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

This verse is often used in evangelism to assure the sinner that eternal life through Christ Jesus is a free gift from God. Since it is free, little more is required than simply repeating a “sinner’s prayer” from one’s heart. No work is necessary for salvation. When after we believe we commit a sin, we simply confess the sin to God and all is forgiven (1 John 1:9). Our salvation is assured because it’s a free gift from God. Nothing we can do will jeopardize it as long as we “believe.”

Let’s examine Romans 6:23 in the context of the entire chapter. Let’s look at the “fine print.” We will see that it is not quite as simple as we have been led to believe.

First, Paul makes it clear…

Romans 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 BY NO MEANS!

Paul emphatically denies that grace gives us any license to sin. He denies that the more we sin, the more the grace of God is available to forgive that sin. That is not the point or purpose of grace at all.

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

If we have been baptized into Christ Jesus, we have died to sin and have been raised to live a new life of holiness. We should stop living in sin.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

In baptism our old self is crucified with Christ so that we should no longer be slaves to sin. We have been freed from sin’s mastery over us. That means that we stop sinning.

Sexual sin in the body of Christ

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

We are not to use our physical bodies to sin. But today there may be many believers, servants of God and pastors who commit sexual sin such as the sin of lust. With the easy availability of pornography, especially on the internet, many Christians allow themselves to sin sexually. This includes the sin of masturbation accompanied by fantasy lust. We think that if we just confess our sin to God, all will be forgiven until the next time we commit the sin, after which we confess our sin to God again, and so forth ad infinitum. It is obvious that with such teaching on grace we no longer fear God or His wrath.

Few servants of God will speak out about this because many have not taken the “plank” out of their own eye and therefore are not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5). “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven,” it is said. “We are all human.” Because of this teaching, we believe that despite our sins we are all covered by the grace and infinite love of God. There is no pressing need to resist sin. As a result, sin masters many servants of God and some fall into sin, adultery, and divorce. Since this can happen to any of us, we are quick to overlook their sin, to forgive them, and then to restore them to ministry. It is easier to understand and forgive someone if we ourselves may be guilty of committing the same sin in our hearts.

Then there are other, lesser sins among God’s servants which involve our bodies. One is the failure to take proper care of one’s physical body—which the Lord purchased for Himself with a price and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We often overeat and eat things which are not beneficial for our bodies. (Pastors rail against the sin of smoking, but dare not speak out against overeating and poor eating habits which also pose significant risks to our bodies. Imagine how many people would look for another church if we did.) We fail to provide adequate exercise for our bodies. Essentially, we fail to honor God’s temple. Among Christians and God’s servants there is a lack of discipline and self-control in this area. This can result in sickness and even death. But we are assured that it is all covered by God’s grace and medical insurance.

1 John 1:9-10

Yes, according to John’s oft-quoted verses the Lord has made provision for us when we sin. But this should be the exception to the rule instead of the rule. John quickly reminds us of this in the very following verse, “I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). But because of the prevailing misunderstanding of grace, we fear that sin has largely become the rule in the body of Christ and not the exception. This has happened because grace has essentially become a license to sin, whether or not the Church will admit it. Jude warns us about such pernicious teaching. He felt he had to write and urge us to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3 & 4)

14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

It is clear from the above verse that if we are under the true grace of God, we will not be mastered by sin. But unfortunately the verse has all too often been interpreted to mean that since we are under grace, we need not obey the law of Moses for our salvation. Yes, we are indeed saved apart from the law of Moses. However, this does not at all mean that we are free to sin.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? BY NO MEANS!

This is the second time Paul emphatically interjects with this phrase. He evidently feels strongly about this matter.

“By no means!”

Paul foresaw the danger of his teaching on grace being perverted into a license to sin. Twice he exclaimed, “By no means!”

But it has nevertheless taken place to an extent which surely grieves the Lord. The consequence of the corruption of grace is widespread sin within the body of Christ and widespread tolerance of sin.

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

If a Christian is a slave to sin, plainly, he will die. But if you are a slave to obedience, you will become righteous. What does “righteous” mean here? Let’s look into this word.

17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

If we wholeheartedly obey the teaching with which we are entrusted, we are set free from sin and become slaves of righteousness. Could this mean that we actually start doing what is right in God’s sight and live in a way that pleases Him?

What does “righteousness” mean here?

19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves.

Paul recognizes that we weak human beings will always look for ways to justify our continual sin.

Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

It is clear that believers are to offer the parts of their bodies in slavery to righteousness, and that leads to holiness. Paul teaches here that we are able to become holy and should become holy. This ought to be the rule in the Church, and not the exception. Jesus commanded us, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!

If a Christian is a slave to sin—cannot cease from practicing sin—he or she will die. Going to church faithfully or repeatedly confessing the sin will not save such a person.

True grace will lead to personal holiness

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

The true grace of God sets us free from sin. This leads to holiness in our personal lives. And the result is eternal life.Now we can more accurately understand the final verse of the chapter, which is Romans 6:23.

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

We can now have correct understanding Paul’s teaching on grace. The gift of God sets us free from slavery to sin so that we can live holy lives and become increasingly like Jesus. This is the true grace of God. And the result is eternal life.

Click below to read The Fine Print Below Romans 8:1 where we will learn exactly how we can put to death the misdeeds of our body so that we can live holy lives to become like Jesus and to please God.