The Gift of Eternal Life (Romans 6:23)
Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 6:23–6:23
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The Gift of Eternal Life
December 17th, 2006
If you’ve been with us in the past couple of weeks, then you know that we’ve been talking about gifts. That’s not really unusual though, is it, not at this time of year? Everyone’s thinking about gifts; about getting them, about giving them, about when to buy them and how much to spend.
But our focus has been on some different gifts, hasn’t it? We haven’t been talking about the gifts of this world, but about the gifts that come from above. And even more important, we’ve been trying to let these gifts always point us back to the Giver.
In the last two weeks, we have meditated on the incredible, unparalleled generosity of God. We learned that everything we refer to as life, as “our lives”, has come from and is sustained by the gracious hand of God. Is there a price tag we could put on such a gift? As that credit card commercial puts it: “life and breath and everything”? Priceless!
But we learned last week that God has given us an even greater gift than life. It’s a gift that remedies our corruption of the first gift. While all of us may be alive, all of us have also lost the life that God intended for us. Our desire to turn from God, our disobedience to Him, our sins, have also assured us a guilty verdict in the end. But the Apostle John so wonderfully reminded us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So the Giver’s second great gift was the gift of His Son. But in that verse, we also see that the giving of the Son makes possible another gift. We could describe these three gifts this way: 1) The Gift of Life, 2) The Gift of The Giver of Life, and 3) The Gift of New Life.
The third gift is eternal life. This morning we are going to continue to rejoice over and be awed by the incredible generosity of God the Giver. And we’re going to do that by taking a closer look at this gift of eternal life.
II. Understanding The Verse
Turn with me to Romans 6. Look at the last verse in that chapter, verse 23. Paul writes:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now this may be the shortest study passage we’ve had in a long time on Sunday mornings, but don’t be fooled. There is a lot here.
In order to understand what Paul is teaching us about eternal life, I think it would be helpful to define some of the terms we see here.
And to do that, we’ll need to pull in the surrounding context. What does Paul mean when he uses words like sin, and death, and eternal life? If we don’t do this, I’m afraid our tendency is to miss the reality of sin, and to mistake the meaning of death, and thus to minimize the value of eternal life.
A. Defining The Terms
Let’s begin with the term “sin”. Usually, when we think of sin, we think of a particular act of disobedience. We think of breaking a law. And this is certainly one of the ways that Paul defines sin. He even gave these readers in Rome a list of such things in chapter 1, verses 29-31:
[Humanity is] filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
This is a pretty comprehensive picture of human sinfulness, isn’t it? Please notice the range here. Paul talks about not only murder, but in the same breath, gossip. Just before this he talked about homosexuality, but in the same breath, he mentions being boastful and disobedient to parents.
Now, if any of us still feel like we can’t relate with that list, that somehow we’re doing OK in terms of those things, then all we need to do is move back to verse 21 of chapter one where we read that “although [humanity] knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
You see sin is also about a failure to worship God as we should, a failure to give thanks as we should. This is really the root of sin, this kind of God-rejecting heart. Do any of us feel confident that we honor God as we should, or give thanks as we should?
This is why Paul can say in chapter 3: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
But in these first six chapters of Romans, Paul also describes sin in another way: he personifies it. That’s what we see here in 6:23. The “wages of sin”, that is, the “wages that Sin pays out as paymaster” in contrast to what God gives. But why does Paul personify sin. I think he does this in order to use certain everyday images to describe sin’s power.
In 5:21 he tells us that like a king, “sin reigned in death” and in 6:12, “not to let sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies”
In 6:13 he warns his readers to not present, as they would to a slave-master, the members of their bodies “to sin as instruments for unrighteousness”.
Keep these things in mind as we look at the next term, “death”.
According to 6:23, death is the payment or stipend or the wages that sin doles out. But what does Paul mean by death? Paul cannot be simply talking about the ultimate failure of our bodies, about the end of respiration. That’s a part of it.
But all of us will die in this way, even those who possess eternal life. So what is this death Paul is talking about?
For Paul the physical death of those who die without eternal life is connected with what immediately follows that death: judgment and condemnation; that “guilty verdict”. As Paul said back in chapter 2, there is a day coming, a “day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” (2: 5) and “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil.” (2: 8, 9)
Furthermore, as Paul taught in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians, this punishment is “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1:9)
This is that death that Paul warns about.
