Text Romans 6:23 Time 30 03 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I'd like to preach to you this morning on a famous text. It is a most fundamental text and sums up biblical teaching very succinctly for us. If you've never learned it off by heart then I suggest that you do. The text is Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
One old writer sums up 'This concluding verse - as pointed as it is brief - contains the marrow, the most fine gold, of the gospel.' It really is full of good things.
So let's consider this verse For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. I don't know if you did any charades over the holiday but if you were to try and convey this verse you would begin by suggesting that it contained 20 words. Then you would point out that the first word was a little word. In fact this verse contains two important little words For at the beginning and then in the second part of the sentence we have the word but. The first word reminds us that this follows on from what has gone before, the second that Paul is making a contrast - For on one hand the wages of sin is death but on the other hand the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Consider this little word For
Let's consider this little word for then first and the context for the verse.
The Letter to the Romans is Paul's longest letter (that’s why it’s first in the New Testament). It has been called ‘Paul’s masterpiece’ and even ‘the most profound book in existence’. Luther called it ‘the chief part of the New Testament … the purest gospel’. Calvin said it opens the door ‘to all the most profound treasures of Scripture’.
Paul didn't found the church in Rome and so when he decided to visit he prepared the way by sending a letter setting out his gospel. While not covering every area of Christian doctrine, it is the fullest account of Christian teaching we have in the New Testament, with the possible exception of Ephesians. Its central theme is the gospel itself, the revelation of the righteousness of God in providing for the salvation of sinners.
Chapter 6 contains a section that begins to answer objections to Paul's doctrine of justification by faith not by works. Paul begins the chapter with a question - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Then in verse 15 he asks What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? He is dealing with two different questions, one regarding how to be saved and one regarding how to live the Christian life. The basic question is, however, the same - does Paul's idea of grace (free salvation by faith not by what we do) sanction or encourage sin? In both cases he answers very clearly By no means!
In verses 16-22 his point is that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey. This can be either as an unbeliever to sin, which leads to death, or as a believer to obedience, which leads to righteousness. In the case of the Roman Christians, they, in Paul's terms, used to be slaves to sin, but they wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which they were entrusted and so were set free from sin and became instead slaves to righteousness. He is using an illustration, of course. He says (19) Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, as unbelievers, so now as believers offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. As unbelievers they had been slaves to sin and were free from the control of righteousness. There was no advantage in those things they are now ashamed of - Those things result in death! But now he says as believers you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, and now the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. The reason this it is so is because the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Consider this little word But
What Paul says in this verse reflects what is found in two proverbs. 11:18 The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward 10:16 The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment. They both use the same contrasting use of but. Paul has modified these verses though. In particular he has introduced a contrast not only between sin leading to death and eternal life but also between wages you work for and the gift of God. Once again he wants to emphasise the grace of God.
Having looked at these two little words for and but, let's come to the two main parts of the verse itself. I want to say two things therefore
1. Turn from your sins for the wages of sin is death
The first thing to get then is that the wages of sin is death. We begin negatively. Perhaps the best way to go about understanding this is to consider first what the words sin and death mean.
1. Understand what sin means. It is clear from the Bible that sin is, to use the shorter catechism definition, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God”. God has set standards and if we fail to live up to them, then we sin. Here is the target to aim at – if we fail to hit it, we sin. God has drawn certain lines and if we cross those lines then again we sin, we transgress. There is the line - the moment we cross it, we sin. This applies, it is clear, not only to what we do but also to what we say and what we think. Of course, besides all this we are all sinners by nature since we are children of Adam and are therefore both born guilty and with a propensity to sin.
We need to remember that by nature we are sinners. It is not a pleasant thought but it is a true one.
2. Understand what death means. Death we know is what awaits us at the end of our lives - sooner or later. Death came into the world because of sin. Beyond the grave there is something further, what is called the second death or hell. Just as there is such a thing as eternal life so there is also such a thing as eternal death. This is the death that is being talked about here.
If sin is an unpleasant thing to think about, death is even more unpleasant to think of. Yet there is such a thing. To deny it is madness. Death is a fact. There is not only death here, the first death, but death in the world to come – everlasting death. We must face this fact.
