Gift or Wages: A Matter of Life or Death (Romans Sermon 40 of 120)
September 09, 2001 | Andrew Davis
Imputed Righteousness, Death & Dying
I. The Mystery of Life
Please if you would take your Bibles and look with me. This morning, we're going to consider just one verse. That's unusual. We usually go through more, but Romans 6:23 is such a remarkable verse. And typical of the apostle Paul, as frequently we go through Romans, we come to these verses that sum up his teachings, that sum up what he's been saying in a remarkable way. You've heard this verse before, Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The Home Mission Board has printed thousands, even millions of these cards that just have this one verse on them. These little cards about the size of a business card. And we can use these verses to begin explaining the gospel. It's a very famous verse, it's on the four spiritual laws that the crusade uses. It's on the steps to life that Billy Graham uses, and many others as well. You've heard this verse before. But I want to share with you that I've come to understand it in a new way, as I've studied it in context in Romans 6. Not radically new, but I think in context, it's going to come alive for us in a powerful way, and so I hope. As we look at this verse, we see mentioned prominently this phrase, eternal life. And I think that's what I want to zero in on, namely the mystery of life. What is life?
Now, if you were to come and look at our garden, you would not see any evidence of life except weeds, I think. The deer got all the best parts, and every year, we're very gracious to the deer in our neighborhood, and we plant tomatoes, and we plant squash, and we plant… What else? Watermelon. This year, and they grew up to a certain point, and then they just mysteriously disappeared. And so I ran my lawnmower over it a few weeks ago, and we're done with it. We are not good at growing things. And a while ago, we bought a Crepe Myrtle tree. You've seen this beautiful trees all around, and I'm so jealous of them. When I look at other people's yards, I see these beautiful tall flowering trees, and I have a vision of something like that happening in my soil too.
And so we bought a potted Crepe Myrtle plant and let it sit there for about a week or something like that, and it started to shrivel. You're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to plant it right away and get some water on it. So, we un-potted it, and I dug the hole, and I finally got around to planting it. We ran the water, too little too late, I guess in some respects. And then we waited. And we looked every day at that Crepe Myrtle tree. And then finally, these shiny little green leaves started poking out. Oh, what a day. What a day. How exciting that was. Those little green leaves, you know what it meant? The roots were alive. The tree is alive. That was so exciting for us. Are you alive in Jesus Christ today? Is there any evidence of life in your life? I mean spiritual life, not just physical existence, but is there evidence that Jesus Christ is alive in you? That's what this passage is about.
Now, what is life? Biologists tell us very technically, that the difference between a chunk of granite or some of that soil or whatever, and those green leaves or any other living thing comes down to two basic functions, metabolism and reproduction. What does that mean? Nourishment, the ability to eat and take in nourishment, and the ability to produce fruit. Taking in nourishment resulting in fruit, that is life, so the biologists tell us. Now, Jesus Christ gave us a spiritual definition. "Now, this is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Putting it all together, it's in knowing God, in being in Jesus Christ, that we receive nourishment, and we bear fruit for eternal life. That's my understanding of this verse. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
It’s All About the Fruit
Are you alive today? Is there evidence? Is there fruit of life in you? God created this world, this planet, and filled it with life, didn't he? Vegetative life, created seed-bearing plants each with its own kind, and they reproduce. He created animal life, and they each reproduce after their kinds. He created man and woman, in the image of God, and blessed them, and said, "Be fruitful and multiply." And they were fruitful and multiplied biologically. But God also called out a people for himself, for his own glory. Israel. Isaiah Chapter 5 spoke the verdict on their fruitfulness, in which Isaiah said, "I will sing for the one I love." That's God. "I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He watered it and cared for it. Then he looked for good grapes, but received only bad."
"What more could have been done for my vineyard than I did for it," he said. Why is it then that "when I looked for good grapes, I saw only bad fruit?" And so it was that one day Jesus walking into Jerusalem saw a fig tree and went over to get fruit from it. You remember the story? And he saw that fig tree, and on it was only leaves. And he cursed that fig tree, and he said, "May you never bear fruit again." And instantly the leaves withered. And then he told shortly thereafter a parable about the vineyard and they did not produce fruit. Instead, they stoned the messengers that were sent one after another, and finally the verdict came down. The vineyard will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
The issue is fruit. We are that people. We are the Gentiles. We must bear fruit for God. We'll get to that in Romans 11, but we're grafted in to this wild... We're like wild olives which was grafted into this Jewish olive tree and we are to bear fruit. We must show something, there must be life, there must be fruit. And so it says in our passage here, As we're leading up to Romans 6:23 and erse 21, look down with me, 6:21, it says, "What benefit," in the NIV, it says, "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" Not a good translation. The word is literally fruit. In verse 21, "What fruit did you get from your old life in sin? What harvest of fruit came to you when you were a slave to sin?"
