The Gift Of God
The Wages Of Sin
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 27a of 83


“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

If you are at the bus stop and you have only five minutes to talk to someone about Christ, which verse would you turn to? Some of us may turn to John 3:16. But I would propose instead, our text, Romans 6:23.

This verse, like John 3:16, contains the Gospel in a nutshell; but it is probably easier to explain to unbelievers.  It is a verse that every preacher and indeed every Christian should quote whenever the Gospel is expounded.

It highlights three important truths.

First, it reminds us that…

1.  The Wages of Sin
is Death

a.   The word rendered ‘wages’ (ojywvnion, opsōnion) occurs only four times in the New Testament. It refers to a soldier’s pay. There is another word that is also rendered ‘wage’ (misqov", misthos). But that is a different word. Paul is referring to the reward of one who is serving under a banner of loyalty and obedience like a slave or a soldier. Notice that in the context, Paul is speaking about how we should not be slaves of sin, but slaves of God (see v. 16-22). Now he is changing the metaphor a little. Those who are slaves of sin are fighting for sin. They are soldiers of sin. Sin is their captain. And sin is a master who pays.

But how does he pay? He pays fairly.  He pays promptly. But what does he pay with? He pays with death. What is death? The word ‘death’ is short and simple. But it is pregnant with meaning.

When God had created Adam and set him in the Garden of Eden, He said to him:

“…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17).

But when Adam ate of the fruit shortly after, he did not drop dead immediately. Yet, he did die.

He died spiritually. His soul became dead in sin and trespasses. He could no longer do good. All his deeds became sinful in God’s sight. He could no longer obtain eternal life by perfect obedience according to the terms of the Covenant of Works which God had entered him into at Creation.

And not only so, but since Adam was no longer able to do anything right or profitable in the sight of God, his body was now as good as dead. Moreover, Adam also began a process of bodily decay that would lead to death. He was now susceptible to illnesses. And he eventually died of old age.  Had he not sinned, he would not have experienced physical infirmities and death. But now tiredness, bodily pains, illnesses and death became his lot.

And not only so, but he began to experience eternal death. Since eternal life is knowing and enjoying God (cf. Jn 17:3), eternal death would essentially be estrangement from God. Thus Adam became afraid of God. Indeed, of loving God as he did before the Fall, he now hated God. He could no longer enjoy God as he did. Sorrow and pain became a part of his life.

The experience of eternal death begins with spiritual death in this life. If spiritual death is not reversed before bodily death is finalised, the soul passes into an eternity of separation from the favourable presence of God. The soul goes into hell where it will suffer eternal loss and a destruction of everything that is worth living for. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. There will be no respite from pain, sorrow, regret, guilt and torment. There will be no respite from anything we would consider hateful in this life.

The wages of sin is death,” says Paul. Adam died and all men descending from him by nature died in Adam. By nature, all men descending from Adam by natural generation would die spiritually, bodily and eternally. We must die for our sin. Unless God delivers us, we are born spiritual dead, and we will die physically and eternally.

b.  Are you still unconverted, dear reader? Death may seem very far from you. But I want you to know that unless God has begun a work in your heart, you are already dead. You are dead in your soul. You are not just sick, but utterly dead and rotting.

The Scripture says that you are dead in trespasses and sin. This is why you cannot enjoy the things of God. This is why you enjoy the things of the world more than the things of God. You don’t enjoy praying or reading the Scriptures. You don’t enjoy biblical worship. You don’t enjoy hearing sermons or singing the psalms. You don’t enjoy prayer or fellowship with godly believers. You enjoy watching movies, watching or doing sports, playing computer games, shopping, worldly music and dancing. You enjoy the things of the world more than the things of God.

If this is the case with you, there is clear evidence of spiritual deadness in your soul. You are spiritually dead. And because you are spiritually dead, you will enjoy sin. You are a slave to sin. You delight in sin—even if secretly. You will sin when no one is watching.

But you know what? Because of your sin, you will be paid the wages of sin. “Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him” says the prophet Isaiah (Isa 3:11). The soul that sinneth, it shall die” says the prophet Ezekiel (Ezk 18:4). The wages of sin is death,” says Paul.

All of us by nature are enlisted in the army of Satan whose banner is Sin. Unless God by His grace transfers you out of the camp of sin, you will continue to serve sin and you will be paid with death for your service. You will die.

You will suffer physical death which will immediately be followed by eternal death. When you close your eyes on your death-bed, it would not be the end of your sorrows. It will only the beginning; for you will not understand what is real sorrow and pain until you feel it yourself in hell.

But now, I must not leave you the impression that you will only be paid the wages of sin when you die. No; no; sin is an efficient paymaster. He will not wait until you die to pay you with physical and spiritual death. Every day that you remain in sin, will see you experiencing more and more of death.

We need only to read the newspapers to sin shortens the life of man. Robbers,  murderers and those disobedient to authority are more likely to die young, compared to an average person. Likewise those who engage in immoral and self-destructive lifestyles, are far more likely to suffer terrible diseases such as AIDS, heart attack, liver failure, etc. We are all too familiar with that.

Moreover, like a man struggling in quicksand, you will sink deeper and deeper into spiritual death with each day that you serve sin. Your conscience will grow harder and harder. You will want less and less of God. You will want more and more of the world and of self. Your life will be more and more characterised by godlessness, pride, anger, hatred, greed, lust and vengeance.

Is this not the reason why very few people are converted after their teenage years? No, it is not because teenagers are more impressionable. It is rather, because the more you live in sin, the more you will feel the ravage of sin. While a younger person may still come to hear the preaching of the Gospel despite his unbelief; a middle age person is much less likely to come.

The longer you remain in sin, the deeper you will sink into death. God is of course able to save you even when you are older. But do not presume upon God. Do not test Him. Today is the day of salvation. He has only promised to meet you today.

Unless you are delivered by the grace of God, today, you may end up receiving that final payment for your sin when you die. You will be paid with eternal death. When that happens, you will, for all eternity regret ever serving sin. Sin is a prompt and fair pay-master. It pays you for what you deserve, but it does not care whether it is good for you. It is like a cigarette maker paying his employees with cigarettes.

Are you still in the grip of sin? Oh friend, open your eyes and see: It is not worth serving sin. Sin is killing you slowly.

c.   Now, beloved brethren, if you are in Christ, you have been delivered from death. Your old man is dead. He was crucified with Christ. You have been made spiritually alive. And though your body will die, death would no more be a punishment for you, for death will bring you into eternal glory and enjoyment of God.

But I would warn you that the wages of sin is still death for you. Sin is deadly to anyone, whoever he may be. Were it not for the Spirit of God working mightily in our souls, none of us will survive the effects of sin. This is why the apostle Paul would later exclaim: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

Though our old man is dead, God in his wisdom has left in us a remnant of corruption. We are still able to sin. And God allows us to continue to feel something of the effects of sin. Sin therefore continues to be destructive for us. “The wages of sin is death.” If we are truly the children of God, we will not die. But we will still experience the killing power of sin. When we sin, it is like taking poison. The poison may not kill us, but it will injure us. We must not forget that. And neither must we forget that if we persist in sin without repentance, then we must be deluding ourselves, for says the apostle Paul:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

The wages of sin is death. Whether you are young or old, Christian or non-Christian, the wages of sin is death.

But thanks be to God…

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim