“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 6:23) This article is really about two ideas which Paul so beautifully brings together in this one verse: the wages of (or payment for) sin is death, but the forgiveness of that sin results in eternal life in Christ. Let’s take a look at both contrasting ideas and see how they come together in this beautiful verse.
First of all, the wages of sin is death. In other words, the punishment for living a life of sinfulness without repentance and salvation is surely death. The death spoken of here is also referred to in the Scriptures as the “second death.” The meaning of the word “death” is a separation. (The meaning of the word “death” in the secular world means an ending of life, or that the person has ceased to live.) In the physical sense, death is the separation of the spirit of the person from the physical body. This is the first death. The “second death” is the eternal separation of the spirit of a person from the presence of God. In as much as God is our Creator – both as a human race and as an individual – it is our desire for our spirit to return to God upon physical death to be able to live with Him for eternity. However, due to sin – or more specifically a life of sinfulness without remission of sin and salvation – one will experience the “second death” which is the eternal separation of the spirit with God.
If one is eternally separated from God, then where will his spirit be? “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:12-15) “In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9)
These Scriptures paint a grim picture for those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and strive to live a life pleasing to Him. This picture is one of a spiritual separation from our Creator. It is also a picture of eternal suffering in the “lake of fire.”
The Bible does not give us a great amount of detail as to the place we call Hell. Perhaps it is to protect us from the knowledge of that awful place. It is possible that the very knowledge would destroy us. (No Scripture for this, just my opinion.) But the Bible does give us a glimpse of what it will be like. Jesus tells us of the rich man who went to hell in Luke 16:19-24. In this passage, verses 23 and 24 say, “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” How severe the torment must be if a single drop of water would be desired to bring whatever slight relief it could. There is no way on earth that we can even begin to imagine the torment that awaits the unrepentant sinner.
The good news (no, the great news) is that a sinner can be forgiven. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16,17) “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Even though the wages of sin is death, God provided His Son to pay the penalty for all who would accept Him as their Lord and Savior. It was through the love that our Heavenly Father has for each one of us that He gave Jesus to bear our sins to the cross and pay the penalty that each of us, by rights, should be paying. You and I along with every other person living today or in the past are the guilty parties. We are the ones who have sinned against the Father. In order for justice to be done, we should pay the price of death for our sins.
However, through the grace of God and the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross we can receive a free gift – the gift of salvation. We can be saved from the awful fate of the second death which is hell. God has provided a way for us to escape the torment of hell and to live in eternity with Him. The only way for this to happen is that we must be forgiven for our sins. Since Jesus took our sins to the cross and paid the price for our sins we can receive forgiveness for our sins. We can have our sins remitted or forgiven.
How are our sins forgiven? They are forgiven because Jesus took them to the cross and paid the penalty for us. However, we must accept the free gift that God is offering to us. How? First by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Second, by repenting of our sins and asking God’s forgiveness. Third, by confessing to our fellow man that we indeed believe that Jesus is God’s Son. Fourth, by submitting ourselves to the watery grave of baptism. And finally by living a live which is faithful to Christ and His church.
But exactly when is our sin forgiven? “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 2:38) “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2:41) “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) How could anything possibly be more clear than is this issue. Our sins are forgiven when we in faith believing submit ourselves to the watery grave of baptism. There are many false teachings concerning baptism in the world today. But the Scriptures make it clear. Baptism is what obtains for us the forgiveness of our sins. Unless we voluntarily, with a believing heart and a repentant spirit submit to baptism by immersion, our sins cannot be forgiven. Jesus said it, the apostles preached and practiced it and I believe it. And that should be the end of it!
There are those who may say, “How can I know that I have been forgiven of my sins?” When we come up out of baptism there are no lights that flash, no trumpets that sound, no mighty rushing wind that fills the place – so how can we know? Is it not enough for us to know that Jesus promised us that our sins would be forgiven? Is it not enough for us to know that the apostles preached forgiveness of sins during the establishment of the early church? Consider the following Scriptures.
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of a man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19) “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:13-15) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17,18)
It is beyond my comprehension for a person to say that he or she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that they believe what the Bible has to say about the nature of God and then to question whether or not they have received remission for their sins. If we believe what the Bible has to say about God, His Son and the Holy Spirit, we should rejoice when we come up out of the watery grave of baptism – not begin to question our salvation. If you do what the Bible says to do to receive salvation, there is not need for questions!
If you study God’s Word on a regular basis (daily if possible, but at least several times each week), then you will receive the strength to come to know with certainty in your heart that God has forgiven you. As our monograph series says. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)
All Scriptures quoted are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.