You’re likely familiar with the term “Butterfly Effect.” A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo in September, and a hurricane hits Mexico in October. This is an element of Chaos Theory, a branch of mathematics which states that long-term prediction of any event is impossible. The basic premise of the Butterfly Effect is this: a very small initial action—the flapping of a butterfly’s wings—can have very far-reaching and major effects—the path/strength/size of a hurricane. Thus because so many tiny actions must go into any predictability calculation, nothing is certain, or even close! (See any 10-day weather forecast ever!)
Whether the Butterfly Effect is legitimate in all its various aspects is beyond my power to say. I am not a very commendable mathematician, much less chaotician. (For more on Chaos Theory, please reference Ian Malcolm’s lecture in the Jurassic Park jeep from the original film of the series.)
Here’s something that is not beyond my power to say, because it’s right here in Romans. The action of one man can have very widespread effects. Not just for a family or a city or a nation—but for the entire world that has ever lived, currently lives, and will ever live. It’s not a Butterfly Effect, and it certainly isn’t Chaos Theory.
This is the action of one man to plunge the world headlong into the devastation of sin. But this is also the action of one man to rescue all of Creation from that sin.
We continue along the Romans Road in 5:18-19: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
In the spirit of Jurassic Park’s mathematician, I will continue to use as many mathematical terms as possible in this entry. (I’ll admit freely that Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies, because dinosaurs.)
The first term is “negative.”
Adam’s action seems so small, doesn’t it? I mean, come on, all the guy did was take a couple bites of fruit—and after his wife, even! Can such a little thing truly be the beginning of all the sins, sorrows, hardships, trials, violence, lovelessness, and atrocity that we see in the world today? Could savoring that juice really "add" not only his own death, but the deaths of everybody else who would be born of him and come from his line?
It seems as unreasonable to us as a butterfly’s wings actually causing a hurricane halfway across the world.
Adam, in his eating, disobeyed the one command which God had given him—not to eat. In that moment, Adam decided to be his own god. Thus he ushered death into his own body, as per God’s words when he said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). As Adam, the first father, had children with his wife Eve, the first mother, mankind was not born in the image of God, as Adam had once been. Rather, they were now in the image of Adam. Genesis 5:1-3 shows us this distinction. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them 'man.' When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”
And so Adam "added" death along with sin to all of his offspring. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
This all amounts to our being a moral “negative” before God. It's not as though only Adam didn't followed God's ways. We have continued in that pattern! We have not followed his laws. We have not loved him with our whole hearts. We have not lived up to his standard of perfect holiness. So the consequences of Adam—sin and death—belong to each one of us.
There’s little positive in that scenario—in fact, there’s none. It may even seem unfair to us at times. We didn’t mess up in the Garden like Adam! Why should we be punished? Why doesn't God give me that same deal about eating the fruit ... I know I'll get it right! And all people? Can one action multiply so much as to botch the whole thing for the billions of people who have lived on this earth? Sounds like bad math to me! One action for all this mess?
Look at your life. I’ll look at mine. Do we really have a leg to stand on? My voice is rendered silent when I understand that although I didn’t eat the wrong fruit from a tree, I’m perverse and rebellious in my ways every day of my life. I'm no better than Adam. Like the Apostle, I also know that I'm the "chief of sinners."
So if I’m looking for some sort of positive within myself, I’m never going to find it. Everything in there is more negative for me. A lot of sin. A lot of trespass. A lot of condemnation and death. I don’t have any “positive” of my own to offer—only more negative to add to the negative already present!
Now if all of this has seemed unfair, if you’re shaking your fist at Adam, if you’re shaking your fist at God because you think he never even gave you a fair chance, then what comes next you’re going to find really really unfair! (Or at least if you were fair-minded you would.) Because God does something extraordinary. And he does it for people who have lived their lives hating him and loving evil and sticking their fingers into their ears like little kids whenever he tries to speak to them about instead hating evil and loving him.
God didn’t just tell Adam, “Fine. Have it your way!” Instead he promised a Savior, one who would crush the serpent's head. Nor is God content simply to let us have our way, either! He didn’t leave us to die in eternal separation from his goodness and mercy and peace. Instead, he sent another Adam—his Son Jesus—to undo the work of the first Adam. Jesus walked upright and blameless before the Father. Whereas all others born of Adam have borne only unrighteousness in every fiber of their being, Christ was truly and wholly righteous. “’He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats … He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:22-24). All of that righteousness of Christ, both in his life and in his death upon the cross, has taken away our sins—not just for some, or most, but for all.
Notice something here—we have not just been delivered from a moral “negative” standing with God into a moral “neutral” standing with God. Some sadly have this idea that Christ’s work has simply enabled us now to “make God happy” by what good and nice and charitable things we do—or else to tip the scales against ourselves and “make God mad” again by the selfish and nasty things we do. It’s not as though God has brought me to “neutral” and now lets me make the decision to add or subtract by being good or bad.
You are a moral “positive” now! We wear Christ’s own righteousness as our own. Listen to how Peter describes you. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). There’s nothing unclear there! “Chosen” and “royal” and “holy” and “belonging to God” are how God himself describes you. There is certainly nothing “neutral” about that at all!
Paul stated it thus in Romans 5:17: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Basically, the effect of sin and death that the man Adam caused by his action is nothing compared to the effect of grace and righteousness and life that God brings about by the righteousness and death of Jesus. The work of Jesus has swallowed up and defeated the work of Adam. Sin has no victory! Death has no sting!
Now grace reigns! Grace is king for the Christian! Never let yourself be fooled into thinking that you are ruled by your guilt and condemnation. Judas fell into that trap, and he killed himself in despair. You are not subject to death under the law. You are subject now to life in the gospel.
And that, dear friends, is the most beautiful truth that any human being who walks beneath this sun can possibly know. Our guilt and unrighteousness is completely overwhelmed under the shadow of the cross, where we are shown the punishment upon another and forgiveness upon ourselves.
One for billions. One for all. His righteousness for my unrighteousness. Christ’s “positive” over my “negative.”
One person … with one enormous effect for the whole world, for all time.
That ain’t math. It's no bizarre Butterfly Effect.
That’s grace that only a God of infinite love can give!