Monday, March 15, 2010

Wages of Sin vs. Free Gift of God

I used to work at Scandia Family Fun Center off of Madison Blvd. Yes, the pretty ghetto place right off of I-80. I worked in the snack bar and it was not a great job. Sure it had some perks for a 16 year old like everything being free for me and my friends, but it was hard work and not exactly "exciting". Serve a kid a slurpy, give someone their batting cage helmet and bat, try to count some snot-nosed kid's 1000's of tickets with the ticket counter that always managed to get stuck when there were tons of tickets to be counted, and so on. Not anything glorious, but it was a job and I think I got a bit above minimum wage too. Plus, there was an employee's mini golf tournament which I won on one occasion... that may have made the whole job worth it!

I say all of that because I was thinking about it this morning after reading a very well known verse - Romans 6:23. It says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Growing up in Sunday school I must have known this one since kindergarten or 1st grade... not that I really got it, but I probably got a nice gold star on the Sunday School poster next to my name for saying it by memory. Good times. Anyway, the verse is very powerful when you think about what is being implied. I believe Paul was a master communicator who was filled with the Holy Spirit to write down God's inspired Word, the Bible. Therefore, let's break these two concepts down.

For the wages of sin is death

Paul has been arguing in Romans 6 (and other places) that sin leads to death. It is the logical outcome of our rebellion against God's holiness, his commands, and his overall character. It is what we all deserve - it is what's "fair" in this life. (As a side note, I believe this means we should love the fact that, for believers in Christ, life is not "fair", meaning that we don't get what we deserve, which is eternal damnation in hell as righteous punishment for our sin.) The reason I brought up my Scandia experience is that my wages for all those hours under my boss was some money - it was my justified payment for what I did. In a similar way, the justified payment, or the justified outcome, of anyone's life lived under sin and not under God's grace which comes through faith in Christ, is death. That is, both the physical death we will all experience (unless Christ returns before that happens), and also eternal death - separation from God forever. These are the wages of sin, and these are the wages everyone either is under today who is apart from Christ, or was under before you came to Christ (or before he came to you and rescued you, which I would argue is a more accurate way to describe it).

But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul now juxtaposes what belonging to sin leads to with what belonging to God leads to. The free gift is the exact opposite of the justified payment (wages) - there is nothing about a free gift that anyone can boast in and say "Ya, I got it because I worked really hard for it." Sometimes kids think they got a free gift from their parents because they manipulated their parents and dropped not-so-subtle hints about what they want for their birthday, but if the parent is a good parent then, in the end, they know that the kid got it because of a free gift of love. God is the "Free Gift Giver" here - he is the one who knows our condition better than anyone and yet still offers this free gift through Jesus Christ. We do not earn it, we receive it (Romans 3:24). You are a Christian because you received something from God... you did not pay him back and thus receive your just due.

And what is this outcome of this free gift to be received on faith? Eternal life! The contrast should be obvious by now, but the outcome of all your work under sin as your "boss" or more accurately as your owner, is death - physical death and eternal separation from God. Yet the outcome of God's undeserved gift of grace is eternal life IN Jesus Christ. Eternal life is given for everyone in Christ - everyone who has come to receive this gift and live for him. Everyone who has come out of the bondage of sin, the ownership of such a brutal taskmaster, and into this marvelous light. Everyone who has seen their rebellion and seen what their Creator did in order to have them back. Everyone who recognizes that the chasm between them and God would never be jumped over or somehow breached unless God himself became a man and took our punishment for us. The gift of eternal life is entirely free to you and I, but not to God. It cost the life of the Son, who willingly sacrificed himself on the cross for our sin, in order that we might become children of God.

Praise his name today! While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We who were working for sin, under the bondage of sin, on our way to receiving our just payment of death have been rescued. Yes we will die in this life because of the effects of sin, and yes there are still consequences to our sin that we still struggle with. But you can go about your day and the rest of your life knowing God has rescued you, given you free grace through Jesus Christ, and that your physical death one day has been transformed so that it is no longer the end of anything but the doorway into eternal life with God our Savior.

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