Romans 6 is an awesome chapter that describes the reality of our deadness to sin in Christ Jesus. Because we were buried with Him in our baptism, we are also raised to new life [Rom. 6:4]. Paul tells the Romans to not let sin reign in their bodies, thanking the Lord for His freeing us from enslavement to sin [Rom. 6:17-18]. And since we have died to sin, how could we still live in it? [Rom. 6:2] It’s not that we are able to discontinue sin in our lives, but that through faith, we realize what sin is and hate it. We are able to discontinue the presentation of the members of our bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness [Rom. 6:13]. Sin is no longer master over us [Rom. 6:14]. But when we sin, thank God that we have been justified by the blood of Jesus Christ and saved from the wrath of God [Romans 5:9]. Through His perfect obedience, many are made righteous [Romans 5:19]. And then Paul reminds us:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
This verse is certainly well known, but perhaps seldom considered at much depth. Sure, it is used in evangelism encounters to defend the Bible’s position of death being the result of sin, but it’s possible that the intention of its use by many-a-professing Christian has caused them to simply see one side of it. Hopefully not.
“For the wages of sin is death” is a very clear statement. The payment for your sin is death. That is what you have earned. There is no point system provided here. Death isn’t the payment only for what seem like “major” sins. Any sin committed in the results in death. There is spiritual death in which humanity is unable to accept the claims of the Bible unless the Holy Spirit gives them life. There is physical death in which the physical body dies. And there is what is referred to as the “second death” in which those who die in their sin are cast into the lake of fire described in the book of Revelation. We aren’t sinners because we commit sin. Rather, we commit sin because we are sinners. Death is the reward… the compensation for sin. This is pretty much accepted by most professing Christians.
The verse continues with “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Notice that this verse doesn’t say, “For the wages of sin is death, but the wages of faith (or humility or obedience or whatever) is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is because eternal life isn’t a wage. It is a gift. As mentioned before, the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is the only thing that makes us righteous. Our obedience could never merit an ounce of righteousness. The only compensation humanity could ever get for their efforts is death. You may be saying, “I know, I know… what is the point you are driving at?!”
Many will certainly agree that God has given us this gift of eternal life, but we must first accept the gift out of our “free will”- just as someone may offer something to you, but it doesn’t mean you have to take it. “Taking the gift” in the context of this particular free will worldview involves much more than simply saying, “Yah! I’ll take it!” It assumes that the one receiving this gift must first humble himself or herself, as opposed to being humbled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may take someone to a certain point, but they must not resist Him. It assumes that the person must stop being hard-headed and accept the claims of the gospel. This poses a problem, because eternal life becomes a reward for those who take it. It is compensation for those who are humble. It is the reward for those who aren’t hard-headed. On the contrary, eternal life is a gift given to us that we would otherwise always reject since the natural mind is hostile to God and unable to submit itself to Him [Romans 8:7]. Hostile. Unable. Faith and repentance aren’t even works that are compensated with eternal life. Faith and repentance are also gifts from God.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” [John 1:12-13]
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” [Acts 13:48]
“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God (a Jewish proselyte). The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” [Acts 16:14]
“and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” [Romans 8:30]
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9]
“8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, ” 2 Timothy 1:8-10
“1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. ” [1 Peter 1:1-2]
Eternal life isn’t a wage for obedience. Instead, as the apostle Peter said [1 Peter 1:1-2], the elect were chosen TO obedience.