Romans 6:23 Earned and Deserved to Unearned and Undeserved (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Earned and Deserved to Unearned and Undeserved
Rev. Erik Veerman
Just one verse this morning. Romans 6:23. This verse is probably one of the top 10 well-known verses in the Bible. We’re not going to stay parked on verse 23 for the whole time. In fact, Romans 6:23 is a good summary chapter 6.
The main purpose of Romans 6 is to answer the question in verses 1 and 15. Should we sin, that grace may abound? The apostle Paul clearly answers that and gives his reasons. We are dead to our sin, united to Christ, and therefore we should pursue righteousness. Our last two Romans 6 sermons have honed in on those themes.
But there’s something else going on. Romans 6 also reveals the beautiful work of salvation in our lives… starting with where we came from, a state of death, and ultimately where he’s bringing us, eternal life. And included are the steps along the journey.
Romans 6:23 basically summarizes that. After we focus on the verse, we’ll be going back to different parts of the chapter to see the progression.
Well, let’s come now to this verse. You can find that on page 1121 in the pew Bible.
As we come to God’s word, please stand as you are able.
Romans 6:23. In fact, because it’s just one verse, let’s read it together.
People spent 76.5 Billion dollars on anti-aging medicine last year. Did you even know anti-aging medicine was a thing? That includes supplements, hormone treatments, and other medicine to try and extend life expectancy.
It’s an interesting commentary on our culture. It reveals a recognition of death and dying, but also in some way, a pursuit to overcome death. And we know, this is not new. In the late 1400s, the explorer, Ponce de Leon, sought to find the ubiquitous fountain of youth. And if you go back to the 3rd century BC, China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, also sought to overcome death. He believed that consuming mercury would lead to eternal life. Can you guess what happened to him?
Life and death are not peripheral matters for anyone. They may not always be front and center in our hearts and minds, but when confronted with the frailty of life, we often pursue some kind of self-preservation.
Well, Romans 6:23 deals with those very things, the reality of death and the hope of life. But it takes those central matters to new levels – not just physical, but spiritual and eternal.
• The death that Romans 6:23 speaks about is a physical, spiritual, and eternal death. We’ll come back to that in a couple of minutes.
• And the life that it speaks about is a physical, spiritual, and eternal life.
That’s one reason this verse is so well known. It’s a rubber-meets-the-road reality that makes an eternal promise.
For that reason, Romans 6:23 has been used in countless evangelism methods, like Evangelism Explosion, or the Roman Road, or the 4 Spiritual Laws.
Some use it in what they call “one verse evangelism.” And I would say, it really does capture the heart of the good news of Jesus. It clearly presents the reality of sin, death, and life. One of my goals today is that you would see that.
Now, I’m not opposed to evangelism methods – they can be helpful ways to explain the need for Christ and the hope he gives. Some of them, I believe, are better than others. And I’m not opposed to Romans 6:23 being used to help present the Gospel hope of Christ. It is helpful and clear.
However, I do want to point something out. The apostle Paul was writing to Christians. The book of Romans is written to the church in Rome. His primary goal is to teach and encourage the church. And chapter 6 is especially for believers in Christ to lay hold of our union with Christ and its impact in our lives.
If you are a believer in Christ, this verse summarizes your condition before coming to faith in Christ, and it reminds you of where you are headed in Christ for eternity. If that’s you, what I’m saying is not to turn off your minds this morning. See this verse as a deep reminder of where you came from, what God has done, and what he will do for you.
If you’re not a believer in Jesus, or you are unsure about this Christianity thing, well then, see this verse in a different light. First, as a warning about the reality of death, but second, as an amazing gift of life that God offers to you.
What I’d like to do is basically two things, this morning. First, get into the weeds of this verse. Each word is full of meaning. Doing so will make it even more weighty and even more glorious at the same time. And then, second, connect this verse to the rest of chapter 6. That will help us not just see our origin and destination, but also the path of Salvation that God has and is working in us.
That’s where we are headed. So, let’s begin by analyzing some of these words and phrases.
First, “wages.” The English word “wages” really does capture the underlying meaning of the Greek. It’s the salary, or you could say, reward due someone for their service. Of course, this verse is using it in the negative sense. When we think of compensation for work, we think of receiving a fair payment. Here, the word wages is applied to our sin. It’s pointing us to what we deserve because of our sin. It’s the just or fair compensation for sin. It’s what we are due because of our sin.
Now, briefly, let’s get into that word “sin.” Our sin includes all the ways in which we have violated God’s commands including defaming his name, rejecting him in unbelief, putting ourselves or others or other things before God in our lives. But it’s also more than that. We didn’t consider chapter 5, but that chapter speaks about how our very nature is sinful. All humanity inherited a sinful estate from Adam. We were born in sin.