That you are ashamed of those things now. What fruit was there at that time from those things you're now ashamed of? Those things result in death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit again, NIV. The fruit is the word, the fruit that you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." It's all about fruit. Now in the past, I've understood this verse a little more statically. This is how it works. When you see it on the track, you say, you've got to get this thing called "eternal life." And if you pray the prayer, the sinner's prayer, if you sign the card, if you walk the aisle, if you do all these things, you get this thing that you call "eternal life" and you put it up on your shelf like a trophy.
It's kind of a static thing that you have and you're going to need it later, it's going to come in real handy on this thing called Judgment Day. But you've got to get it and have it there. And then you go on living however you live, maybe you're a super special Christian and do extra things in the church. But there's that thing that you've got and you remember when you got it, you were 12 years old and you got that thing called "eternal life" or you were 18 or you were 16 at that youth camp or something. You got that thing called "eternal life" and you look back at that moment when you obtained it, you see.
Is that what this verse is talking about? Is it not rather talking about a life that we receive in Jesus Christ? What Paul is dealing with in Romans 6 is the relationship between sin and the life of a justified person. We've gone through justification by faith alone, we've learned that we are declared not guilty before the judgment seed of God based only on our faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works. And it's all coming to us by grace and therefore the question seems to come out of the text. Well, if it's all by grace, if it's just a gift, if it's not by works, and if you can't sin your way out of it, if it's true that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, then why don't we just sin to beat the band?
Romans 6: Shall we continue to sin?
Why don't we sin all we want? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? And that's what he's dealing with here. How are you living now is the question? You see, what's going on in your life now? And he's teaching you that you have been united with Christ if you're a Christian. You're dead to that old way of life, you're dead to sin forever. Jesus died once for all for sin and you also died with him, and you've been raised to newness of life. Romans 6:4 says that, "We've been united with him so that we may walk in newness of life, buried with him, and then united with him, raised with him."
So you've got a new life if you're a Christian, so therefore you should think of yourself as dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus, and therefore as a result of that, you should not offer the individual parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, your new self, this new created being you are in Christ as those who have been brought from death to life, you're like a resurrected person. You're a new person, offer yourself to God and offer the individual members of your body to righteousness and to an ever increasing holiness. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus."
Now as we look at that issue, we're dealing with this counterfeit gospel. We don't want a static understanding of this thing that you get and you have it on your shelf, and then you pull it out at Judgment Day, God isn't that way, God is looking at the twigs of your life the way I was looking at that Crepe Myrtle tree. Where is the fruit? Where is the life? And if there is no life, there is no justification. Justification brings life through Jesus Christ. And if there's no fruit, there's no life, if there's no life, there's no justification, if there's no justification, you're still in your sins, fear Judgment Day, fear it, if there is no fruit in your life.
III. Death: The Wages of Sin
And so that's what he's getting at, what kind of life are you living? And so he brings out a kind of a summary here in which he's persuading us as justified people that we should not live in or walk in sin any longer, and he does it as he's been doing it through this chapter, negatively and positively. First, he discusses the wages of sin, the wages of sin is death. And then he looks at it positively, but the gift of God, the free gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Let's look first at the negative portion, death, the wages of sin.
From Fruit to Wages
Now the first thing that I want to say about is, that death is the deserved wages of sin. The word "wage" literally means the thing that you get because of your labor, because of your effort. If you were to come to your employer on a payday and he were to say, "Well, it's payday, I want you to know that I'm giving you this check, your wages, just as an example of my free generosity to you. I'm a very generous person, and I just want you to know that this is an example of my generosity to you." Will that be right? Wouldn't you rather say, "I worked for that, I earned it. That was our agreement, that I would work for a certain amount, and I deserve this, so therefore, give it to me."
And that's the same sense here. He's shifted the idea from fruits to now the idea of wages. And he's talking about that which we deserve. This is really a military term in terms of the rations, the income that a soldier gets for serving in an army. In 1815, Napoleon, having been exiled to the little island of Elba by the European powers (he was a dangerous man, powerful military commander), managed his escape and started coming inland in France. Well, they sent a French army to meet him and capture him. He met them. And immediately persuaded them to join him in going to Paris. And he did so by promising them immediate wages for service. But then ultimate booty down the line. Treasure because he was such a skillful military commander. He went to Paris. Did the same thing again. Persuaded more people to join his army. Immediate wages, ultimate reward down the road.
Sin is the same way. Sin comes to us like a commanding general. And says, "Join my army. Join my army." And we did. We joined the army of rebels against God. And what daily wages does this general pay? Death. And what ultimate wage will he pay? Death. It's the same thing. And that's what Paul is saying here. "You want to serve in sin's army, the wages you get is death." That's what you get. And the saddest, and perhaps the bitterest part of all, the ultimate death, as we'll mention in a moment, is hell. That those in hell understand that they deserve to be there. That they are getting what they truly deserve. Just like the thief on the cross said to the other thief, "Why are you reviling this man? We are getting the just desserts for our actions. But this man's done nothing wrong."
And so it says in Romans 3:19, "So that every mouth may be silenced before God and the whole world held accountable to God" at Judgment Day. We will have nothing we can say. We will own and say, "I deserved this." Because the wages of sin is death, we deserve it. And so it's deserved wages. It's also the decreed wages. Right from the very beginning of the world, Genesis 2:16-17 says, "The Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day you eat of it you will surely die.'" So there at the very beginning, the Creator God, the Commander God, the King, united sin and death.
We've already had this in Romans 5. Through the sin of one man death entered the world. So there's a marriage, a decreed union between sin and death. Therefore, every sin deserves the death penalty before God. The ultimate question of your life is simply this, "who is paying your death penalty?" Scripture gives two options, and only two. You can pay it forever in hell or Jesus can pay it in your place through your faith in him. Those are the only two choices for who pays that death penalty. But there is a decreed penalty. And that is death. Death is also the universal wages of sin.
Ezekiel put it this way, "The soul who sins will die." It's just that simple. This is not just for Adam. This wasn't just Adam's decreed penalty. It's for all of us in Adam. All of us have this decreed penalty. It's universal. And since all have sinned and lacked the glory of God, all of us are sinners. Every last one. We are all under this just sentence. All nations are included. All people included. All nations. Every tribe and language and people and nation, the same wages. "The wages of sin is death." Everybody has the same.
And it's not just a matter of big sinners and then little sinners. You've got the folks that are strung out on coke or some other thing. And you can just see it. "Look at that. The wages of sin. It's so obvious isn't it?" Well, the wages of complaining and arguing and irritability and all that, that's death too. All sin deserves the death penalty before God. It's not just for big sinners. But also for the little sinners. Are there any little sinners? Not when you consider the holiness of God. So for everybody. It's universal wages. Is it for Christians too? Well, that's an interesting question. Now Jesus has paid the ultimate death penalty hasn't he? Let me ask you question in the Book of Proverbs. "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man's wife. No one who touches her will go unpunished."
Let's just extend that out. Can a Christian sin with impunity? Or do you also eat the harvest that you sow? If you sow to the flesh will you reap from the flesh? Yes. Praise be to God we don't pay the ultimate penalty. But the warning here is given to Christians. "The wages of sin is death." Turn away from it." What has sin ever done for you except make you ashamed and wish you'd never done it? And so for all, universally. And what do I mean by that? I've thought about this. Every single day has its own special good deeds that God intends for a Christian to do. Isn't that true? "For we are his workmanship. Created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God laid out in advance for us to do." What happens if you begin that day in sin? Don't have your quiet time. You don't pray. You have problems. Get in an accident with somebody and then let slip some words you should never say and all kinds of things. What's going to happen to the good deeds laid out in front of you the rest of the day. You've lived it. Is there not a principle of death that day? Now God is gracious. And he can at any moment, through confession of sin, rectify it. But there's still a principle of death. The fruitfulness that God intended for that day dies. Praise be to God though we don't have to face that ultimate death penalty through Jesus Christ.
So death is the universal wage and is given to all sin. Death is also the daily wages of sin. In the day you eat of it, you will surely die. This is for non-Christians. Understand this, those who have not come to faith in Christ are spiritually dead. And they receive that spiritual death day after day. They are dead in their transgressions and sins in which they used to live. There's an ongoing sense of death, a spiritual death, a separation from God. First John 3:14 put it this way, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers." Because we love our brothers. "Anyone who does not love remains in death." That's a daily experience of death, is what it is. Death is the daily wages of sin. Death is also the growing wages of sin. Sin is relentless, you know. It grows and grows.
Verse 19, "You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness." It doesn't stay put, it's dynamic, it's moving, it's growing like a tumor. I was talking to Jack recently about prison ministry, and he said that they have a saying in prison in reference to this, that sin takes you farther than you wanted to go, keeps you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost more than you wanted to pay. Have you all experienced that? "Whoa, how did this happen?" "Well, you stepped off early on and now here you are." "Oh, that I had not done that." And the regret comes in. But there's an increasing cost, increasingly hardened in sin, people become. There's a hardening effect in sin.
