“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
When you read this verse what comes to mind? Consider specifically, if you will, the contrast between the words “wages” and “gift.” Wages are what a person earns. He works to gain them. In other words, they were owed to him by the person for whom he worked. He deserves payment of wages because he worked for them.
On the other side of that equation is the person paying the wages. The wages are owed. From his perspective, the wages are debt owed so long as they have not been paid. Oftentimes, this side of the word “wages” is either glossed over or outright ignored. However, we need to consider this very aspect, especially in light of the truths that are revealed not just in this one verse but also in the passage where it is found.
Think about it – “For the wages of sin of is death.” Death is what is earned; it is what is owed to the person who is a sinner. Death is the wages earned. But these wages are a penalty according to God’s justice. And since God is a Just God He must be true to His character and pay out this penalty wage of death. Moreover, since there is no one who is not a sinner (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:9-18), all mankind is owed what it has earned, death – eternal separation from God, to live eternally in darkness and the torment of hell. This is an awesome and scary thought; it ought to make anyone reading this article tremble with fear of the mere thought of it.
So just as we considered the word “wages,” let’s now consider the word “gift” and then put some thoughts together from this little exercise. Unlike “wages” a gift is not something earned by doing something. He didn’t work to receive it and is owed it.
But what does it mean for the person giving that gift? The person giving the gift is under no obligation to give it. The person gives it freely expressing his or her favor or love for that person. Further, a gift is given at the will of the person giving it. What does that mean? When you have given a person a gift, do you do so at the exclusion someone else? Of course you do. Just because you gave one person a gift it doesn’t mean you owe it to someone else. If that were the case it wouldn’t be a gift, but debt a owed, like wages. So the person giving the gift is free to give a gift to anyone he desires and not to someone else, isn’t that right? And there would be no injustice in that, wouldn’t you agree?
Moreover, a gift is given to show favor to someone without any regard to their behavior, or any expectation of anything in return; otherwise, it would not be a gift, but rather a bribe, or a mere exchange of goods or services in a transaction. Thus, a gift by its very nature is given by grace expressing or demonstrating a person’s unmerited and unconditional care and love toward someone else.
So also the gift of God to someone; eternal life is not something earned by the person. It is not something owed to him. He didn’t work to gain eternal life. It is a gift “by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ” (5:15). God was under no obligation to give this gift to anyone, since all mankind has sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 53:6).
Further, just like the giving of any gift, God gives eternal life to whomever He desires and is under no obligation to give it to anyone else. Moreover, doing so does not make Him unjust (reflect upon Romans 9:6-33). We practice selective gift-giving all the time, don’t we? And no one would accuse us of any injustice, right? Yet, there are many who would not think twice of making this accusation against God. However, such an accusation is in reality a reflection of an envious heart of someone thinking he is God’s judge – Are you wiser than God, O man? If you think so, you will earn your wages well!!
The question then is how do you know this gift belongs to you? You know this belongs to you by faith alone, which is itself a gift. If you embrace with a believing heart all the benefits obtained by Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection, which include eternal life, then you will have confidence that eternal life, together with the forgiveness of sin, salvation and righteousness, belongs to you. Without the Holy Spirit working grace in your heart and giving the gift of faith you would never embrace with a believing heart any of these benefits that Jesus Christ obtained on your behalf. By faith you put your whole trust in the fact that He bore in His body and soul the wages owed to you (these wages that are earned are the penalty for our sin, a penalty owed because of our disobedience and rebellion against Him; a penalty that is required to satisfy God’s justice). By His death, death is no longer owed to you. You might even think of His death and resurrection as a gift as well; a gift that was done by grace alone from His everlasting love for His chosen people, both Jew and Gentile.
Furthermore, all who possess this gift by faith alone will live to God, the giver of this gift, with a grateful heart, showing that gratitude with good works, done by faith according to God’s (the Gift Giver) commandments in His word, and not the commandments of men or their opinions. Possessing eternal life will mean that the person will begin to die to sin more and more, hating it and fleeing from it and will desire more and more to live by faith in the righteousness imputed to Him through Jesus Christ.
Will you not this day by faith take possession of the gift of God, which is eternal life? Come to Jesus Christ in repentance of your sins and put your trust in His atoning work on the cross, whereupon the wages owed to us, the penalty required by God’s justice for our sins were received and paid on our behalf; and then rest your hope in His resurrection alone, whereby eternal life is assured. If you will then the gift of God will belong to you and you will begin to experience that life in Christ even now as you continue to walk by faith in the strength of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of His Word, the Bible, in willing and thankful obedience to Him to His glory.