“For the wages of sin is death…”
(Romans 6:23 (ESV)
Rob Bell and Love Wins notwithstanding, there really is a place called Hell, there is a final judgment, and God is righteous in His anger and wrath against sin. It’s not fun to talk about, but then neither would it be “fun” to ignore the subject altogether only to find yourself already there when it’s too late to do anything about it.
Unfortunately, God’s judgment has gotten a bad rap by those who stand under it. We hear God’s righteous decree to be holy, for He is holy (Lev. 19:2), but we know that’s impossible, so the call must be impractical. We try to live a good life, we do our best anyway, and we look for whatever joy we can find – even if the Bible says it’s a sin. We tell ourselves, “God really wouldn’t hold this against me, surely He will understand.” When confronted with the truth of God’s Word, we kick against the goads. We bristle under correction. We despise discipline. “Who died and made you god,” we complain. In our arrogance, we think we are more compassionate, more just, more forgiving than God himself. We’d prefer the toothless and tame god of our own creation who is kind and generous to all, giving everyone a hall pass through life.
Living under such a delusion will lead to our destruction. We worship a holy God who cannot even look upon sin, how then can we presume to stand before Him in our sin? Psalm 5:4–6, teaches us, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Habakkuk 1:13 says, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…”
The fact of the matter is that we must deal with a Holy and Righteous God who has issued His decree on all of humanity. We are called to live in holiness before Him, but “we have all sinned fallen short of His glory” (Rom 3:23), “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12). Under this judgment of God we stand condemned, for the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). God is just in declaring that sinners are bound for Hell.
The preaching of judgment is not intended to scare you into believing or acting a certain way, but to tell you that you do indeed need a savior. Luther called it one side of the gospel coin. Unfortunately for many of us, it is a lesson we need to hear again and again. We tend to insulate ourselves from the need for help. I can manage just fine on my own. I’ve got Jesus is in my life as a “spiritual insurance” policy – just in case things get bad, but hopefully I’ll never have to call upon him.
Friends this is not gospel living, this is not the gospel faith. The truth of the gospel is this: you are in desperate need of a savior. Things are bad, they are beyond repair. Your life is not acceptable to God, in fact, our lives apart from Christ are offensive to God. We owe to God a perfect life we cannot live, a tremendous debt we cannot pay, an offering we cannot make. Only when you see your life as forfeit before God do you truly begin to appreciate the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is gracious in calling the redeemed to His side in glory!
It is true that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but the story does not end there. Paul goes on to say we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). It is true that “the wages of sin is death,” but it is equally true that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). To preach the judgment without the gospel would be cruel, but to preach the gospel without the judgment would be meaningless for us today.
We deserve Hell, but our loving God has seen to it that, by faith in Jesus Christ, we can be made fit to live in heaven. We are covered by his righteousness, made alive by his spirit, redeemed by his blood, purchased with his life, given victory over death and hell by his empty tomb. This is the free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we could ever do to deserve this gift, to try would keep us from receiving as it was intended, as a gift. We live by responding in joyful obedience; God equips us and sends us for the work He has prepared for us from before time (Eph 2:10), but these works are always in response. God, from the beginning of time, has always been the one to act first in grace, we were created to respond and live in the joy and splendor of His grace and glory!
Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan preacher, wrote in his work The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, “So let ‘DESERVED’ be written on the door to Hell; but on the door to heaven and life, ‘THE FREE GIFT.’”
I’ll say “Amen” to that.