THE GIFT OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-54 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the last verse of the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans. Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is one of those tremendous sentences, like Micah 6:8, like John 3:16, like John 5:24, like Acts 16:31, like Romans 8:28, like Revelation 3:20; this verse, this sentence is one of those tremendous statements that sum up the entire Bible, the whole story of redemption, the lost and helpless condition of mankind, and the hope and the promise we have in God. Sometimes I say in the Scriptures there are sentences that seem to sum up the total of all of the redemptive story of God toward a lost humanity. And one of those sentences is my text today: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23].
“For the wages of sin is death”; like James 1:15, “And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Sin and death, that is the story of our human race in all of its history, in all of its ways; sin and death. It was death when our first parents looked into the still and silent face of their second-born son, slain by his older brother [Genesis 4:8]. If the blood of Abel cried unto God from the ground [Genesis 4:10], how much more did it cry to our first parents as they looked upon the fruit of their hands and the reward of their transgression? [Genesis 3:1-6]. It was death in the days when the waters of the Flood deluged the world [Genesis 7:21-23]. Every bloated, floating corpse rocking on the bosom of those terrible waves was an “amen” to this awful and terrible sentence: “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
It was death in the days when fire fell from God out of heaven and obliterated the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-29]. Every burning heap, every charred ruin is an eloquent commentary on this statement that is the story of humanity: “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. It was death in the days when the angel stalked through the land of Egypt on that terrible and awful night, when the first born in every Egyptian home was taken away [Exodus 12:29-30]. And the cries and the tears and the lament of the Egyptians is but a commentary upon this verse: “The wages of sin is death.” It was death in the days when the heavy-handed angel passed through the camp of the Assyrians and Sennacherib’s host of a hundred eighty-five thousand; the next morning were nothing but dead corpses [Isaiah 37:36].
It was death in the days when our Savior the Lord Jesus climbed the steep and rocky hill of Golgotha, and there died for the sins of the world [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 John 2:2]. It was death in the days of Titus, when Jerusalem was inundated with blood and the city destroyed under the hands of the Roman legionnaires. It was death when the Nazi government hurled lurid, flaming catastrophe from the sky, and themselves reaped the awful wage of their terrible transgression. It is death in the capital cities of all of the civilized nations of the world when we dedicate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is death in every village and in every hamlet, in every city, down every street, in every home, and inevitably in every life.
The one terrible, grim monster before which every man someday shall bow in defeat is the Grim Reaper. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]; a world of sin, universal sin, and a world of death, universal death!
The rich man in his mansion, like the poor man in his hovel, awaits that hour. The king in his throne room and the queen in her boudoir alike await that grim hour. The philosopher in his classics chair and the peasant who bends over the clods alike await that inevitable hour. The harlot in her den and the society matron at her tea table alike, await that awful hour. Sin and death: for we all have sinned [Romans 3:23], and we all do die.
How do we meet and how do we face those awful realities? “Well we shall buy our way through.” And death laughs at our cankering gold. “I know: I shall be humble, and righteous, and good, and holy, and I shall bribe him with my goodness.” And he laughs at my filthy rags! “I know: I shall bribe that pale horseman when he comes, I shall bribe him with self-affliction and with self-effacement. I will spend my days in agony over my sins, by self-immolation, even maybe by persecuting, by flailing, maybe by renouncing everything in the world. I will give up, I’ll turn aside from everything in this life; and then shall I live.” But I die in a monastery, I die in a hermit’s lodge, I die in self-immolation. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23], and I have no place to turn to, and I have no way of escape. I live in a world of sin and of death.
I think of the beginning of the greatest allegory that was ever written, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It opens with a man standing with his back to his own house in the city of wrath—and in the City of Destruction. He has in his hands an open Bible, and as he reads in that Book he trembles and cries. And being no longer able to contain himself, he breaks out in a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do? And whither shall I go?” And he looked this way, and he looked that way, as if he would run; but not knowing where to go, he stood still. And there comes up to him one named Evangelist, and says, “Wherefore dost thou cry?” And the Pilgrim replies, “Sir, I perceive in the Book I hold in my hand that I am born to die, and after that the judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. I am not willing to do the first [Job 14:21-22], and I am not able to do the second” [Ezekiel 22:14]. Then Evangelist says, “If this be thy condition, wherefore standest thou still?” And the Pilgrim replies, “Because I know not whither to go.” If I move to Africa, if I live in the Orient, if I stay in Dallas, if I live in New York, if I live in a little house, or a big house, if I amass a fortune or if I stay poor, wherever I turn and whatever I do, I face that awful and inevitable guest: he comes and he knocks at my door, and he claims the wage that he’s due, the sin and death! “For the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
It is in the helplessness, it is in the despair, it is in the grief and the sorrow of our humanity that God did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. The Lord paid a debt for us that we could not pay ourselves. The Lord achieved a deliverance for us we could not have wrought ourselves. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God, but the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, is life, life, life, life, life eternal! The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]; something done for us we could not do ourselves.
