From time to time I receive interesting, thoughtful questions in response to a particular sermon I've preached. This past Sunday I made reference to Romans 5:18-19, which speaks of Adam's disobedience which led to many being made sinners. In contrast, by one man's obedience (Jesus Christ), many will be made righteous. In response to these verses, a question was posed: (I will paraphrase it) If our being made sinners is automatic, through Adam's disobedience, then why aren't we made righteous automatically through Jesus' obedience irregardless of whether we believe or not?
I can see how one could easily come to the conclusion that this is what the text is teaching. However, a closer look suggests otherwise. First, let's notice verses 15 & 16. Paul states, "But the gift is not like the trespass ". The "gift" refers to justification by God's grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Paul has already stated this in chapter 3:24. So we can see that Paul is warning his readers not to draw a strict comparison between Adam's disobedience ("the trespass") and Christ's obedience ("the gift").
Paul gives the same warning in verse 16, "And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin." The result of the one man's sin was that many were made sinners. However, the free gift is not like this it is to be "received" (note verse 17).
We conclude that this is a consistent theme throughout Scripture:
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God " (John 1:12).