Sometimes the simplest passage or single verse of scripture can be profound in its impact, packing a punch that is easy to read past. Occasionally I find myself reading through a chapter, or an entire book and though I would never verbalize it, in my mind I subconsciously say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve read this before. I know what it says. Move along – move along.”
There is a verse just like this in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. It is a very well-known verse, one I have read dozens of times, and one I have used extensively in my evangelistic efforts. Most of you will recognize it and likely many of you can quote it verbatim.
The Gospel in a Single Verse
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23, ESV
This brief verse is commonly paired with Romans 3:23, where we read that we have all sinned, every one of us, and we all fall short of God’s glory. In our target verse, we see what the result of that sin is, and historically, evangelistically, I have focused on the hammer-blow of “death” in that verse.
While that pairing of verses and focal point is not inaccurate, it misses the full beauty of what is contained in Romans 6:23, and as I read it last evening, I was struck by how much I have been missing in this single verse from Paul’s letter. From a certain perspective, Paul has laid out the entire gospel in one sentence.
A Trio of Duplets
In Paul’s single-verse gospel, we have two phrases connected with “but.” When I look at the two phrases, I see three key elements in each phrase with a corresponding element in the other phrase. The elements point out the contrast between where we were and where we are, in the case of Christ-followers, and where we are versus where we need to be in the case of non-Christ-followers.
The Wage verses The Gift
Note the opening of each phrase – the wages verses the gift. The use of the term “wages” is interesting to me because my wage is something I earn. I work for a wage. It is due me because of my efforts. So, my actions and choices have earned me this result. In the Romans 6 case, it is a result (death) that I really don’t care for, but I cannot argue with my due. It’s what I have earned.
A gift, on the other hand, is not earned and may even be undeserved. It is something freely given to me. The gift, in this case, is an expression of God’s character. God is love, and out of that love he sends his good gifts to us like water cascading over the rocks of a waterfall. All we need to do is accept the gifts.
Sin verses God
Next we look at the sources. In the former, the source of the wage is my sin – not Satan. Me, my sin. In the latter, the source of the gift is God. So we have a contrast of sinful and sinless, and from that wages and gifts. It is a contrast of opposites. The sinful requires a wage, a payment, while the sinless offers the gift. Sin takes away while God freely gives.
Death Outcome verses Life Outcome
In our final contrast, we see opposing outcomes – death versus life. We have eternal conscious existence completely separated from God in contrast with eternal conscious existence in the presence of God. We have a choice of an existence cut off from all love, light, goodness, mercy, compassion – basically everything that God is – a choice between being separated from those things, or bathing in their presence in abundance. Death versus life.
The gift is found in a specific location. It is “in Christ,” because it is based on the completed work of Christ. Jesus is the one who took on the wages of my sin and your sin. And through faith in him and his work, we accept that gift from him.
If you would like a fuller study of the implications of being “in Christ,” you can download a copy of my in Christ study here.