In the margin of his Bible next to Romans 1:17, Martin Luther drew a line from the phrase “the just shall live by faith” and wrote the word “sola,” a Latin word meaning one, only, or alone. It was his conclusion that man was saved by faith alone without any response to God on man’s part.
In his own translation of Romans, Luther added the word “alone” to the text, (though it is nowhere to be found), making the text read, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone apart from observing the law.”
As was noted from our notes on Romans 4, Paul’s point is not salvation apart from any works of obedience, but rather establishing the fact that man is not saved by the works of the Law of Moses or works of his own device.
Another common misuse of Romans 5 is found in verse 12, namely the doctrine of total depravity. This doctrine teaches that all of humanity has been tainted with the sin of Adam and Eve insofar as to be completely in sin from the moment of conception. And being in said condition, man is totally unable to respond in any positive way to the love and grace of God.
But what does Romans 5:12 say? “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” I don’t know if you noticed this or not, but there isn’t a single syllable about inheriting sin or sin being passed along by the physical and biological process of conception. Neither did the text described all men as being sinners by or from birth.
Romans 5:12 simply identifies Adam as the one through whom sin entered the world, and that death came upon all men because of sin. But the Bible also tells us how sin and death become a reality: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death” (Jam 1:14-15). John said that one must transgress God’s law in order to sin (1 Jn 3:4).
Finally, Ezekiel 18:20 is clear that men inherit neither the iniquity or righteousness of their fathers. Total depravity is totally wrong.