Most of us spend the greater part of our lives working in order to “make a living.” Economic systems are built around some form of the concept of people exchanging their time and talents for compensation. Thus Romans 6:23 is completely understandable: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

     The word translated “wages” in that passage has its heritage in the idea of rations provided to soldiers in the field. Over time the word came to refer not just to rations but to money paid to military personnel. This is the usage we see in 1 Corinthians 9:7 where Paul reminds his readers than no one expects a soldier to pay his own wages. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we see that the meaning of the word had widened to include anyone’s pay, salary or wages in a general sense.

     We see the word in a discourse by John the Baptist in Luke 3:14 where he tells soldiers to be “content with your wages.” This is in the context of the prophet giving answers to challenging questions about how people such as tax collectors and soldiers should conduct their lives. Both of these categories of work carried with them temptations to unethical behavior. John’s answers reflected the essentiality of God’s will, so much so that some of his hearers wondered if he might be the Christ, which of course, he denied.

     Readers of Romans are familiar with 6:23. It is one of those magnificent summaries of life that we find in the Bible, rendered here in English words that have a kind of influence that sinks into the human mind with a living power (Hebrews 4:12). Our familiarity with the verse may cause us to miss some of that power.

     Think about it: “The wages of sin is death.” Think of sin as an evil soldier standing in line at payday, ready to receive his remuneration. What is sin’s pay? It is simply death, the spiritual death of every human being who is not covered by the blood of the Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:18-19). This death we know to be eternal separation from God. Unconfessed sin enlarges sin’s pay envelope with another death.

     But then there is the gift of God. We cannot help but see the contrast between wages and a gift here. We receive that gift when we obey the gospel of Christ (Romans 6:1-18). Sin pays with death. God gives eternal life. Easy choice, is it not?