Two Services Contrasted
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
When we open Paul’s letter to the church in Rome we find there the apostle’s most careful and detailed presentation of the Christian gospel. Paul had been called to proclaim this gospel and he described it as being "the power of God for salvation".
There is just one gospel and it is relevant to us all. It is relevant to us because it addresses the need that we all have. We are all in the same boat because in one way or another, we have failed to live up to God’s standards. If we are honest with ourselves we’ll be ready to admit that not only have we failed to live up to God’s standards we have even failed to live up to our own.
It doesn’t matter whether we know in great detail what God requires of men and women or whether we know next to nothing our own consciences trouble us and we know that there is a problem with us. This problem is called sin in the Bible and it affects religious and irreligious people alike. Oh, yes, their sin may be manifested in different ways but sin there is in all of us and for this sin we will be held to account.
Men and women have often tried hard to tackle the problem of their own sin – the presence of so many different religions in the world is testimony to that – but the Bible simply says that men and women can’t save themselves. I believe the evidence on the ground corroborates the Bible’s testimony.
Take the crime stats for example. Official sources tell us that violent crime is on the increase again. There have been 89 murders so far this year in London – a ten year high. There have been 1,296 stabbings, 51 proving to be fatal.
And even in our quiet little corner of Herne Bay according to the most recent figures published by UK Crime Stats this local area (1/4 mile radius of this church building) there were 18 crimes reported during the month of May. The BBC reported on Friday that no-
At the beginning of last century many people placed their hopes on education. But has education solved our problems of selfishness and greed? We have more and more of our young people going to university but is our population morally or socially purer as a result? Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of good education but it doesn’t deal with the problem of sin it just gives us more educated sinners. If education was the answer then our universities would be the safest of places but they’re not. We read regularly in our papers of self-
And that is precisely what we do need – someone to do something for us, to sort out the mess we have made for ourselves and to save us. But strangely, when God comes calling saying I’ve done something already, I’ve sent my Son, trust him, the majority turn away, they don’t want to know.
And yet this is the gospel that Paul declared – the good news of the power of God which is able to transform lives. This is the message that the apostles preached throughout the known world of their day and gained the reputation of being those who turned the world upside down. It is the gospel of God’s grace that deals with human sin.
By the time we get to Rom.6 Paul has already explained a lot about the gospel. He has made it very clear that the salvation men and women need is not something that must achieve as a result of all their own efforts. Salvation is not cheap but the cost has been paid by another. Men and women are made right with God on the grounds of what Jesus has done on their behalf. His was the effort and the benefits flow to all those who will trust themselves completely to him. This generosity is what the Bible refers to as grace.
In pressing home his wonderful message Paul wanted to encourage his readers to know that grace would always trump sin – or to use Paul’s own language:
Rom.5:20 "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."
The news is almost too good to be true and quickly there were those who wanted to twist with their own distorted logic what Paul was really saying.
Chapter 6 is something of an aside as Paul took time to answer two false conclusions that some were wanting to draw:
6:1 "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?"
6:13 "What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?"
He closes the chapter with a verse which effectively summarised his answer to both these questions, it is our text this evening:
Rom.6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
As we look at what Paul has to say in this verse we quickly realise that he is contrasting two options. Immediately prior to this verse Paul has been making use of a human analogy that he took from everyday life in the Roman world. He had been talking about slavery and so as he continues we find him talking about:
Two different masters
Dealing with their "slaves" in two different ways
With different ends in view
What Paul means to say is this:
you are either in one camp under one master
or you are in the other under a different master
We are on familiar ground, as I hope you all realise, for this is the usual way in which the Bible speaks about the spiritual realities that confront men and women. The Bible is very "black and white" – there are two options which confront us and only two.
You are building your house on the rock or else you’re building it on the sand.
You enter either through the narrow gate or through the gate that is wide.
You walk in the way that is hard but leads to life or you walk in the way that is easy and go to destruction.
Or here in Rom.6:23
You are in the employ of Captain Sin or you are in the service of God.
Whose employ are you in?
Ever since the fall of Adam every member of the human race has come into the world to live out their life in the camp of Captain Sin and there we have spent our time and our energies in useless service. We have yielded our members – everything about us: our minds, our strengths, our hands, our bodies – to the pursuit of godlessness.
Those who belong to this camp and who serve this captain Sin are cut off from God and as such are utterly devoid of any spiritual life. There is progression in this camp but it is of an awful kind for it is a progression from disobedience to unrighteousness, and from unrighteousness to impurity, and from impurity to more lawlessness. Each step taken on this path brings us closer to a terrible end.
