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. Romans 6:20-23
My first job was working as a bag boy and stocker at a local grocery store. Being a bright-eyed 14-year-old, I couldn't wait to join the workforce and earn some green. As I packed eggs and produce in plastic bags, I dreamed about spending all this money I would now have at my disposal. I imagined doing a Scrooge McDuck and swimming in a pile of cash.
Payday finally arrived, and I ripped open the envelope to bask in my earnings. I told my boss there must be some horrible mistake because the amount was drastically too low. I followed that up with another question: who is this FICA individual and why do they get to steal my money? He chuckled, reminded me I was earning minimum wage, and let me know that "taxes always get you."
All that hard work. All that hustling that made my feet ache. All that time at the grocery store rather than hanging out with friends. What did giving my all to Shoppers Food Warehouse get me? Diddly squat. Or, should I say, only 75% of diddly squat thanks to Uncle Sam.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Nope, that's not the question I was asking myself after looking at my first paycheck (even though it fits). It's the question the Apostle Paul posed in his letter to the believers in Rome.
Scripture speaks time and time again of us having a choice in who and what we offer our heart's affection and attention. We can be a slave of sin or a slave of God. No matter what choice we make an exchange occurs and an agreement gets set into motion. We devote our mental and emotional energy towards that end. We put in the work of allowing our choice to dictate our perspective, drive, decisions, and attitudes. And just like any job where work takes place, we receive a wage.
Paul wanted his readers to reflect on the return they received during their time living for worldly desires. What had they reaped from their toil? Was it worth it? Had their choices made them rich and full or poor and in need? His inquiry was the first centuries version of Dr. Phil giving the side-eye and saying, "How's that working for you?"
The wages of sin is death. People often interpret this verse solely through the lens of fire and brimstone. And, yes, it does highlight how sin left us hopeless and separated from God, but we shortchange its implications by only seeing it from a "later on" perspective.
Sin taxes our heart and takes rather than gives. It demands we work strenuously chasing after purpose, security, and love in all the wrong places while shortchanging us in the process. And because sin leaves us relationally bankrupt, we put in extra overtime hoping to fix the problems on our own. When we get done, punch the clock and look at our wages, the memo line on our paycheck reads futility.
The good news of the Gospel is that through Christ's sacrifice we can find another day job that pays infinitely better than that of the world. We work not to earn our love, but because we're loved unconditionally. The worker's benefits are relentless freedom, unshakable peace, and life-giving purpose. Instead of collecting a wage, we receive a gift.
Where do you find yourself worn out from working to find peace, purpose, and love in things that are incapable of fulfilling those needs? What are you reaping from looking to these things?
Take some time to thank God for the gift of His forgiveness and grace. What does that gift mean to you?
God, remind me of the futility that comes from pursuing worldly desires. Rather than forcing me to work to earn my keep, You lavish me with forgiveness, grace, and love. I want all that I am, and everything I do, to focus on bringing You glory. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.