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A Waterfall of Grace

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 5:18–21

God’s Word tells us how deeply and thoroughly sin has infected and affected us. But this truth only highlights the abounding, inexhaustible grace of God, a grace that is greater than all our sin.


We are all a little bit like a professional baseball player I once read about by the name of John J. McGraw. He is the man responsible for the decision to install a third-base umpire in baseball games.

He was a star player back in the 1890s and then as a baseball manager until the early 1930s. He was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1937.

I never played baseball past Little League as a boy, and you might not have played all that much either; but what makes us like John McGraw was his clever deception.

Whenever a ball is hit into the air, a baserunner has to go back to the base and stay there until the ball is caught; only then can he try to run to the next base. If the ball is hit deep enough into the outfield, even if it is caught, the runner on third base will have a good chance to make it to home plate and score; but he cannot run until that ball is caught by the outfielder.

On a fly ball like that, third baseman John McGraw would stand close to the baserunner and hook his finger around the runner’s belt. That way, when the runner took off, he would be held up for just a second, long enough for the outfielder to throw the baseball to home plate.

Well, that runner would be protesting to the umpire; he would be mad as can be. But there was no evidence that McGraw had held onto them for that brief moment. Nobody could prove it. Of course, John McGraw would just as angrily defend his innocence. But then one game, one of the base runners who had made it to third base, quietly unbuckled his belt. Sure enough, McGraw hooked his finger in that runner’s belt, and when the guy took off running for home plate, there stood John J. McGraw with the runner’s belt, dangling from his finger. After that, professional baseball instituted a third-base umpire.[1]

That is classic humanity, though. “I’m going to protest my innocence. I haven’t done anything wrong! I’m not that bad.” Yet there we stand with the belt of sin dangling from our fingers.

As we sail back into Romans 5, Paul, the umpire, has declared that we are guilty of breaking the rules of God’s law. We are all sinners. He has revealed our connection with the sin nature of Adam.
And now Paul begins a series of contrasts from verse 18 through verse 21:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (verses 18-19)

With the first Adam, and his sin nature, comes disobedience; through faith in the second Adam—Jesus Christ—comes obedience. The comparisons and contrasts between these two Adams are fascinating to me. In fact, they are divinely orchestrated to demonstrate the beauty of God’s plan of salvation.

For instance, Adam disobeyed the will of God in the garden of Eden; Jesus Christ obeyed the will of His Father in the garden of Gethsemane. After sinning in the garden, Adam was banished by angels. After obeying in the garden, Jesus was ministered to by an angel. Adam sinned while surrounded by beauty and love; Jesus obeyed while surrounded by ugly hatred and rejection.

Now Paul moves on to write a rather confusing statement here in verse 20: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass.” What in the world does that mean?

Let me illustrate. When I first moved into my neighborhood, I would give you directions to my house that would sound something like this: Go to the dead-end of that street, and turn right. Then go until that street dead-ends; then turn right again, and you will pull into our cul-de-sac. Now at the end of those two streets that dead-end, there are stop signs. You really do not need stop signs at the end of those two streets. Why were they put there? To remind me that I am a sinner.

I do not pull up to those stop signs and think, How wonderful! I have one more opportunity to be a perfect, law-abiding driver. I love the opportunity I have, on my way home, to reveal the purity of my heart. Hardly. Now I am tempted to do what I always did before—just swoop to the right and keep moving, and then at my street slow down enough to make the turn and keep on going. I don’t want to follow the law and have to stop.

Have you ever wondered to yourself as you drive on the interstate, How fast can I go beyond the speed limit without being pulled over? How many of you have seen a police car parked over on the side of the highway and quickly put on the brakes?

Beloved, more laws just mean we break more laws. Why? Because at heart we are just like John McGraw. We are not doing anything all that wrong—we are not that bad. But we are just like Adam. He had only one law to obey—do not eat from that one tree. He could not keep that one little rule. The more rules, the more we reveal the rebellion in our hearts.

But here is the good news. As Paul continues in verse 20, he writes, “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

There is hope for us today! Paul writes here that sin “increased,” and he uses a word (pleonazō) that carries the idea of numerical increase. Our sin is just adding up every day.

But Paul also writes that grace “abounded.” “Abounded” translates a compound word, huperperisseuō. Perisseuō means “to abound,” and that little prefix huper, or hyper in our language, means “above” or “beyond.” So, Paul is saying that grace is hyper-abounding.

Paul’s statement means at least two things. First, the grace of God is never withdrawn. We do not operate that way, do we? When people hurt us, we withdraw from them; we stop talking to them. When we hurt God because of our sin, guess what; He does not withdraw from us. In fact, when Adam sinned, you remember God came calling there in the garden. No matter what law is broken or how many times you break it, God’s grace is greater than your sin.

Now people thought Paul was condoning sin –giving everybody a free pass to sin all they wanted. He was not doing that at all—and he will clear that up over in chapter 6. Paul is simply telling us that God’s grace is never withdrawn from His redeemed children.

Second, Paul tells us here that God’s grace will never be exhausted because of sin. Grace is not like a bucket of water God splashes upon the fire of your sin until He runs out of water. God’s grace is more like Niagara Falls—a continual, abounding, unending supply of grace.

As a child of Adam, you have a waterfall of never-ending guilt. But when you become a child of God, you have this waterfall of never-ending grace.

In verse 21, Paul writes that grace abounded “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Adam took of that tree in the garden and began to die; Jesus hung upon a tree, so that we might truly live. Adam was a thief, and he was cast out of Paradise; Jesus Christ hung next to a thief and promised him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

[1] “John McGraw,”

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