The pleasures and joys in this camp exist, yes, of course they do, but they are passing and short-
God is the Master of the second camp. He rules over those who have been saved out of sin’s grip. The gospel has come to them and the way Paul puts it is interesting. He doesn’t say the gospel was handed over to them and but rather that they were handed over to the gospel. Instead of being squeezed any longer by the world into its mould they have been poured into the mould of the gospel and this has changed their lives – their heart is now oriented in a new direction.
By speaking in this way Paul wants to emphasise that men and women don’t save themselves but that God is at work and it is he who saves. Yes, of course men and women must repent and believe but this is only ever possible when God is at work. A spiritual corpse is capable of no activity and what’s more doesn’t seek out any change, it simply doesn’t want any.
But praise God for the change of master that is so necessary is indeed possible by his grace!
So there are two masters and each relates to his slaves/servants in different ways. Paul contrasts wages with a gift.
Let’s begin with "the wages of sin". Captain Sin pays the wages of those in his service. And the thing about wages is that they are earned. I don’t know whether you remember your first pay packet. It came at the end of a week in which you served, doing what you were told. You might have received some cash in a little manila pay packet – I receive my wages each month in a little manila envelope. You might have opened the envelope and checked it through to make sure you got what you deserved, you didn’t want there to have been any mistakes. I remember clocking out early one summer when I was doing some vacation work – opening my envelope at the end of the week I found I’d been docked a certain amount, but I couldn’t complain could I? I was paid what I was owed – not a penny more and not a penny less.
And Captain Sin pays out what we deserve. The word for wages could be translated by the word "rations". A Roman General would ensure that all of his soldiers got what they needed – it was payment for services rendered. There was nothing particularly extravagant about it – just rations, a just dessert. All of our service merits its proper reward and that is just what we get – there is a perfect justice to it – not a penny more not a penny less.
But when we consider the other master the language of wages disappears and is replaced by the word gift, or free gift.
Now while wages are related to work done the same is not at all the case when it comes to a gift. Gifts, properly speaking, don’t have anything to do with services rendered. Merit is not in the picture at all. Instead gifts come from the generosity of the giver who gives according to his own loving heart. Gifts are special – so special that we will often pack them in boxes wrapped with special paper and secured with bows and ribbons. (Yes, I know today we will sometimes put a cheque as a gift in an envelope – but the gift doesn’t bring a young child at Christmas much in the way of excitement!)
In God’s economy he is the one doing the initiating. He is the one who does the giving without demanding that his servants deserve or merit the gift. Having received their gifts they will of course respond with joyful thanksgiving and want to express their thankfulness in wholehearted service but they will never do so imagining that they could ever merit what has become theirs by God’s grace.
In transferring them out of Captain Sin’s employ they have been delivered from the fruitless, unsatisfying, degrading service they once were obliged to offer and which they once foolishly but willingly did offer. And now they have new possibilities opened up to them. Before they used all that they had in the demeaning service of iniquity but now they have been freed and can, indeed must, use what they have in the service of righteousness. They don’t want to do otherwise – how could they? And now this new free, clean rewarding service leads them to an ever increasingly holiness. They become more and more like their Lord and Master – their future is bright indeed!
Two Ends or Destinations
Paul in Rom.6:23 puts his emphasis not so much on the journey itself but on the journey’s end. His focus is turned towards the inevitable destination of each of the alternative lifestyles. And what a contrast there is!
Captain Sin pays his wages and it is death itself.
Now the Bible speaks of various kinds of death: there is physical death – the separation of the body from the soul; there is spiritual death – the separation of the soul from God; and there is eternal death – the separation of the soul from the body and from God for ever.
The wages that Paul has particularly in mind is the third of these. In the Book of Revelation this death is referred to as "the second death" – it is sharing the lake of fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. Cut off forever from God and everything good that overflows from him.
The contrast could hardly be greater for those in the service of the Lord. Whereas the wages of sin is death the free gift of God is eternal life. Life in the Bible also has a number of aspects: there is ordinary physical life but then there is also spiritual life, a life of sensitivity and of relationship with God. There is too eternal life – this could be translated as the life of the age to come. It is a never-
There will be no tear, no regret, no sadness for those in the service of this One whereas those whose lives were wasted in Captain Sin’s service will know only emptiness, remorse and futility.
Where will you be? Where do you want to be? The road forks and one way continues in the fruitless, shameful service of sin and the other heads off in a totally different direction. It is possible to take the fresh vibrant living route but there is only one door that opens onto that way.
John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress pictures Christian walking on the path that leads to life. He had entered at the wicket-
Others may try to imitate the way in which Christians live and behave but without coming to Christ they lack that which is essential.
Let us make sure that we come to Christ and that we go on with him all the way to the end of journey. And eternal life is God’s gift to us in Christ.