"In Romans 5:20 Paul makes a radical statement that has been the thorn in the side for many believers throughout the centuries. It basically sounds like Paul is creating a license for sin. He says, “The law was added so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
Although Paul has made it clear that grace is no license for sin (Romans 3:8) Paul is still maintaining that man’s sin cannot outstrip the grace of God. Paul uses two important words in this verse that makes Paul’s intent clear. He uses the word “increased” in reference to both sin and grace: where sin “increased” graced “increased” also.
However the difference between the “increase” is not proportionate: where sin increased grace increased all the more! How much more is the question: a little more, a lot more?
The Greek word for “increased” with reference to sin is not the same Greek word in regards to grace. When Paul refers to sin increasing he uses the Greek word pleonazo and when referring to grace he uses huperperisseuo.
According to Strongs Concordance the former means “abound” but the latter means “to abound beyond measure, to abound exceedingly, to exceed a fixed number of measure.” In other words Paul is telling us that as sin increases grace increases disproportionately to cover that sin. What amazing grace. Look at the way the Amplified Bible has dealt with the original language:
20But then Law came in, [only] to expand and increase the trespass [making it more apparent and exciting opposition]. But where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favor) has surpassed it and increased the more and superabounded.
This is the gospel of God’s amazing grace according to Paul and admittedly it can seem to sound like license for sin. Let me say this categorically and in no uncertain terms: unless the gospel we hear doesn’t “sound” like a license for sin then we have not heard the gospel of Paul.
How do I know that? In the very next verses Paul says, “shall we go on sinning that grace may increase”? Although he is quick to qualify what he is saying Paul knows for certain that his message seems to sound like that very thing!
As we read this verse we need to remember that Romans 5:20 is the climax of the message of the entire fifth chapter and needs to be understood within that setting. Paul commences in verse 1 by telling us that since we are justified by faith we have peace with God. This is a summary statement of everything he just said in the book as a whole. This verse also sets the scene for what follows in the chapter which climaxes in radical statement in verse 20. In Romans 1-4 Paul has carefully set out to define what Justification by faith is.
He tells us that to be justified means to be “declared righteous” not made righteous – in spite of all our failed attempts to keep God’s law. The word translated “declared righteous” in the NIV of Romans 3:20 is the exact same word as “justified” in Romans 5:1.
To be justified by faith is not an ethical quality but a legal, relational standing one has with God through faith in the blood of Jesus. It has nothing to do with how righteous I become in regards my behaviour here on earth. To be justified means that God freely declares us righteous by faith in Jesus and then credits to our account all the good works of Jesus and credits all our sin to Jesus himself.
See Romans 4:1-6. It not only means “just-as-if-I-never-sinned” but it also means “just-as-if-I-had-only-ever-been-righteous”. Although forgiveness of sins is included in justification (Rom 4:7) it goes beyond it: it also means acquittal which means we never committed any sins that need forgiveness.
The Revised Standard Version of Romans 5:18 translates the same root word as “acquittal” compared with “justification” in the NIV. Forgiveness means we have committed wrongs but acquittal means we never have!
Because of all this Paul concludes that the believer has peace with God. Rom 5:1. And just in case we still don’t get it, Paul continues to labour the point in chapter 5 by listing even more results that accompany this blessing.
Through a series of contrasts he speaks of the peace that comes through justification. The key phrase in this chapter is “how much more” and climaxes with his radical statement in verse 20.
Paul tells us that we not only have peace with God as a result of justification but we also have a number of other things: continuing standing in the grace of God (v.2), hope for the future coming of Jesus (v.2) and meaning and purpose in trials (vv.3-4).
This hope that grows out of justification is grounded in the very love of God which has already been poured out into our hearts. Romans 5:5. It is at this point that Paul commences his series of comparisons; his “how much more” statements.
He reasons that if God has already poured this love into our hearts through the experience of justification by faith (which has resulted in peace) and since God demonstrated this love to us through the death of Jesus whilst we were still lost sinners, then how much more certain can we be now in our standing with God: if he loved us and Jesus died for us when we were lost sinners then how much more now can we have peace knowing that we will escape his wrath?
Read verses 5-9 in one sitting carefully to notice the contrast. He continues with the next contrast and says that if God made peace and reconciled the lost world to himself through the death of his Son then how much more should we rest peacefully secure since we will [not “may”] be saved through faith in Jesus life? Romans 5:10.
He goes onto say that if through Adam’s one sin we were all wrecked then how much more peacefully safe are we now in God’s grace that overflows to undo and compensate? Romans 5:15. Then Paul finally arrives at his radical statement on the grace of God. He says that if the introduction of the law worsened our situation by increasing sin then how much more at peace can we be, knowing that our standing with God is never jeopardized since God’s grace superabounds our sin?
What amazing grace! We cannot out-sin the grace of God: this is the essence of the good news of the Gospel. We can rest assured of the peace we have for it is grounded in the marvelous and boundless grace of God demonstrated through the doing and dying of Jesus."