For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
For as long as I can remember, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year. I love the anticipation of spending time with family and friends. I love the songs we play over and over that never seem to get old. I love eating great food and taking long naps. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Confession. I also really love opening gifts.
Don’t get me wrong. I also love giving gifts (it’s more blessed to give than to receive), but a thoughtful gift can communicate love in a powerful way. John writes in his gospel that God’s love for the world caused him to give to the world. And in Romans 6:23, the Apostle Paul unpacks this idea even more. He writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, God, in his kindness, offers eternal life to you and me as a free gift. That’s the message of the gospel. And if the gospel doesn’t seem too good to be true, that probably means it hasn’t “clicked” for you yet. It’s the greatest news in all the world. And what Paul does vs. 23 to help us understand the beauty of the gospel is this. He shows us what we deserve and what we receive. Let’s look first at what we deserve.
Wages = Death.
Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death." In other words, the payment that you and I deserve for our sin is death. It's amazing how many people think they have shared or heard the gospel when their message has nothing to do with sin. Understand the gospel is good news. But the gospel is good news because you and I deserve death apart from it. Christian conversion is not you adding Jesus to your already full life but Jesus raising you from your totally dead existence. The reality is this, the gospel will never be truly beautiful to you until you realize that apart from it, you’re totally helpless. That’s why Romans 3:23 is so important. It reminds us that “The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary” (Jonathan Edwards). Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He didn’t come to make immoral people moral. He didn’t come to make unchurched people churched. He came to make spiritually dead people alive. Without him, you and I have no hope.
But the good news is that Romans 6:23 doesn’t end with death. Instead, we see that eternal life is freely offered to every person. We deserve death, but let’s look at what we receive instead.
Gift = Eternal Life.
Paul writes, “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We deserve death and receive eternal life. That is good news. The entire message of the gospel is that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness but that He gives it to us freely as a gift. No one will show up to heaven someday and get a standing ovation. Because we don’t earn our salvation, we don’t earn forgiveness. We simply receive it. You see, Jesus paid the price that we deserved to pay.
You and I are sinful by nature, but Jesus lived a perfect life.
You and I are prone to follow our own sinful desires, but Jesus laid aside his will and was perfectly obedient to his Father’s will.
He did what we could never do, and because of his perfect obedience, we can have a relationship with God as a gift. That means no sin will condemn the one who believes, and nothing can save the one who will not believe. Our salvation depends entirely on Jesus — it is not a reward for the righteous but a gift for the guilty. No one is so good they don’t need grace; no one is so bad they can’t have it.
And when that reality sinks deep into your soul, you will begin to see the gospel as the most beautiful news in all the world.
Written By: Nick Harsh
Nick Harsh (MDiv, Clarks Summit University) is a ministry leader with The Salt Company, a ministry of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. While publishing regularly at nickharsh.com, his writing has also been featured at The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Relevant Magazine.