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Death Is Earned; Eternal Life Is Given (Seventh Sunday after Trinity)

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

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

Death Is Earned; Eternal Life Is a Gift

What is earned and what is given? What is merited and what is charity? The world says death is natural. Death is a given. And a good life is earned. God’s Word says that death is a wage earned. And the true good life is given, not worked for.

Do not be seduced, brothers and sisters, by the pride of life. Don’t be seduced by the pride of a life earned and worked for. Our vision of the good life is a life that begins with an empty slate and then is filled with all the good things that we have earned by our sweat and hard work. We have pride in our ability to earn. We forget, however, that, in truth, our lives begin with a basket full of riches for which we’ve never worked.

Think of the beginning of your life: You did not work for your breath or for your heartbeat. You did not work to attain the parents who raised you. You did not work to be born in the nation in which you were born. You did not work to have reason and sight and limbs and all your senses. You did not lift a finger to be created. Life is a gift which begins with unearned riches given. The pride of what we can earn is a deception.

The pride of what I earn falls flat in the face of all the good that God daily gives me without my asking. And the pride of what a man has earned certainly falls flat in light of what God’s Word says each man and woman has truly earned by his sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

Death is a wage, a thing man has earned, by his sin. Death is not God’s given natural end of His gift of life. Death is the just compensation for what man has sinfully done with the life God has given.

It’s unpleasant to think of death as a wage earned because many beloved people, old and young, die – and because it stings at the pride of what we think we can earn. But we must always believe what God’s Word says and not rely on our own understanding [Proverbs 3:5]. God’s Word clearly proclaims that all are sinners – “None is righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10] - and that all are conceived with sinfulness – “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” [Psalm 51:5]. That we die, that we pay the wage, is proof of sin’s presence within us.

Romans 6:23 is such a commonly heard verse that its meaning might go unnoticed. The word “wage” is the Greek word “[opsonion". “[Opsonion]” is the compensation or provision doled out to a soldier for his service. In Romans 6:23, “[opsonion]” refers to the compensation that my sin doles out to me in my committing of it. I go on sinning. My sin goes on paying me my death.

But I will live by charity. The unearned gift of God still stands.

Death came into the world through the sin of one man, Adam, and then has been carried on to and through each of us. Scripture says it in Romans 5:12, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And also, “because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man” [Romans 5:17] – a great wage earned.

Death was earned by one man’s disobedience, but the free gift of God is given by the obedience of another.

Just as sin came through one man, and death through sin, so also eternal life and forgiveness for your sin has come through the Second Man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is called the Second Adam.

My work has led to death, but Jesus has worked for me on His cross. My earned wage has fallen upon Jesus. And Jesus’ death for my sin was an act of perfect obedience to His Father:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” [Romans 5:18-19]

Just as one man’s sin led to sinfulness and earned death for all, now One Man’s obedient act of righteousness has led to justification (forgiveness of sin) and life for all men. This is God’s charity to me. It is God’s welfare in Jesus.

The pride of life and the pride of what I can earn is put to shame. My judgment against those who have not earned a good life is put to shame. My pride and my finger waving fall flat because even my righteous deeds are filthy rags, Scripture says [Isaiah 64:6]. But just as the beginning of my life was an unearned gift of God, so also is my life’s new end.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of Eternal Life by the work of Christ Jesus our Savior. And know this, brothers and sisters, that the free gift of eternal life is not only a future life in heaven but is a free gift of the life of eternity working and moving within you even right now. Eternal life is a gift at work in you, making you alive with the true good life today. Through your baptism, you have died and are even now being made alive in Jesus.

So, because you have this unearned, un-worked-for, gift of life in you, as it says in today’s reading, no longer present yourselves to be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness. Instead, present yourselves now to be slaves to righteousness, leading to holiness (sanctification) [Romans 6:19]. You now live by God’s free gift of eternal life, so now do work daily to keep God’s Commandments in your thoughts, words, and actions (see Luther’s Small Catechism, the Ten Commandments).

And especially work to show the same free charity toward others that God has shown toward you. Give to people in their need as God has freely given to you. And forgive people in their sins as God has forgiven you.

Brothers and sisters, do not be overly proud in life. Do not stand before God or others by what you’ve earned. Remember that the earned-wage of sin is death. The true good life is God’s charity to you. Live by the charity of that very One who fed the 4,000 who had no provision of their own - the One who, even today, is not willing that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9] but instead has died for sinners. Amen.

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