3. Understand what wages means here. The word translated wages originally referred to cooked meat or fish – provisions. It then came to mean the money for such provisions and especially the pay of a Roman soldier, as soldiers were originally paid with provisions rather than money. So it came to mean what a man earns or deserves, his proper pay. Most people in this country today get paid through the bank and often month by month but many still get weekly wages. I remember when I worked one summer in a biscuit factory how the wages trolley would come round on Thursdays and you'd get your wages in a special brown envelope.
There is this link then between sin and death. Death is sin's wages, what it pays out.
1. Death is what sin properly deserves. Death is not something undeserved by the sinner but the fair reward or, better, wage. Not a sinner will die who does not deserve to die. Sinners even in hell will be treated just as they deserve to be treated. There is no more dreadful doom we can think of for ourselves than that God treat us as we deserve.
2. We can also say that death is the wages of sin, because, like the pay of the soldier, it is just what was threatened, “The soul that sins, will die.” God will not inflict anything more than was threatened, and therefore it is just.
4. Understand the indissoluble connection between sin and death
In other words then, there is an inescapable, an indissoluble connection between sin and death. Now all sorts of attempts are made to break that connection. The devil wants us to believe that sin leads to pleasure, to ease, to glory and success. We often convince ourselves that sin will lead us to such things, yet here the connection is made between sin and death. We need to get that connection clear in our minds. Have you ever played word association (what a friend of mine calls word association football)? You know eg Dog, Cat, Fur, Coat, Enshroud, Night, Eye, Heart, Love, Hate, etc. It is used by psychiatrists to learn things about people but it can be fun too. Now what about the word sin? Do you associate the word death with it? You ought to – the wages of sin is death. Sin leads to death. It is inevitably connected with decay and with death, with darkness and with hell. We need to connect not only the general idea of sin with death but individual sins too. You know how children are not born with an innate sense of danger. They do not instinctively know that the road can be dangerous – they have to be taught. They need to learn that stepping out into the road without looking is likely to lead to injury. So we need to teach ourselves to connect sin with death. The wages of sin is death.
5. Therefore turn from your sins
The application is obvious. We must turn from any and every known sin. If we knew that there was the danger of death from say poison or for some terrible disease, we would do all we could to avoid it. It is the only sensible ting to do. Given that the Bible connects sin and death in this way, we must turn from it.
2. Put your trust in Christ and receive the gift of God - eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
So we come now to the positive. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Death is contrasted starkly with eternal life. It is made clear that this eternal life is a gift, a gift from God, and that this gift from God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. So
1. Understand what eternal life means here
Obviously eternal means forever. Now when you think about it simply living forever on earth would be as much a curse as a blessing. Ultimately we are talking rather about heaven. We are talking about something that goes on forever and ever and that is the very opposite of death and hell. That is what we are proclaiming today.
Understand what we are saying then. You can live forever. You don't have to die – which is what you deserve as we have said. You can be in Paradise. It is not pipe dream but a real possibility.
2. Understand how it is received It is a gift, it can't be earned like wages. It's not a matter of work. Most people think the way to get to heaven is by doing certain things. Indeed most religions teach this. It's like a vending machine. You put your money in here, the product comes out here. As long as you do the right things then you will be okay. But no, says, Paul. Eternal life is a gift. It's nice when people give you gifts – but you can't make them do it.
Realise then that eternal life is a gift not wages. Wages are all about hard work, effort. A gift is quite different. It entirely depends on the will of the other person.
3. Understand who it's received from
It's a gift from God not from a man – not from ourselves, a priest, etc. Life itself is something that only God can give. It is the same with eternal life. It is something that only God can give you. You can't demand it. You can't earn it. God gives it to whom he chooses to give it. He says I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.
Look to God. Don't be proud and think you have some right to eternal life. Humble yourself before him.
4. Understand its orbit in Christ Jesus our Lord
You can only receive this eternal life by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. It's as if God the Father has taken all his treasures and placed them in his Son. That's the place to go for eternal life. There's nowhere else it can be obtained.
That's why I say to you today – go to him. Go to Jesus Christ and find eternal life through him. He is willing and ready to receive you.