What Does 'The Wages of Sin Is Death' Mean in the Bible?

Contributing Writer
What Does 'The Wages of Sin Is Death' Mean in the Bible?

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

This verse is arguably the most precise Gospel presentation in all of Scripture: it leads us to understand our sinful nature, while promising eternal life in Christ. But is there more to it?

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The Bible Verse in Context

First off, any verse in the Bible must be read in context, in the perspective of what is written around it. In this case, we are reading the words of Paul to the church in Rome, and in chapter 6 he is addressing the contrasts between sin and grace, death and life.

In this portion of Scripture, Paul is defining how when we find eternal life in Christ, we simultaneously become dead to sin. Just as Christ died and was resurrected, we have the hope of a future, resurrected, perfect state of life. Because of God’s great grace, our sins are covered, and we do not need live in sin any longer. This is our hope in Jesus, and this is the hope Paul proclaims to the church in Rome.

Paul had not yet personally visited the Roman church but planned to do so as soon as he could. It was said at the time that ‘all roads lead to Rome’; it was not only the capital of the vast empire but also a diverse, influential city filled with many cultures and beliefs.  Paul knew it was essential that this church have a solid foundation of Christian doctrine, and so this letter expresses theology which still guides the church today.

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"The Wages of Sin" Meaning

First off, why is it called a wage? 

A wage is something we work towards, something we actively pursue whether we realize it or not. When we go to work and expect to get paid for that work, we are earning our wages. In the same way, we are going to be paid at the end of the day for our sin. The payment is death.

Generally speaking, no one is actively trying to engage in as much sin as possible to be paid in death, or to see how much can be covered by grace, right? Let’s hope not! (Paul addresses this at the beginning of chapter 6).

So why does he use the term “wages”? When we work a job for money, we hope to get paid what we deserve, what we have earned. Through the work of sin within us, we have earned, and we deserve, physical and spiritual death. That is a depressing thought, and it should shake us to the core. We spend a lot of time worrying about getting what we deserve in life, and it can leave us feeling entitled, thinking that we deserve more and that we deserve better. But what we deserve is not good. What we deserve is not better. What we deserve is death.

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Like a broken mirror

Death as we know it did not exist in the world until the first sin was committed. This means that although the potential for sin existed, it had not as of yet entered or affected the human experience. We were not meant to live in sin, but in harmony and relationship with God.

The Bible states in Genesis 1:27 that people were created ‘in the image of God’. Sadly, sin has completely changed the image and nature of humanity.

One way to think of it is that we were created as a mirror image of God – a perfect reflection of who he is and what he is like. With the entrance of sin, that mirror has been shattered. The mirror continues to be a mirror; the pieces are still there and can still fulfill a semblance of its original purpose – to reflect the image and glory of God. Yet it is cracked and distorted and no longer looks like it was meant to look or does what it was meant to do.

A mirror, once shattered, cannot be simply glued back together. Broken glass is forever broken. No matter how hard we try, we cannot make a broken mirror look like a new mirror again. It has to be made new again, and so do we. We were born in sin, and to be restored to what we were meant to be we have to be born again. We cannot fix ourselves, but in Christ there is hope.

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"The Gift of God is Eternal Life" Meaning

Paul says that the wage we deserve is death. It is only by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Christ that we can hope for anything but death. Through Christ we are given a gift of eternal life. The only way to escape our sin is through Christ, and because it is a gift, it is incredibly simple to receive:

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Paul makes a strong contrast between what we deserve and what we have been given. What we deserve, and what we have earned, is sin and death. 

A gift is not something we deserve or have earned, but rather something that is given to us out of love and grace especially when we don’t deserve it.

We only receive life and hope and peace in Christ through a gift freely given by the grace of God. Jesus paid sin’s penalty of death on the cross in our place. This turns our attitude from complaining about what we deserve to one of thankfulness for what we have been given that we could never deserve. 

Because of Jesus, we can know what love looks like. We can know what grace looks like. We can know what eternal life looks like. 

We can live a life better than we could ever hope to deserve, a life that is abundant regardless of circumstance and filled with grace and thanks.

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Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and author of A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. He serves as worship pastor at Calvary Longmont in Colorado and spends his weekends exploring the Rocky Mountains with his family. Connect on TwitterInstagram, or at JasonSoroski.net.