We are like a man in the middle of a vast sea, and he’s drowning, he can’t help himself; but a hand reaches down from God to save him. We are like a man in a vast burning desert, thirsting to death; and an angel comes and succors us. We are like a man in the midst of a vast forest burning, and the hand of God reaches down and delivers us. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]. It is a gift because it is something we could not achieve for ourselves.
Ephesians 2:8: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should say, ‘I did it,’ and boast that he did it” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Titus 3:3-5: “For we also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”
“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God, the gift of God” [Romans 6:23]—it is a gift because it is priceless; no man could ever buy it, no man could ever save up enough money to bribe the goodness and kindness and love of God in Christ Jesus. It is a gift because it’s been paid for: Jesus paid for our salvation [1 Corinthians 6:20]; we don’t pay it twice. He doesn’t pay it, and then I pay it again: the Lord paid it Himself in the agony in the garden [Luke 22:44], in the bearing of the cross, in His being nailed to the tree [1 Peter 2:24], in the crown of thorns that He bore [Matthew 27:29], in the blood He spilled out on the ground [John 19:34]—all of it’s been paid for [Matthew 27:26-50]. It’s a gift because it’s already bought. “It is the gift, the gift of God” [Ephesians 2:8]; it is a gift because it is freely offered to everybody. “Whosoever will, let him come. Whosoever will, let him drink. Whosoever will, let him be saved. Whosoever will, let him believe”; freely offered to all men everywhere [Revelation 22:17].
And it is eternal life: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God, the gift of God, the free gift of God is eternal life, eternal life” [Romans 6:23], a possession here and now. Have it now, have it today, have it tonight, have it tomorrow, have it in age, have it in death, have it in the world to come. “The gift of God is eternal, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]; a gift now, we have it now.
- That verse Ephesians 2:8, “By grace are you saved,” already saved; not tomorrow or some other day, “By grace have you been saved,” saved now.
- John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting, eternal life”; have it now, a present possession.
- John 5:24: “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth My words and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, hath everlasting life, and is passed out of death into life.”
- John 10:28: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”; eternal life, life, everlasting life!
The gift of God in Christ Jesus is eternal life, a present possession! I have it now. I have it tomorrow. I have it forever! The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23].
There is no such a thing in this Book, in God’s Word, there is no such a thing as a man being partly and sometimes saved, and partly and sometimes lost. Today he’s saved, and tomorrow he’s lost—no such thing in this Book! There’s no such thing in this Book as a man being sometimes and partly justified, and then sometimes and partly condemned; no such thing in this Book as a man being sometimes and partly and partly born of God, and sometimes and partly unborn of God. No such thing in this Book as a man being partly and sometimes dead, and partly and sometimes alive. “The gift of God is eternal life”; never ends, always ours [Romans 6:23]. First John 5:1: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” And where there is a birth, there is a life; and the spiritual life is eternal, unfading, never passes away, life, life, eternal life. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]. It is a possession forever!
When Thucydides wrote his famous history in Greek, he called it a ktēma eis aei, “a possession into the always,” a thing to be prized and possessed forever. Our salvation is that. I don’t have it today, and then tomorrow I’ve lost it. I’m not given it today, and tomorrow I’m lost and damned. I’m saved. I’m saved. It’s a gift of God [Ephesians 2:8]. It’s not something I did; it’s something God did for me. It’s not my holding on to God; it’s God’s promise He will hold on to me [John 10:27-30]. Eternal life: it never changes, it never wearies. I may change; He never. I may stagger; He doesn’t. I may stumble; He never falls. I may despair in failure; He never fails! “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]; a present possession and forever. And it never ceases, it never stops, it never ends; it’s given to us now, it is given to us now in Christ Jesus, and it is eternal. It goes on, and forever and forever!
When I die, when I die I’m not dead, I’m not dead; my body has just turned back to the dust of the ground. The house I live in has gone back to clay; but I, I haven’t died. I had our Reminder; they were showing in the Reminder, “Our dead,” and write the names. I said, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Write in our Reminder 2 Corinthians 5:8: ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord.’” And when you pick up our Reminder and read about our beloved who’ve fallen asleep in Jesus, that’s the way it’s printed: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” That’s the reason I had you read for your passage of Scripture today [1 Thessalonians 4:13-14]: “My brethren, I would not have you without knowledge, concerning them who fall asleep in Jesus. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” What a strange thing to say, “even those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” What a strange thing: he’s talking about the same people; they’re the same people. Those who sleep in Jesus, and God’s bringing them with Him, what does he mean? Why, he’s saying our bodies sleep, our bodies rest, our bodies turn back to the dust, our bodies are buried in the heart of the earth; but we, we are with the Lord: life, eternal life, never ending life. And we are brought back with Jesus when He comes again; and our bodies, these houses of clay, are resurrected, immortalized, glorified, like the body of the Lord Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. And body and spirit are reunited in the glorified, transfigured new house made without hands [2 Corinthians 5:1] God has prepared for those who trust in Him. “The gift of God is eternal life, eternal life, never-ending life, in Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23].
My fellow pilgrim and my fellow Christian, don’t you ever tremble before the devil. He may make us stumble, he may make us fall, but he’s not able to snatch away out of God’s hands the least one that puts his trust in Him. In this blessed tenth chapter of the Book of John, out of which I quoted John 10:28, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”; in that same chapter, Jesus says, “He calleth His own sheep by name, by name” [John 10:3]. You’re not a gob, or a bucketful, or a congregation, or a mass, you are not just a gang or a bunch, or a vast number, not in God’s sight. In God’s sight, you are somebody you, and you have a name; and He knows your name, and He knows all about you. The hairs of your head are numbered [Matthew 10:30]; He knows everything about you, and He calls you by name [John 10:3]. And the gate is opened, and He leads His sheep into the fold [John 10:27-30]. Ezekiel speaking of that says, “And God shall make His children pass under the rod” [Ezekiel 20:37].
In Galilee, as I went around Galilee, everywhere, everywhere you’ll see the sheepfolds, the sheepfolds: a rock fence and a little shelter there in the corner, always with one entrance, always with one entrance. And what does the prophet mean, “He shall cause His people to pass under the rod”? [Ezekiel 20:37]. He means this: when the shepherd gathers his sheep in the evening, and folds them down for the protection and care of the night, he puts his rod, he puts his shepherd’s staff, he puts his rod across that one entrance; and the sheep come in one at a time, under the rod, and he calls them by name, this one, and this one, and this one, and this one. That’s the reason Psalm 23 said, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” [Psalm 23:4]: the pledge of the care and the keeping of Almighty God; passing under the rod [Ezekiel 20:37], calling, calling His own sheep by name [John 10:3].
Do you reckon He might forget one of us? Do you reckon just one of us might be lost? Do you suppose in that great and final day, because God’s so busy and got so many and the whole universe to run, do you think God might forget us? Think He might? Think He might? Then if He loses just one, if there is just one who is lost, who has placed his trust in Jesus, then God has broken His word, and the promises do not prevail, and His whole universe is in confusion. That’s the reason your old-time forefathers used to sing:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I’ll never, no never desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon]
“The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]; and the Grim Reaper comes; the Grim Reaper comes, and he demands his hire, he demands his wage, and he takes our lives. But the gift of God is a better life; the gift of God is a spiritual life; the gift of God is a triumphant and an overcoming life. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]. And it goes, and lasts, and endures. When the stars are cold, and when the sun is burned out, and when heaven and earth are passed away, we shall live and reign with the Lord [2 Timothy 2:12]. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23].
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, somebody you, “Today, pastor, I want to take Him as my Savior, and I do it now [Romans 10:9-13]. I’m willing to hang my soul upon the exceeding great and precious promises, and I’ll make it now.” In that topmost balcony, many of you up there, jammed that balcony, somebody you, we wait for you; down that stairwell on either side, come down that stairwell and down that aisle and down here by me. “Pastor, today I give my heart to God and my life with you and these people in this blessed ministry.” Many of you by letter, “I’ve been saved, preacher; I have felt that gift of eternal life in Jesus, I’ve trusted Him, and I’ve been baptized, and I want to come into the church.” One somebody you, or a family, “Pastor, here’s our whole family; here we come.” Any way God shall say the word and make the appeal, while we sing the song, today, would you make it now? Anywhere, everywhere, you, would you come? Would you come, while we stand and while we sing.