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What Does 'the Wages of Sin Is Death' Really Mean in Romans 6?

What Does 'the Wages of Sin Is Death' Really Mean in Romans 6?

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

If you have been around church for any length of time, there is a good possibility you have heard this scripture verse before. There are two very important parts of this verse and you cannot consider one without looking at the other. I want you to focus on the first half of this verse and we will look at the other half later. For now, I want you to think about what does it mean the wages of sin is death?

What Does ‘the Wages of Sin Is Death’ Mean in the Bible?

To answer this question, I want to define the three keywords in this part of the verse. Those are wages, sin, and death.

When you look at this word in the Greek, the word is “opsónion”. This word means provision, salary, pay, reward, or wages. When you think of paying someone a salary or wages it is usually in exchange for work they have done. Salary, pay, or wages are earned. You could simply say you deserve them. If you have a job you make an agreement. You agree to do a specific job or task. Your employer agrees to pay you a certain amount of money for either the time you work or the amount of work you do. When you complete what you have agreed to, the employer is obligated to pay you what you have earned. This is why you can think of it as you are getting what you rightly deserve. You worked and you deserve to be paid.

The Greek word for sin here is “hamartia”. This means failure, to miss the mark, or sin. When I was growing up in church the classic definition of sin we learned was anything you say, do, or think that goes against what God wants you to do. You could also define it as disobedience. When you sin you are disobeying God and doing the things he does not want you to do. To take it one step further there are sins of commission and omission. Sins of commission are when you do things that you should not do. Sins of omission are when you don’t do things that you should. Whatever category they fall into they are disobedience and therefore they become sin.

The Greek word for death here is “Thanatos”. When the Bible refers to death it means separation. There are two types of death. Physical death, which is the separation of your spirit from your body, and spiritual death is the eternal separation of your spirit from the presence of God. We must all face physical death, but we will not all face spiritual death.

Let’s now put this all together. When you look at the meaning of these words then hopefully this makes clear what the wages of sin is death means. Let me rephrase it to help.

What Are the Sins of Death?

The deserved reward for your disobedience to God is the separation of your spirit from your body followed by the eternal separation of your spirit from the presence of God. Because of your sin and my sin, this is exactly what we earned and this is what we should be rewarded for. Because God is just he has an obligation to make sure that you are paid what you deserve for your sin. This payment is what makes him just and fair. I hope you got that and see how serious that really is. If that was the end of the verse or the story that would not leave much hope. But, as I said earlier there are two parts of this verse so now let’s look at the other part.

The Gift of God
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." – Romans 6:23 (NIV, emphasis added) This verse is a verse of contrasts. Let’s consider two of them.

Wages vs. Gift
The first contrast in this verse is the contrast of wages and gift. As we mentioned earlier wages are something you earn something you deserve. A gift is not like that. You cannot earn a gift because if you earn it then it stops being a gift and it becomes a wage. The first thing you must then recognize is that eternal life is a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it. The reason this is liberating and exciting is that according to the first part our sin deserves death. Yet God offers us this gift of eternal life. This means that the gift is greater than the sin. In fact, you can take it one step further and say the gift cancels out the sin. When you receive the gift it eliminates or overrides the wages that were supposed to be paid to you.

Death vs. Eternal Life
The second contrast is the contrast between death and eternal life. Remember according to what the wages of sin are we deserve death. You and I deserve to be separated from God for all eternity because of our sin. I know we don’t talk about this a lot in churches anymore, but this is the truth. We all deserved death. However, what we have now received is life. The beauty of your eternal life is that you have it now. You are just waiting for it to be realized. You are waiting for that day when your faith will become sight. The same is true for those who are still dead in sin, they are right now separated from God, they are just waiting for their wage to be realized. What you should also recognize from this verse is that when it comes to God it is a binary choice. It is either wage or gift, death or life, Jesus or nothing. The truth of Christianity and the person of Jesus is that we must all make a choice. I don’t know if everyone always realizes the consequence of the choice they make. It is literally the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

Why Did Jesus Need to Die for Our Sins?

The difference-maker in these contrasts is Jesus. At no point does God relinquish his justice. The wages of sin is death. This has always been and will always be. The difference becomes who will pay the penalty for the sin. This is where you are faced with another binary choice. You can either pay the wage or receive the gift. If you pay the wage then God will give you the penalty of sin that you deserve. If you receive the gift then God will place the penalty you deserve on Jesus which will pay for your sin and will allow you to receive the gift of eternal life. This is the beauty of the message of the gospel and it strikes at the heart of what the wages of sin is death really means. You deserve death but you don’t have to experience it because Jesus took it for you. He took your physical death and your spiritual death to the cross. He endured the full wage of your sin, so that you wouldn’t have to. You no longer have to worry about death. Yes, we will all physically die unless Jesus comes back first, but we no longer have to worry about the wage of our sin. Jesus took what we deserved so he could give us what we didn’t.

When I think about the wonder of Jesus I can't help but consider the price he paid for the sins I committed. He took the wage that I rightfully deserved so he could provide the gift of eternal life for me and for you. All your sin has been paid for. When this truth sinks in you will begin to understand truly how great God’s love is for you. A love that took the full price of the wage so he could give you the gift. There is no greater love and if you have not done so receive this love today because it is the gift he desires to give you.

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Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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