“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift from God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That’s a pretty intense verse. If we were to take the time to go through the nuances of that verse, the context surrounding it, and the history of Paul’s relationship with the Church at Rome at the time of this writing, we would probably begin to understand it a little deeper (and I would encourage you to do that). But just taken as a surface writing, which is what many people do, it becomes much more polarizing. In essence, what Paul is saying, through this and the rest of the chapter, is that sin, something that every person in the world is guilty of at some point or another, destroys your relationship with God. And, for that reason alone, is not something we should be a part of. But here, in this single verse, Paul lays out the consequences of all our actions in a nice, neat little package that even the most novice Bible reader can understand.
But did you ever stop to think about the why? Why is it, that the wages of sin are death? Why can’t it just be a good twenty year stent in Hell followed by a thousand year probation sentence? In the state of Texas, a Class A Misdemeanor, such as resisting arrest, will net you a fine up to $4,000 and/or a prison sentence not to exceed one year. Rob a bank, a second degree felony, and you’ll be looking at anywhere from 2-20 years in prison and a possible fine up to $10,000. But sin? That’ll net you a lifetime in eternal torment; seems pretty intense for a lie you didn’t think would matter that much. I’m sure the young fool in Proverbs 7 didn’t think his little evening visit would cost him his life, but Solomon reports that that’s exactly what happened to him (Prov. 7:6-23).
To understand the severity of the crime, however, we have to understand the nature of the One who is offended. 1 John 1:5 says that “…God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” If there can be no darkness at all in God, then can God even have a minor association with it? Turn to 2 Cor. 6:15 for that answer (which, in case you were wondering, is page 949 in my Bible). There, Paul points out the fact that an all-righteous, all-holy God can not have affiliation with something that is not holy OR righteous, so much so that He sent His “only begotten Son” to die a cruel death on the cross to take it away from us (John 3:16)! If we ever become appalled about the severity of the punishment for our sins that Paul describes in this verse, just think about the cost that Jesus paid to take it away.
This helps us explain the other half of that phrase, which is that the wages of sin “are death.” Death is the separation of one thing from another; physical death is the separation from the soul and the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. We tend to think of Heaven and Hell as a place that God sends people to, as if you enter one door or another based on your actions. In reality, those are places that you send yourself to. Heaven is a place where God gathers His people unto Himself, and Hell is a place where everyone else is; literally, Hell is the absence of God. You can see this type of dismissal in Matt. 7:23 by Jesus’ use of the word “depart,” telling them to literally “go away” from Him. Revelation 21:27 says that “nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into [Heaven], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Zero tolerance.
The prisons are filled with people who believe they are “wrongfully accused,” but honestly, everyone knew what the price of a certain action was when they committed it. You can’t expect to murder someone and just get a couple years in prison (well, I guess you can, but that’s not the point). The same is true for us. If we are redeemed by the Blood, and that blood is meant for us to walk in a manner worthy of it (Titus 3:8; Eph. 2:10), then would God accept any different? I think not.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap”