In Romans 6:20–23, Paul invites Christians to consider their lives before coming to Christ and since. He also compares the contrasting rewards of each way of life: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Before salvation, we were slaves to sin and destined for death. But through faith in Jesus Christ, we received the gift of God, which is the salvation of souls unto eternal life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17).
The word gift (charisma in Greek) in Romans 6:23 means “a present given as a sign of good favor.” Ephesians 2:8–9 elaborates on this gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The gift of God does not depend on our behavior. It cannot be earned, like a wage. The Bible calls it a “free gift” (Romans 6:23, ESV). We don’t work for the gift of eternal life; we receive it simply because God’s good favor is poured out on us.
The gift of God is His “abundant provision of grace.” It is “not like the trespass,” which brings death through sin. “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ” brings everlasting life (Romans 5:15–17; see also Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7–8). Sin pays its wages in death, and sinners get what they deserve. But God bestows a free gift, and believers in Jesus Christ receive what they don’t deserve—eternal life.
The gift of God is Jesus Christ, His Son. The apostle Paul thanks God for His “indescribable gift” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:15). Jesus calls Himself “the gift of God” in the form of “living water” to the woman of Samaria (John 4:10). Jesus provides this definition of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The gift is knowing the One True God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, His Son, who is Himself eternal life.
Christians receive all of Christ’s benefits because of our union with Jesus Christ. Jesus died, and therefore we have died in Him (Romans 6:3; Galatians 2:20). Christ was raised from the dead; thus, we were introduced to new life (Romans 6:4–5). He lives to God, and now we live to God (Romans 6:10–11). Jesus Christ will live forever, and we will live eternally with Him (John 17:3; 1 John 2:25).
The only grounds for receiving the gift of God is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus is the righteous channel of God’s gift of grace poured out by His blood (1 Peter 1:18–19; Revelation 1:5). If we are in Christ through faith, we receive every spiritual blessing in Him (Ephesians 1:3–14). “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11–13).
The gift of God is abundant spiritual life—a life with meaning, purpose, and joy—from the moment of salvation and for all eternity (John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9). The old life of sin has no benefit and only leads to death. But serving God has the advantage of sanctification leading to holiness and the gift of God—eternal life in Jesus Christ.