 11, 13-14, 17, 20, 23, 25; 8:2-3, 10; and 14:23). The plural, “sins,” is used four times (Ro 3:25, 4:7, 7:5, and 11:27).
Of this total of forty-nine times that “sin” or “sins” is used in Romans, these two English words come from three Greek words. One of these Greek words, “HAMARTEMA,” is only used once, in Ro 3:25, and only three other times in all the New Testament (Mr 3:28, 4:12; and 1Co 6:18). Of the remaining forty-eight times, the Greek word “HAMARTIA” was used forty-seven times and “HAMARTANO” just once (Ro 6:15).
This is very significant because the Greek word HAMARTIA is a noun, while HAMARTANO is a verb. A noun denotes a person, place, or thing, while a verb describes the action of a noun. Therefore, in all but one instance in the book of Romans, the words “sin” and “sins” describe man’s tendency toward sin and not the individual acts of sins themselves. If you think of the word “sin” in these chapters as denoting the act of sin, you will miss what Paul was saying.
As believers, our fight is not against individual acts of sin but against the inner tendency to sin. If the propensity to sin can be broken, then the actions of sin will cease. Our individual acts of sin are only an expression or indication of how well we are doing in our war against this condition of the heart that causes us to sin.
Ro 5:12 says that this propensity to sin (or what many call the “sin nature”) entered the world through Adam. It is this sin nature that caused us to sin, not our individual acts of sin that gave us a sin nature (see note 17 at Joh 8:44, note 6 at Ro 5:19, and note 3 at Ro 7:9).
At salvation, the “old man” (Ro 6:6), or sin nature, died, but the tendency to sin remained through the thoughts and emotions that the “old man” left behind. Christians no longer have a sin nature that compels them to sin; they are simply dealing with the renewing of their minds.
Note 10 at Ro 5:21: Sin (see note 9 at this verse) ruled like a king (the Greek word for "reigned" in Ro 5:17 was also translated "king") through condemnation (Ro 5:16) to bring death upon everyone. Condemnation is like the general of sin that enforced its power. Likewise, now God's grace rules like a king through righteousness to bring all who are in Christ into eternal life. Righteousness is the general of grace who defends us against all the wiles of the devil.
Sin would ultimately bring death to all people whether they were condemned or not (Ro 6:23). But to those who are guilt ridden and condemned over their sins, sin has a particularly devastating effect. Likewise, those who put faith in Christ will ultimately experience God's eternal life. But those who understand righteousness as a gift to be received and not a wage to be earned are the ones who reign like kings, over sin and all its effects, in this life.
Remove guilt or condemnation, and sin loses its strength to rule (1Co 15:56). Remove the knowledge of righteousness by faith, and grace loses its power to release eternal life in our daily lives.
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