The God of the Bible is a just God. He does not give people punishments that they have not earned. If you have ever used a version of the “Romans Road” for explaining the gospel, then you know that Romans 6:23 is the next step after Romans 3:23. After the verse that tells us we have all sinned and “fallen short” of God’s perfect standard of holiness and obedience (Romans 3:23), the next logical verse is Romans 6:23, which tells us the natural consequence of our sin – “the wages of sin is death.” Wages are a payment for work or service; we often use the word to describe income from a job. You work for a certain period of time, and your employer pays you the wages that you have earned. It is just. Well, the “just” payment that we deserve for our sin is death; this was what God told Adam would happen if he ever disobeyed and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). In the day that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually and were then cursed to eventually die physically, too. And because of all of our many willing choices to sin, we deserve the same just payment for our sins. The physical death we must all face is what we have earned. At the same time, the negative spiritual effects of sin that we feel in this life – guilt, strained and broken relationships, worry, conflict, and separation from God – they are the bitter fruits that God warns us about throughout the whole Bible (Romans 6:21). Without Christ, we were in a sense “free” from the desire to be holy and live rightly, but what did that get us? Only death (Romans 6:20), the just payment for being the slave to the cruelest of masters, sin.
But praise God for the second half of Romans 6:23! While justice gives us the death we have earned, grace gives us the life we have not earned through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As another really important step in the Romans Road tells us, “God demonstrates His love for us in this, we were still sinners” – dead in our trespasses and their consequences – “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Eternal life is not like eternal death – life does not and cannot be earned nor does it have to be; it is the free gift of God’s marvelous kindness and love that we simply receive by faith. The “end” or result of our faith is a new life serving God, which is a life marked by “holiness” as God remakes us into His own image (Romans 6:22). But that eternal life, that growing relationship with Jesus that we are blessed to enjoy, is not a wage we have earned. It is the greatest of all possible gifts from the greatest Giver of all. You see, the God of the Bible is just, but He is also full of mercy and love. To experience God’s grace, we must only be willing to reject the life of sin that earned us death and instead receive the gift of life in Jesus Christ. What a deal! How can we ever refuse it?
The Text (Romans 6:20-23)
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Questions to Think About
- Do you truly believe that you deserve hell and death for your sins? If so, when do you first remember accepting that truth? If not, what do you really believe that you deserve for the life you have lived so far?
- Have you ever heard someone object to biblical Christianity based on their belief that “a loving God would never send someone to hell”? How could today’s passage help you respond to that objection?
- Can you think of some specific negative consequences that you have experienced because of your sin? Give a few examples.
- Why do you think that God made salvation a gift to be received rather than a wage to be earned? Why is it important that we understand holiness and obedience to be the results of our salvation rather than its cause?