In Romans 6 St. Paul speaks of our sanctification in Christ, that as by the righteousness of Christ we have been delivered from the guilt and penalty of sin, so by the power and life of Christ in us we are delivered from the dominion of sin, so as not to live any longer therein. We have come into the domain of life and, therefore, we must act according to that life—being in its essence, pure, holy and heavenly—we must proceed from righteousness unto holiness.
Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” At its core, sin is rebellion against God. Our sin separates us from God, the creator and sustainer of life. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). God is known as the great “I AM.” Life is in God. So, when we sin and become separated from God, we become separated from true life. Therefore, perforce, we experience death. Three points of clarification are needed:
First, sin does not necessarily result in physical death right away. Romans 6 is not telling us that when we sin we will physically die. Rather, it is referring to spiritual death. However, acts of the flesh like fits of rage, drunkeness, orgies and the like (cf. Gal 5:19) can certainly lead to physical death. For instance, we often read or hear about the rising cases of senseless killing in different parts of the world.
Now, let us take a look at what spiritual death means. The further a man goes in iniquity, the more dead he becomes to purity and holiness—he loses the power to appreciate the beauties of virtue, or to be disgusted with the abominations of vice. A person can sin himself into an utter deadness of conscience and that is the wage of sin.
All desire after God and all delight in Him die out where sin reigns. Death is the separation of the soul from God. Can two walk together except they are agreed? Man may continue to believe in the existence of God, but for all practical purposes God, to him, is really non-existent. His sin has killed him towards all desire for God, or love to Him, or delight in Him. He is to God dead while he lives. “The mind governed by the flesh is death” (Rom 8:6).
As there is, through sin, a death to God, so is there a death to all spiritual things. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:14). The man does not perceive and discern spiritual things, for he is dead to them. To him it is as though there were neither angel, nor spirit, nor God, nor Mercy Seat, nor Christ, nor holiness, nor Heaven, nor Hell. Giving himself up to the dominion of sin, the sinner receives, more and more, the result of his sin, even as the Apostle says, “when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:15). “He that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8).
Inasmuch as in holy things dwells our highest happiness, the sinner becomes an unhappy being; at first by deprivation of the joy which spiritual life brings with it, and afterwards by suffering the misery of spiritual death. If a man will follow after that which is evil, that evil shall, of necessity, bring with it sorrow and unrest (cf. Rom 2:9).
Second, even believers will experience spiritual death if they choose to remain in sin. We are not exempt from the natural consequences of a broken relationship with the Father. When we sin, we experience the symptoms of spiritual death. We may feel guilty, empty, confused, or disconnected from God. We act as the unrighteous rather than as the righteous. Sin destroys our joy, our power in prayer, our confidence towards God. Our sin, even as believers, hurts the heart of God and grieves His Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Though it does not sever our relationship with Him, our sin does put a barrier between us.
Think of a child and a parent. When a child disobeys, the relationship with his parent is strained. The parent still loves the child and still has the child’s best interest at heart. The child never stops belonging to the parent. So it is with us and God. When we rebel against God’s rule in our lives, we rebel against the Life, and therefore experience “death” (a brokenness resulting in pain). When we return to God, we are also restored to spiritual life—communion with God, a sense of purpose, righteousness, freedom, etc. The rejoicing father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son said it best: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).
Conversely, the choice to alienate ourselves from God will result in death. The Holy Spirit, speaking of the ungodly, says, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the Presence of the Lord and from the Glory of His power” (2 Thes 1:8-9). This will be the ultimatum of sin! As surely as rivers run into the sea, so surely must sin run into death—there is no help for it! Sin inevitably pays to all who are its servants the death by which bondage to its power is sealed forever!
The misery of the misery of sin is that it is earned. If men in the world to come could say, “This misery has come upon us arbitrarily, quite apart from its just results,” then they would derive some comfort. But when they will be obliged to own that it was their own choice in choosing sin, this will scourge them indeed.
It will be the folly of follies to go on working for such a wage. Hitherto they that have worked for sin have found no profit in it (ver. 21). Why, then, will we go further in sin? It ought to be the grief of griefs to each of us that we have sinned. Oh, misery, to have wrought so long in a service which brings such terrible wages!
It must certainly be a miracle of miracles if a sinner does not remain forever beneath the power of sin. Sin has this mischief about it, that it strikes a man with spiritual paralysis, and how can such a palsied one ward off a further blow? It makes the man dead; and to what purpose do we appeal to him that is dead? What a miracle, then, when the Divine life comes streaming down into the dead heart! What a blessedness when God interposes and finds a way by which the wage most justly due shall not be paid!
Third, when we are saved in Christ, we are rescued from ultimate spiritual death and brought into ultimate spiritual life. Paul told the Romans, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Sin brings its natural consequences with it, but eternal life is not the purchase of human merit, but the free gift of the love of God. The abounding goodness of the Most High, alone, grants life to those who are dead by sin. In salvation all is of free gift—in damnation everything is of justice and desert. When a man is lost, he has earned it—when a man is saved, it is given him!
The dead cannot earn life. Both good works and good feelings are the fruit of the heavenly life which enters the heart, and make us conscious of its entrance by working in us repentance and faith in Christ. Since we received eternal life we have gone on to grow. Whence has this growth come? Is it not still a free gift? Yes, and when we get to heaven, and the eternal life shall there be developed as a bud opens into a full-blown rose; then we shall confess that our life was all the free gift of God in Christ.
What a wonderful gift this is, “the gift of God.” It is called “life” par excellence, emphatically “life,” true life, real life, essential life. This does not mean mere existence, but the existence of man as he ought to exist — in union with God, and consequently in holiness, health, and happiness. Man, as God intended him to be, is man enjoying life; man, as sin makes him, is man abiding in death. Moreover, we have life eternal, too, never ending. It is life in Jesus. We are in everlasting union with the blessed person of the Son of God, and therefore we live.
Do we know that because Chirst lives, we shall also live (cf. John 11:25)? If so, let us show, by our gratitude, how greatly we prize this gift! We dwell in a world where death is manifesting itself in various forms of corruption everywhere — therefore let us remember from what the Lord has delivered us! Let no man boast in his heart that he is not subject to the vile influences which hold the world in its corruption. Let no pride, because of our new life, ever cross our spirit. Chase every such thought as that away with detestation! If our life is of Grace, there is no room for boasting, but much space for soul-humbling. We are like living men shut up in a morgue—wherever we turn we see the dreary works of death—but all this should make us grateful to the sacred Power which has brought us out of death into spiritual life.
Let us paise God with the song “Because He Lives”: