Romans 6:19-23: Sin’s Wage vs. God’s Gift

Faith is the Gift of God 2All around us, whether infiltrating the air or intertwining itself into the tapestry of our culture, is an assumption.  To be free is to be the boss, under no one else’s thumb.  Now, at first, who will disagree?  Oh, how gratifying and cathartic, until we realize we turn ourselves into self-made gods.  Only scan human history to discover what a dangerous idea this is, for we make horrible gods.

Assume we are released from all our limits to do as we decide, we still may not be liberated.  Not if we make the rules to suit us and set our standards to fashion what is right and wrong.  Oh, such a way of life rings out with the bells of liberty but, in truth, lays bare our real taskmaster, who still enslaves us.

This reality exposes its ugliness when our delinquent nature is running the show.  For we offer our minds and bodies as slaves to impurity, and to worsening lawlessness.  No, this is not freedom.  For when you do whatever you want, what you want becomes your master.  To please yourself, you become a prisoner to your pleasure.

So, who is the independent person with complete freedom?  No one, for everybody is under some authority.  The question is who or what, whether the true God or a false one.

Scour the world, and what will you find?  Hidden beneath the inspiring monuments of man, you will also find self-interest, complacency, and unadorned evil.  The underlying problem for the decay, even within our noblest deeds, is not rooted in the establishment, the organization, or “the man.”  No, the sin flows from the person, who transmits his corruption into everything he does.

The taint of our inherited nature degrades what we do, which is why Scripture tells us this hard message: “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).  Listen to Jesus weigh in on this, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).  The result is people wanting to do what they like.

The proof is in our laws, which exist to curb our harmful actions toward others.  The laws of our nation and state, as messed up as they may be, prove the existence of the defect inside us.

Select a sin.  A person drinks too much and fights, engages in improper sexual relations, cheats, steals, lies.  Why?  To be blunt, people enjoy sinning.  At least a part of them does.  For if people don’t, only love will flow from them, not selfish thoughts and manipulation.  So, we learn this truth—we are a conflicting mess of motivations.  The Christian is not immune.  Despite doing what he doesn’t desire, a portion of him enjoys the immorality he commits.

Call those transgressions what you want, compulsion or sickness, but God uses the word “slavery.”  What’s insidious about this oppression is people think they’re free, when they’re not.  No, sin dominates them because their disobedient desires enslave them.  Though we might suppose we’re unrestrained because our wants and wishes drive the agenda, burrow a bit deeper.  No, we don’t walk in freedom but in bondage, crippled by a broken nature, sullied by sin, which feeds our infected yearnings.

The Scriptures also describe this as “death.”  So, someone is alive in body and mind, but not so in matters spiritual.  Oh, he thinks he’s living, as he judges truth from a corrupted lens, which keeps him from seeing what reality is.  So, the Almighty thunders from heaven, “The wages of sin are death.”

In earth’s beginning, God gave Adam a warning, “When you eat [the fruit from the forbidden tree], you will die” (Genesis 2:17).  Listen to Prophet Ezekiel.  “The person who sins is the one who is going to die” (Ezekiel 18:4).  The unchanging, irreversible truth echoes later in sacred writing: The earnings of our misdeeds are only death.  Nothing and no one can change this.

The Bible hammers home about our works not earning anything before God.  So true, but don’t sprint to the other side of the cliff, assuming what we do is also of no value.  No, what we do is beneficial, serving others, testifying to what we believe.  Where you don’t go is to claim what you do contributes to the salvation awaiting you.

To presume as much insults our Lord.  “Oh, Jesus, you didn’t do everything, for I must do this one minuscule part.”  Think, you are placing something you do in the same category of what your sin-slaying Savior can only do.  How can your works compare with Christ’s perfect obedience!  The Father’s gift is life eternal, which He gives—if not, everything changes.  The grace disappears, gone, mutating into the collapse of our attempted works.

So, our achievements don’t help re-establish us with God.  No, you are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and this is not from you.  No, such faith is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8).  The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Life-Giver, the Author of our faith, not you.

Now, our deeds don’t earn eternal life, but this doesn’t mean they are lacking teeth, unable to harm us.  Sin attacks and seeks to destroy our trust in God.  Let’s stop living in a delusion.  For when you choose wrong over right and refuse to repent, you are committing spiritual suicide.  How?  In deliberate and willful sinning, you are pushing God off His throne, turning yourself into a false idol you value more than God.

The contaminated wage we earn is death, which is why you and I will, one day, breathe our last.  Now, if a corrupted nature did not defile us with the defect of sin, our hearts would never stop pulsing with life.  Only sinners perish, not the righteous—and implanted within a sinner’s take-home pay is his decay and ruin.

The heavenly Father sent His only Son, Jesus, to become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  So, when Jesus took our place, He became our sin, which is why He went to the cross of death.  Yes, Christ paid the wages of all sin, in full.  Only He bought and brought us life, paying the needed toll, earning for us eternal bliss when He conquered death.

Didn’t someone need to bear the cost?  Yes, and as both divine and human, Jesus did.  Today, He parcels to us, through Word and Sacrament, what He earned in His dying and rising.  For every sin-polluted person of every time and place, our Redeemer went, which is why God only grants life to us in Jesus.

Only Christ covered the expenses of our failures, choosing to die for us rogues and offenders.  To the killing wood, He lumbered, taking in our every downfall, becoming every sinner, dying our death.  Without His blessed sacrifice, the life from all eternity evaporates like water in the desert of our fallen desires.  The payment for our tainted deeds remains unchanged to this day—death, which is why Christ died for us.

On Calvary’s cross, Jesus suffered damnation in the place of the whole human race.  In a singular moment, death and life faced each other down, Life emerging as the Victor.  By signing His signature on sin’s bitter paycheck, God secured life in eternal glory for a sinful humanity.  Though the gift is free, the price is not.

Don’t try to buy what comes as a gift.  For only someone who never sinned can pay for this life.  So, our offenses against the Almighty exclude you and me.  In Jesus is life, and He alone gives us life beyond all death.  The Savior does not sell, make you negotiate, or command you to use some layaway plan while you pay.  No, He presents you with life unending.  The only way to receive such life is from Jesus.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Baptism saves you.”  A mysterious shroud now lifts, revealing how.  “Not by removing dirt from the flesh, but as the appeal of a clean conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).  In death’s descent and rise from the tomb, Jesus earned life undying, which He pours down on you in the water and Word.

So, your baptismal waters are your sparkling-clean conscience before the all-knowing Judge.  For the Spirit’s cleansing connects you to Jesus’ forgiving cross and His defeat of the grave.  The Spirit lights the flame of faith to rely on Jesus and what He promises to you in the purifying waters.

In a conversation with a man, named Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of being born from above by water and Spirit and believing in Him for everlasting life (John 3:3, 5, 16).  The discussion testifies to both baptism and belief, without one opposing the other.

The promised Messiah gives life, but sin’s reward, if you want to apply such a word, is only never-ending death.  So, we thrive in our baptism, dying to sin and rising in our life-giving Lord.  Filled with Adam’s spore of ruin, the sinner in us becomes a robust swimmer, which is why he needs to drown in repentance every day.  Otherwise, we’ll be washed away in the sea of death, not cleansed anew in God’s life-affirming ways.

Now, walking away from sin can be challenging.  For we deal with the old evil, all-too familiar temptations, and repeating the same confessions for our recurring wrongs.  Tell me, is God not yet bored with us?

Sin will line us up on death row to dump on us our sin-filled earnings, leaving us without rest or respite.  Are you not tired of working to death, toiling for wages, which only dig you deeper into debt?  Despite the struggles against our defiant flesh and our disappointments at rejecting sin, God brings us into His life of joy.

Yes, the old failings may beset us in our dismal weaknesses and frequent failures.  In grace, God still upholds us because He loves us, and we are powerless to rescue ourselves.  So, do not be daunted, for Jesus still comes to us with eternity within Him.  In Him, we find peace and rest, flowing from the certainty of eternal life.  Amen.