For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Note 3 at Ro 6:23: The American Heritage Dictionary defines "wages" as "a suitable return or reward." Sin has a wage that it pays, and no one can avoid "payday" without faith in Jesus.
As explained in note 9 at Ro 5:21, the sin spoken of here is not an individual act of sin but rather the sin nature, or "old man," itself. Those who do not receive the new birth (see note 2 at Joh 3:3) will be held liable for all the wrongs committed as a result of their sinful nature (see note 4 at Mr 3:29). However, those who receive the new birth through faith in Jesus don't have a sin nature (see note 8 at Ro 6:6) and will therefore not receive this payment of death.
The physical death of our bodies is not really what is being spoken of here. Physical death, as well as all results of the sin nature (i.e., sickness, depression, fear, etc.), is only a byproduct of the spiritual death that was already present on the inside of us. The Lord told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree, he would surely die (Ge 2:17). Adam didn't die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. Physical death came at age 930 for Adam (Ge 5:5) as a byproduct of spiritual death.
The wages (plural) of death that those who are not born again will receive can be broken into two categories. The Bible speaks of a second death (Re 2:11; 20:6, 14; and 21:8)--banishment to the lake of fire (see note 4 at Mr 3:29) on the Day of Judgment. The first death is this separation from God (or spiritual death) that was inherited through Adam (see note 4 at Ro 5:16 and note 6 at Ro 5:19).
So this verse is specifically speaking of the spiritual death that was inherited through Adam and then the second death, which is eternal banishment from God and torment in the lake of fire. However, any negative results of sin, which were not part of God's original plan for man, can also be included in the term "death," since they are a direct result of this spiritual death.
Note 4 at Ro 6:23: Eternal life (see note 94 at Joh 17:3) is a gift. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "gift" as "something bestowed voluntarily and without compensation." We have nothing to do with earning this gift. Eternal life would cease to be a gift if we earned it (Ro 11:6). We simply receive it by faith.
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