The Wages of Sin and the Gift of God
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rm 6:23)
The words Paul used with regard to sin and God’s grace are important.
When talking about sin, Paul used the word ‘wages.’ This means that sin pays us what we deserve for what we’ve done. Sin gives us what we deserve. So, the wages of sin is death.
However, in regard to God’s grace, Paul used the word ‘gift.’ By using the word ‘gift,’ Paul clarified that eternal life is not something we earn because of our righteous works. It’s actually a gift freely given to us. That’s what grace means. Grace means that we receive something we don’t deserve.
If we did something to earn our salvation, it wouldn’t be called a gift. If that was true, Paul might have said, the wages of our righteous works is eternal life.
But, that’s not what he said. The salvation we receive in Christ is a gift from God. We don’t play any part in it because it was Jesus who paid the price for our sins by His blood shed on the cross. The only thing that counts in our salvation is our faith, not our works. This truth is repeated throughout Paul’s letters.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is the best passage that makes this clear. Paul said,
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
Not Under the Law
In Romans 6:14, Paul said, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:14)
Paul said this after explaining our spiritual union with Christ—we’re dead to sin and alive to God. However, in verse 14, Paul changed his wording a bit. After writing “For sin shall no longer be your master”, we expect him to add “because you are not under sin,” which sounds very natural and would fit logically, but instead he continued, “because you are not under the law.”
By intentionally using the word ‘law’ instead of ‘sin,’ Paul is showing us that to be under sin is the same as being under the law. In the previous chapter, Paul also wrote about the relationship between the law and sin, saying,
“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” (Rm 5:20)
Both verses can be hard to understand, so we should discuss them first in order to understand what Paul’s saying about the law in chapter 7.
The fact that we’re no longer under the law means that we don’t rely on the law as a means of salvation anymore. If we think that we can become righteous by observing the law, we’re under the law. The problem is that no one on earth can observe it perfectly because of our sinful nature, which still remains in us and has a powerful influence over us.
As Paul said in Romans 7, “Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting… When the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Rom 7:8-10)
By writing this, Paul made it clear that if we’re under the law, in other words, if we still think that our salvation depends on our works, we’re still under the reign of sin.
He tells us that our freedom from the law as a salvation system is what makes us free from sin’s mastery over us because it’s only when we break free from work-based righteousness that the power of sin is really broken.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that our sins were forgiven and that we became righteous in God’s sight only by faith in Jesus. That’s why it’s called ‘a gift’ and not a ‘wage.’
Remembering that we are completely loved, forgiven, and justified in Christ helps us overcome our desire for sin. That’s what it means to be under God’s grace, not the law. That’s also the basis of Paul’s assertion in Romans 7.
Dead to the Law, Married to Christ
Paul gives an answer to the question in Romans 6:15, which asks,
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (Rom 6:15)
When Paul talked about not being under the law, but under God’s grace, it sounded like he was an abolitionist of the law. Paul already talked about the relationship between faith and the law in Romans chapter 3.
Paul’s stance toward the law was very clear. It’s summarized in Romans 3:31, which says, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (Rm 3:31)
So, Paul was definitely not an abolitionist of the law. He emphasized the importance of Christians keeping God’s law in all his letters. What Paul really worried about was not observing the law itself, but the attempt to earn righteousness through observance of the law.
So, Paul’s answer to the question, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law?” was “By no means!” (Rom 6:15)
The gospel, which sets us free from the law and sin, doesn’t leave us free to live in any way we choose. To explain this, Paul used a different metaphor in the first passage of Romans 7. He said,
“Do you not know, brothers and sisters - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.” (Rm 7:1-3)
This marriage metaphor is not easy to understand, but Paul used it to explain that the law only binds those who are alive, and death breaks the power of the law.
In the wife’s case, her husband’s death is what makes the difference between being adulterous and having a legitimate marriage in another relationship. Likewise, “the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives.” (Rom 7:1)
Now, in verses 4-6, Paul applies this to our relationship with Christ. Paul continued,
“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rm 7:4-6)
Paul said that just as the husband’s death frees the wife to remarry, in our case it is our death to the law that frees us to remarry. Even though the analogy is not completely parallel, the principle is simple. Becoming a Christian means a complete change in our relationship status. We died to the law, and now we’re married to Christ.
Before Jesus came to the world, we were bound by the law. But now, since we died to the law in Christ, we no longer rely on the observance of the law as a means of earning our righteousness and salvation.
And, since we’re now married to Christ, we’re under God’s grace. And, now, we know that we can only become righteous through faith in Jesus, not by observing the law.
However, this doesn’t mean that we can now live free from the law and do as we please. As we’ve continuously talked about, we should still uphold the law—the law of love—not to earn salvation, but to please Christ. To be a Christian is to fall in love with Jesus and enter into a legal, yet personal relationship with Him.
When you get married, every part of your life will be affected by the person you love. So, even though Christians are no longer under the law, all our decisions and our entire lifestyle must change because we’re married to Christ and are affected by Him. In other words, Christians can’t live as they please because they are in love with Christ.
Marriage entails a loss of freedom and independence. You can’t just live as you choose. A married person can’t make decisions independently because there is a duty, responsibility, and obligation in marriage.
On the other hand, however, there is love, intimacy, acceptance and security in marriage that you could never experience as a single person.
And, because of this love and intimacy, our loss of freedom becomes a joy, not a burden. In a good marriage, your whole life is affected and changed by the desires of the person you love.
You receive pleasure from giving. You will want to know what makes your spouse happy and wish to do it. That’s what a true Christian lifestyle looks like. Even though we’re no longer under the law, we still uphold it by faith because that’s what pleases Christ and that’s what He desires for us.
In Romans 7, Paul gives us the answer to how Christians must live. We are not using the law as a means of salvation, or as a way of accessing God, because we know that only Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” and that “No one comes to the Father except through [him].” (Jn 15:6)
So, we’re no longer under the law. We have died to the law in Christ. However, we shouldn’t use this freedom irresponsibly, because we’re now married to Christ and we live for Him.