But as he tells the disciples in Ephesus, there is another aspect to this death. This death is not simply something in the future. That’s when it reaches its fulfillment. For as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1, 2, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked”.
Paul confirms something of this condition in Romans 6:13 when he call his readers to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life”.
Could there be anything more frightening or more horrible than this death that Paul speaks about here?
3. Eternal Life
But let’s also consider what we learn about eternal life. What is eternal life?
Well, we find some clues in the context here. Like this death that Paul describes, there are two aspects to eternal life.
There is an aspect of what is to come, like when we read that “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5), trusting that “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (6:8)
Eternal life, as Paul describes in I Thessalonians 4:17 means that “we will always be with the Lord” (4:17), or at “home with the Lord” as he puts it in II Corinthians 5:8.
The defining characteristic of heaven is not clouds or harps or fat babies with wings. The defining characteristic of heaven is being in the presence of our good God for all eternity. It doesn’t get any better than that.
But there is also a present possession of this eternal life. Remember, we saw in verse 13 that “we have been brought from death to life”, and according to verse 4, the resurrection of Jesus enables us to “walk in newness of life”. We’ll talk more about this.
But we see that through faith in Jesus Christ, we can now know new life, right now, that life that is reconnected with God, that life that is in right relationship with God, right here and right now; and as this mortal shell passes away, that life continues with God right on into eternity.
B. Considering the Contrast
But there’s more in verse 23 of chapter 6. Defining those terms only helps us appreciate the power of what we read here. Did you see the contrast here? In fact, did you notice the contrasts in everything we’ve been reading?
There all over this chapter: sin and obedience; righteousness and unrighteousness; law and grace; death and life.
But there is another contrast here, a contrast that leads us into verse 23. The immediate context of verse 23 is dominated by the image of slavery. The contrast here is between being slaves of sin, and slaves of God.
Even though Paul can and will talk about being children of God, notice that all of us are slaves, one way or another. There are no other options. We’d like to think we have many options, that there are many paths. But there are in reality only two. If you are not a slave belonging to God, then that only leaves you one other option.
Listen to how Paul talks about this slavery: When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
So the result of our slavery can either be death or life. It all depends on who we serve.
But did you notice that there is not a corresponding contrast in the next verse, in 6:23? With slaves of sin and slaves of God, you would think that Paul would talk in verse 23, a summary verse, you would think that he would talk about the wages of sin and the wages of God. But he doesn’t.
No, the contrast is between “wages” and “the free gift”. You see, death is the only thing we can earn. The only thing our labor, our toil, our energy, our devotion, our passion can earn. Death is the only thing we can ‘deserve’. This should make sense in light of what we learned about sin, about how all of us are guilty.
But eternal life is a “free gift”. Notice that it’s not just a gift. There is a Greek word that Paul uses for the word “gift”. This, this is different. This is charisma. No, not charisma, even though this is where that word comes from. A charisma is something that comes from charis, from grace; it is a manifestation of grace; it is a grace inspired gift.
This gift of eternal life is a gift that we in no way deserve. There is no relationship which makes this gift somehow an obligation. There is no heart that can somehow anticipate such a gift. It is a gift that is purely given because of the pleasure of the Giver.
You seem, the emphasis here is not on the fact that we can freely receive it, but that it was freely given. And given what we’ve seen about our condition, it is the greatest gift we could ever receive.
Hopefully, looking at some of those terms helps us appreciate the magnitude of this gift. Look at what we have been rescued from! Look at what we have been rescued for!
Have you received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord?
III. Serving the Giver
I pray that you have. God is extending His grace this morning. He is calling us to believe that He and He alone can rescue us. That He and He alone deserves our deepest affections and highest praise.
But, what’s interesting here is the identity of the audience for whom this is written. One might think in this discussion about two destinies, about death and life, one might think Paul was talking to those who had never heard the Good News about Jesus, those he was trying persuade by confronting them with the reality of sin’s cruel fate,
But in actuality, he’s talking here to followers of Christ. As he puts it in verses 17 and 18:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
These are disciples of Jesus, these are Christians Paul is addressing. So if that’s true, why is he trying to drive home the point that “the wages of sin is death”? Haven’t they been freed from sin’s tyranny, from sin’s dominion over their lives? Why does he have to remind them that God’s gift is eternal life? Haven’t they already received this gift?