What I’m saying is that the reference to sin here is not just our sinful actions or inactions. It also includes how we are inherently sinful.
That brings us to the word “death.” Death is described as the just payment for our sin. The word death means more than just physical death. Yes, it includes physical death (and the process of dying which we experience), but the word death here also includes spiritual death. That sense is also wrapped up in the underlying word. It’s the separation from God and salvation forever.
The wages of sin is death.
God in all of his glory and majesty and goodness and truth is utterly holy – that means he’s set apart from any and all things that go against his perfectly righteous nature. Sin is that thing which goes against God’s character. Sin cannot remain in God presence. Because of his very character, God will deal with sin. So, when it says the “wages of sin is death,” it’s saying that death is the fair payment for our sin. Death is God’s righteous anger against sin. It’s God’s eternal wrath against sin and the sinner. Eternal and spiritual and physical death.
But you say, “wait, wait, wait, time out! That sounds overly harsh and cruel of God to inflict that upon us. That comes across as ‘fire and brimstone,’ like that well-known sermon by Jonathan Edwards ‘sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ Aren’t you overstating it?”
I know that’s what you are thinking because it’s also my natural thought. I don’t want to consider the wages of sin because it is a hard truth. But you see, God’s justice is infinite. He cannot just sweep sin under the rug and ignore that it’s there. No, any and all of our sin is an affront to our holy God. We deserve hell and eternal damnation. We’ve earned that because of our sinfulness. Scripture is not silent about the hard reality of God’s wrath.
Speaking of famous verses. I think the most well-known verse is John 3:16. Right? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s a verse that speaks of God’s love. And you say, “see, I told you so. God so loved the world. That’s what it says!” And I would say, “amen!” But two things are important to note about John 3:16.
First, don’t skip over the part about not perishing. Those who believe shall not perish. John 3:16 is not avoiding the reality of death.
But second, if you go down to later in the very same chapter, John 3:36, the apostle John clearly speaks of God’s anger. Listen to these words: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
You say, “but what about Jesus’ teaching? After all, he loved people.” Well, over and over, Jesus spoke about hell. He said that it’s a place of eternal torment, of unquenchable fire, it’s where people will gnash their teeth in anguish, from which there is no return. He said it is outer darkness.
I’m a people pleaser, just like you. I don’t want to offend you because deep down I want you to like me. But if I am not faithful to preach about the full wages of our sin, then I am not pleasing God, nor am I communicating the full message of the Gospel.
Let me put it this way: We can’t fully understand the second half of this verse unless we fully understand the first half of this verse. We can’t know the fullness of God’s love unless we understand the fullness of God’s wrath. The more and more we realize the depth of our sin and what we deserve, the more and more we are in awe of God’s love and grace. So, let’s not minimize, ignore, or reject the utter atrociousness of our sin and the hell that we all deserve. No, instead, let’s go there. Let’s believe it because it is out of that understanding, the cross becomes utterly amazing… truly beautiful. The wages of sin have been satisfied for you who believe.
Well, with that raw reality of the wages of our sin, now let’s come to the amazing gift of God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That phrase “free gift” is one word in the Greek. The root of the word is Xaris, grace, but with the emphasis on free. God’s gift is free. It’s unmerited and underserved. Do you see the contrast to the first part of the verse? Our sin deserves death, but the answer is not doing good to deserve life. It does not say, “the wages of sin is death, but the wages of our righteousness is eternal life.” No. We cannot earn eternal life. A dead person cannot, in his own strength, come back to life. Rather, the only way to receive eternal life is as a gift from God.
That phrase “eternal life” has so many dimensions to it. As I mentioned, physical, spiritual, and eternal – eternal in the sense of unending. But also, eternal in the sense of secure or protected forever. It is new life beyond this life in all those ways. Now, I’m not saying that each of us will not physically die. We will unless the Lord returns. Rather I’m saying that we will have new physical bodies in eternity. So, eternal life in the sense of overcoming physical, spiritual, and eternal death.
This is the free gift of eternal life. What a contrast to the wages of sin!
And notice the sentence does not end after the phrase “eternal life.” The sentence can’t end there. There’s still the problem of dealing with the wages of our sin. Something needed ot be done to replace the wages of our sin, death, with life. And so verse 23 continues… “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Christ Jesus, Our Lord
Now, I want to talk to the teenagers for a moment. Let’s say that you just received your drivers’ license. You are so excited, but then something tragic happens. You are driving and your best friend texts you. You get distracted and try to reply. Well, you lose focus, you swerve into oncoming traffic, then overreact, and you swerve the other way, and go off the road… a young boy was riding his bike and you hit and kill him. The punishment handed down is life in prison, no chance for parole. But for the sake of the illustration, let’s say there’s a little-known law that allows one specific individual to serve the sentence for you. The father of the boy who was killed. And in an amazing display of undeserved love, he does that for you. You are free and for the rest of his life, he is in prison for you.