Doctors and nurses involved in abortion will testify to the fact that early on it was shocking and difficult, but as they progressed it becomes easier and easier to do. So, also, people addicted to certain things testify that had a greater impact, the drug had a greater impact early on. Later on, less and less. There's a hardening effect of sin, it's the way it is. So the drug addict has a decreasing pleasure in the drug, the adulterer decreasing pleasure in adultery, the materialist decreasing pleasure in possessions, the glutton decreasing pleasure in food, the Gen X thrill-seeker always has to push the envelope a little bit more trying to hit that same high. It's a decreasing effect, the wages of sin is death.
Marie Antoinette, the woman who lived a life of debauchery as a consort of the King of France, said at the end her life, "Nothing tastes." Nothing tastes, nothing moves me anymore, I don't care about anything. It's the deadening effects of sin. And then finally, death is the ultimate and eternal wages of sin. We have a spiritual death now presently if we're not Christians. We are dead in our transgressions and sins if we're not Christians. Physical death is promised to all of us at the end of our life. The Lord does not return in our generation. Hebrews 9:27, "Is appointed unto men to die once and then to face judgment." But none of that compares to the final death, and that is hell. Revelation 21:8 says this, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
I want you to feel the terror of understanding what that second death is if you're not in Christ today. I pray that you would understand it now. I pray that God would move in your hearts and you would understand the seriousness of this death, that it is eternal, there is no escape. And so therefore we must have Jesus pay that penalty for us. We must have him stand in our place and pay our wage for us. Thanks be to God that this verse does not end here. The wages of sin is death, period.
IV. Eternal Life: The Free Gift of God in Christ Jesus
But there's a "but" isn't there? "But the free gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ." Amen? A free gift of eternal life. Why would anyone not take it? Why would anyone not receive it given the stakes? Jesus said, "What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul" to that second death? "Or what [on the brink of that second death] would a man give in exchange for his soul?" God has a gift to give and that gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Life is the free gift of God in crisis. The NASB puts the word "free" in there. It's not necessary, it's really redundant isn't it? Aren't all gifts free? If you charge for it, is it still a gift? Of course not. Of course it's free. And as a matter of fact, as Jesus reaches out to you with a gift of eternal life and you dig into your pockets for your good works and try to pay for it, away with your good works, you cannot pay for this. You must be humble and receive it simply as a free gift. Whereas the wages of sin is deserved, this is a free gift. It's not deserved, it's simple grace. Grace, and it's only in and through Jesus Christ, can we say that too much? All of these things are in and through Christ alone. Only in him and through him and through faith in him, because he died on the cross, because he shed his blood and paid the penalty for our sins. Because of that, we have this free gift.
Life is also the promised gift of God in Christ Jesus. Do you realize that all the Old Testament was pointing forward to this free gift? All of it. It was promised in the garden to the woman and to the seed of the woman that her seed would crush the serpent's head. It was promised when Noah and his family got on the ark and they were rescued and saved and delivered from the judgment. It was promised when Abraham was called out and it was said, "Through your offspring, all peoples on earth will be blessed." It was promised then as well. This free gift has been a long expected free gift. It was promised every time an Israelite brought a sacrifice. A sinful Israelite brought a sacrifice, and that sacrifice died. And the sinful Israelite went home.
Looking ahead to Jesus, the day that we would come and bring our sins, and he would pay the penalty and give us his righteousness. We walk home free. It's the promised gift of God in Christ Jesus. It's also the particular gift of God in Christ Jesus. Whereas the wage of sin goes universally, this gift is particular to all who believe in Christ and to only those who believe in Christ. There is no exception. You must believe in this gospel message. You must receive it. In John 20:31, it says, "By believing, you may have life in his name." First John 5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life." Eternal life is given to the believers, not to everyone. But to those who believe. And it's given to those who submit in obedience to Christ. Through Christ Jesus, our what? Lord.
Do you realize you're being saved out of rebellion to God, into submission to his lordship? There's no separation between the two. He is your Lord if he's your savior. It's to those particular folks that this free gift is given. Life is also the daily gift of God in Christ Jesus. You're supposed to walk in this newness of life, day after day. You're supposed to be bearing fruit to God. When God comes and checks you as a Crepe Myrtle tree, he's going to see leaves coming out and growth and little flowers and buds. He's going to see growth and holiness. He's going to see an increasing yearning for the word of God. He's going to see a hatred for sin. He's going to see actual temptations resisted and refuted by the power of the Spirit. He's going to see a growing fruitfulness in your life. He's going to see these things in you, if you're a Christian.