As far as Paul indicates, they have received this gift.
So, what is Paul saying here? Is there a possibility that they who have been brought from death to life could be taken back over to death and lose the gift of life? No, that’s not a possibility. That would mean that there is something stronger than God, something from which he could not really save us.
To understand what’s happening here we need to know that all of chapter 6 is Paul’s attempt to correct those who were saying that because we live under the grace of God, because we are free from the Law’s power, that we can sin all we want.
Paul has just spent five chapters proving to them that all of us are guilty before God and that our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, those who believe on Christ will be forgiven and made right with God. But if I’m right with God, does it matter what I do now?
Paul says, “Absolutely!” He asks his readers in 6:2: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” But, based on his warnings, it seems they were. He says in 6:7, “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” But why were some of them still apparently bound?
Why are any of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, why are any of us still susceptible to the snares of sin? What Paul seems to be saying here is that while sin is powerless over us, we can and do still give it power. Even though sin is no longer our slave-master, we can and do still present ourselves as slaves.
Every time we hold onto bitterness, we are presenting ourselves as slaves to sin. Every time we speak about someone behind their back, we are presenting ourselves as slaves to sin. Every time we let our eyes look where we they shouldn’t, we are presenting ourselves as slaves to sin.
Every time we speak a cutting word, every time we cling to worry, every time we lose our cool, every time we spend our resources on just what we want, every time we fail to act or speak in love when we know we should, every time we boast in our hearts and feel confident in our goodness, every time we do not honor God as God and give him the thanks he deserves, we are presenting ourselves as slaves to sin.
And when we do that, Paul tells us, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (6:16)
Paul is not telling them that somehow God has lost them to sin’s power, but rather, he is warning those who would go down such a path; he is warning them not to take comfort in the fact that God is their master. Because, He may not be. A person’s master is the one to whom they are presenting themselves as obedient slaves.
And what will those who believe they are right with God, but who continue to live in the wrong, what will be their end? Death.
Brothers and sisters, friends, what a terrible day it would be to wake up on the other side of death’s door and find this kind of paycheck waiting for you.
But I think Paul is doing more in this passage than just warning those who may have a false sense of assurance about belonging to God. In fact, his tone here seems very positive in regard to the genuineness of their faith.
I think Paul’s main objective here is to use these contrasts, not simply to issue a warning, but more so, to inspire worship.
You see, the gift of eternal life is mentioned here in order that we would choose, not simply it, the gift, but that we would choose the One who gave it. The main issue is the nature of these two masters. And Paul wants us to see the incomparable goodness of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Brothers and sisters, if you are a follower of Jesus, then you have been given an amazing gift. And that gift should, according to Paul, it should cause you to live differently right now because God is so good.
He has set you free (6:7, 18); you are not under law any longer, but under grace (6:14). We have been brought to life (6:13). Sin no longer has dominion over us (6:14). And now, “the fruit you get leads to sanctification [that is, to becoming more like Jesus Christ] and its end, [its end is] eternal life.” (6:22) But remember, that eternal life is a “free gift” given because of the mercy of God.
What motivates you as a follower of Christ? What motivates you to follow, to obey? Is it, deep down, a desire to earn something? Do you believe that having received God’s favor through Jesus, you must somehow now, keep earning His favor by measuring up? Listen, the only wages mentioned here are given by sin and bring us death. We cannot earn anything from God.
The gift of eternal life should remind us of the immeasurable goodness and fathomless grace of God, which in turn should cause us to, according to verses 13 and 19, to “present [ourselves] to God” because of loving gratitude; because we delight in His goodness and thus desire to please Him in all things.
If you think back over your employment history, I bet you could think of two very different kinds of bosses. There is that boss or manager who is so demanding, so strict, so indifferent, so focused on the bottom line, that you come to work, usually motivated by fear.
But there is also that employer who makes it clear that he genuinely cares about you. And because he does, he goes out of his way to help you succeed. Because he does, he is understanding and generous. That’s the kind of boss that almost makes you think that you would come to work even if you weren’t getting paid; you would come simply because of the joy you find in working under such a person.
Listen to Paul’s description of two different bosses: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Who would you rather serve? The one who give us what we deserve, or the One who gives us a gift like eternal life?