Albert N. Martin
In the words of Romans 6 and verse 23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now, using the imagery of the signpost that we have used throughout this entire series, unlike other of the signposts that we have considered, where perhaps there were two lines or words combined with symbols and separated by hyphens, this signpost is different in that as we look at it from afar we are immediately struck with the fact that instead of just one signboard on the vertical post, there are two. Both of them have been cut in such a way that they look like the point of an arrow. One has been nailed with the arrow pointing to the left, and the other has been nailed upon the post with the arrow pointing to the right.
As we draw closer to the signpost, we see that first of all, there are contrasting destinations to which they point. Both of these boards on the one signpost are pointing to destinations. The one to the left, as we draw near, we see that closest to the end of the board that looks like an arrow is the word ‘death.’ The other that points to the right, there near the point of the arrow-shaped board is the word ‘eternal life.’ This signpost has contrasting destinations to which they point.
That raises the question: what do the words upon the signpost mean? For our text says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we see this word ‘death’ upon the signpost in contrast to the words ‘eternal life,’ what precisely does it mean? The word ‘death’ in itself is a horrible word. When we turn to the Scriptures we find that it is first introduced when God speaks to Adam in the purity and the innocence of Eden, and he tells him, “Of all of the trees of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
As we trace the meaning of the word ‘death’ from that first usage in Genesis 2 all the way through to the book of the Revelation, we see that the word ‘death’ has many meanings and many usages in the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes it refers to the separation of the soul and the body. As James says, “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” Sometimes it merely speaks of the cessation of animal life. When animals are said to die, that is the end of their existence. There is in the Bible a doctrine of spiritual death. “You hath he made alive who were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Jesus refers to this when he says, “That he that believes on me though he were dead yet shall he live.”
But this signpost—with this word ‘death’ upon it—is not referring to any of those particular usages of the word ‘death,’ but rather, it is referring to that aspect of death which comes at the end of a life of sin. Now, we know this from the context. For if you look at verse 21, you will notice that Paul says, “What fruit had you at that time in the things whereof you are now ashamed?” He’s speaking of the patterns of their sinful life. “For the end of those things is death.”
So that in this particular context, when he says, “The wages of sin is death,” when he is putting up on the signboard the contrasting destinations, this use of ‘death’ is pointing to the same concept and awesome reality that Paul speaks of later in chapter 8, verse 13. We read, “If you live after the flesh, you must die; but if you by the spirit put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”
The death to which this signpost is pointing is none other than that death which is called in Revelation 20 and verse 14, “The second death is the lake of fire.” That horrible place and state which the Bible describes as hell. The place to which our Lord Jesus made reference again and again when He spoke of Gehenna, when He said in Matthew 10:28, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and after this have no more that they can do. But fear Him who can destroy both soul and body [in Gehenna] in hell.” It is that place to which our Lord makes reference when He speaks of being cast into outer darkness, into the fire, “Where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:48). The place referred to in Revelation 14:11, where John says, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and forever; and they have no rest day nor night.”
It is this death—the horrible death of the eternal, the irreversible separation of the soul from God forever and forever—where that soul joined to a resurrected body will suffer the conscious torments of those who are cast out from the presence of Christ into that place with the devil and his angels. So as we approach this signpost with its contrasting destinations to which it points, the first destination to which it points us is the direction of death. It is set there that we might not choose that direction, but that by the grace of God we should flee from death in the direction of God, Author of life and salvation.
Bible References: Romans 6: 21, 23; 8:13; Genesis 2:17; James 2:26; Ephesians 2:1; John 11:25; Revelation 20:14; Matthew 10:28; Mark 9:48; Revelation 14:11
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