Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” At its core, sin is rebellion against God. Our sin separates us from God, the creator and sustainer of life. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6a). God is known as the great “I AM.” Life is in God. So, when we sin and become separated from God, we become separated from true life. Therefore, perforce, we experience death. Three points of clarification are needed:
First, sin does not necessarily result in physical death right away. Romans 6 is not telling us that when we sin we will physically die. Rather, it is referring to spiritual death.
Second, when we are saved in Christ, we are rescued from ultimate spiritual death and brought into ultimate spiritual life. Paul told the Romans, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).
Third, even believers’ sins will still result in a type of spiritual “death.” Though we are rescued from the ultimate penalty of sin (eternal separation from God), we are not exempt from the natural consequences of a broken relationship with the Father. When we sin, we experience the symptoms of spiritual death. We may feel guilty, empty, confused, or disconnected from God. We act as the unrighteous rather than as the righteous. Our sin, even as believers, hurts the heart of God and grieves His Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Though it does not sever our relationship with Him, our sin does put a barrier between us.
Think of a child and a parent. When a child disobeys, the relationship with his parent is strained. The parent still loves the child and still has the child’s best interest at heart. The child never stops belonging to the parent. However, the child may experience some consequences: mistrust, discipline, a sense of guilt, and the like. The relationship is ultimately restored, but generally pain comes first.
So it is with us and God. When we rebel against God’s rule in our lives, we rebel against the Life, and therefore experience “death” (a brokenness resulting in pain). When we return to God, we are also restored to spiritual life—communion with God, a sense of purpose, righteousness, freedom, etc. The rejoicing father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son said it best: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).