And so very much as Jesus said, he is the vine and you are the branches. And if you remain in him, you will bear much fruit. Apart from him, you can do nothing. And so remember what life was, the biologist tell us? It's a matter of nourishment and fruitfulness. And so, you are grafted in Jesus and the nourishing sap flows from him into you out into fruitfulness. That is Christianity, folks. That is true Christianity. Anything else, counterfeit. Static. Dead. But this is the life. Are you grafted into Christ? Do you feel that life-giving sap flowing through you? Are you bearing fruit for God? Life is the daily, the now fruitfulness of God. But the gift of God… And then life is the growing gift of God in Christ Jesus. That's apostle Paul's point here. You're supposed to be growing. This is supposed to be a principle of dynamic, of progress. You're more like Jesus now than you were 10 years ago. You're growing in holiness, walking with Jesus, learning more and more about God. There's a growing gift of holiness, a growing gift of life in Christ Jesus.
Look at Verse 22 again, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." The end of that is eternal life. What is he saying? You want to get to heaven? You want eternal life? You must live this kind of life now. And it's not by works, not at all. It's by being grafted in where that life is flowing through you. It's just going to happen. John 1:4, "In him was life and that life is a light of men." In Jesus's life, you're going to have life in you. There's going to be fruit, the growing gift of God.
Are you growing in holiness? Are you putting sin to death in your life? Are you yearning more for the word of God now than a year ago? Or is sin growing in your life? Which? Are you advancing in sinful habits? Which is it? The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our lord. And then finally, life is the ultimate and the eternal gift of God in Christ Jesus. And now we can speak openly about heaven. Oh, what a thing it is! That we will be given life forever and ever and ever in heaven. Listen to these words from Revelation and think of the images of life. Think of nourishment, think of fruitfulness in this picture.
Revelation 22:1-4, it says, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads."
You've got the river of life flowing down. You've got the tree of life bearing 12 crops of fruit for the healing of the nations all the time. Such a picture of life, of nourishment, of fruitfulness eternally. And it's focused on oneness with God. They will be his people and he will be their God. Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God in Jesus Christ whom you have sent. What is static about that? What is put up on a shelf like about that? Nothing.
This is an ongoing living, breathing, spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you have that today? Does that characterize you? The wages of sin is death. It is deserved, it is decreed, it is universal, it is daily, it is growing, and ultimate and eternal in hell for those that do not receive the free gift. But the free gift is free, it's given by grace through Jesus Christ our Lord. It was promised in the Old Testament, it is given only to those who repent and trust Christ. It is given to us daily. For in him we live and move and have our being. Apart from him, we're dead, but in him, we're constantly alive and it is growing more and more, and ultimate, ultimate eternal life in heaven. Face-to-face fellowship with God forever.
V. Review & Application
What application? Well, if you don't know Christ, if you look at your life, if you look at your Crepe Myrtle branches, and there's nothing but deadness, are the roots alive? If you've been looking for months for something from that Crepe Myrtle tree and nothing's coming, is that tree really alive?
If you don't know Jesus Christ, come to Christ today. Oh, I beg you that you might follow him, that you might believe in him, to understand that his death was in our place, paying the wages that we deserve, that we might get a free gift. Come to Christ today. And if you're already in Christ, and you see the principle of growth in life in you, don't veer off into sin, because the wages of sin is always death; it always kills fruitfulness. But walk with Jesus, abide in him, stay close to him. I like to begin every day, getting up out of bed and kneeling down and saying, "God, I'm yours. You bought me with the price, you are my master, you are my Lord. My hands, my feet, my mind, all of it is yours today to command. Help me to put sin to death today, help me to love your word and walk with you today, deal with me today." Consecrate yourself to him, present yourself to him daily and grow in holiness. Won't you close with me in prayer?
Lord Jesus, what can we say, other than thank you for the incredible gift of God that you have given us. This incredible gift of eternal life in your name. Oh Lord, I pray for those who do not know you as Lord and savior in our midst, or those that these people who love you will take this message too. Those who are out there who are still dead in their transgressions and sins, that they might hear this gospel message, that they might repent and believe. That they would understand that today is the day of salvation, that tomorrow is not guaranteed. And that the ultimate, ultimate death in hell forever is too terrifying to even consider, oh that they might flee to Christ and find safety in him the way that Noah and his family found safety in the ark. Oh heavenly Father, for those who are Christians, that they might grow and be evermore fruitful. Prune us, Oh Lord, that we might be evermore fruitful for you. That we might grow in holiness, hating sin and loving you, oh Lord, and submitting ourselves to you. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.