You see, the wages for our sin still needed to be dealt with. And that’s what God has done through Christ. Through the cross of Christ, the wages of sin were satisfied. And it’s way beyond that example. The holy, righteous wrath of the one, true, living, and eternal God was satisfied. As God, Jesus was able to eternally satisfy the wages of our sin. And as a perfectly righteous man, Jesus was able to satisfy the wages of sin in our place.
And don’t miss that little word “in.” (back in verse 23) “In” as in “In Christ Jesus.” It takes us back to the beginning of chapter 6. We have been buried with him in our spiritual baptism (that was the idea in verse 4). Likewise, we have been raised with him to new life because we are united to him (that’s what verse 5 says). That is where the free gift of eternal life comes from. Just as Jesus was resurrected, so those in him will be resurrected to new life withhim forever. Death has been defeated in Christ, and those in him, united to him, have died to death in him and will be alive in him forever. It’s hard to even understand the eternal part of eternal life. But we know that we will be with Christ, forevermore.
And that gift should profoundly impact your life, today. Back to the example, imagine how your life would change after that father willingly was imprisoned in your place.
I want you to note another phrase that’s easy to miss! It’s those last 2 words. “Our Lord.” Really, they connect to the entire chapter. We’ve been considering what it means to be united to Christ. It means that grace is not cheap grace (remember that). It means that because we’ve died to sin, we should put our sin to death. In other words, Jesus cannot only be your Savior. He also needs to be your Lord. Lord of your life. Or to put it in Romans 6 terms. You are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to God. He is your Lord. Do you see how the phrase “our Lord” ties verse 23 to the entire chapter?
And really, chapter 6 gives you the full picture of your salvation in Christ. It begins with your state before God’s gift. You were dead in your sin. And chapter 6 ends with the eternal life you will experience in Christ, forever. Verse 23 is like the book ends in your life. From your deadness to your aliveness. From the wages of your sin to the eternal gift of life.
Let’s briefly walk through those steps outlined in chapter 6. There are four of them.
1. Condemned Slaves of Sin
First, the place of being dead in your sin because of the wages of sin. We were condemned to death – physical and spiritual death as we’ve discussed. Verse 17 says that we were slaves of sin. We were unable to break free from that slavery to sin. We could do nothing to free ourselves.
2. Freed from slavery
But thanks be to God. He did not leave us in that state of condemnation. Verse 6 captures step #2. “our old self was crucified with [Christ]” Why? It says, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Verse 18 is similar. They both highlight that we’ve been set free from sin. And as we considered last week, it is God’s work, not our work.
3. Alive to God
So, #1 we were condemned because of our sin. #2 God freed us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And now #3. We are alive to God. We are freed to now live for and in Christ. And this is the big emphasis of Chapter 6. As I mentioned last week, this chapter is considered the sanctification chapter in the Bible. Sanctification is God working in you conforming you more and more to Christ each day. And as we saw last week, we have a responsibility in that. We’re to present ourselves to God, to pursue Christ and his righteousness. So that’s step 3.
4. Eternal life
And the last part of God saving us is the gift of eternal life. Actually, look at the end of verse 21 into verse 22. It summarizes these four steps. It says, “For the end of those things is death.” It’s speaking about being slave to sin. That’s step #1, where we began. Next, verse 22 says, “but now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” That’s the second step - God freed us in Christ. It continues, “the fruit you get leads to sanctification.” That’s step #3. We’ve been freed in order that we may serve and honor God. And then, last, verse 22 concludes: “and its end, eternal life.” God is sanctifying us until that day that we will be with our Savior and Lord in heaven, forever.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let me end where we began. Death is coming. Every single one of us, to one extent or another feels or fears death. Let that be a warning to each of us. The full condemnation of God’s wrath is coming. But God has defeated death and defeated hell for you through Christ. And in him you will have life eternal.
If you are a believer by faith in Christ, this is a deep and rich encouragement. Let this whole chapter draw you closer to Christ, especially this wonderful conclusion. The free gift of eternal life. It’s yours in Christ Jesus, your Lord. Let it be that gift that you treasure and hope for and long for and which sustains you in this life.
And if you don’t know Jesus, now is the time. Death is coming, but God has overcome death and offers you eternal life in him. Will you believe?