In using the Romans Road approach to evangelism, after 3:23, many share Romans 6:23 next: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In explaining the first part of the verse, they often use the concept of earning a wage after having worked at a job. Explaining how it would be unjust for an employer not to pay an employee who has worked all week, they testify to the similar necessity of receiving a penalty for one’s sin.
In explaining the second half of the verse, they stress the contrast between a gift and wages. Often, the illustration of holding out a Bible to a person is used accompanied by a question of how a person would get the Bible as a gift. Many times, an explanation of eternal life as both a new quality of life and life that lasts forever is included at this point.
Next, they explain that God gives the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Various scenarios are often used to illustrate this truth (for example, discussing a person’s necessity of going to the only welfare office in a town if they are to receive their welfare check). They then draw the parallel to receiving salvation only through Jesus.
A closer look at the preceding revelation in Romans supports repaving the Romans Road at this point by tying the presentation of the verse more directly to what Paul says earlier in the book. Prior to 6:23, Paul speaks about eternal life for the first time in the middle of a lengthy section that focuses heavily on God’s actions as Judge (2:1-16). In this section, Paul indicts the person whom he addresses (“O man”; 2:1, 3) for judging others while committing the same misdeeds himself. After explaining to him God’s benevolent intent for His not judging him for his hypocritical judging (2:4), Paul informs him of the solemn future that awaits him:
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; WHO WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (2:5-11).
In these verses, explicit statements (“the day of wrath . . . and of the righteous judgment of God”; “who will render . . . according to his deeds”; “no respect of persons with God”) show that the entire section emphasizes what God as the Judge will do with respect to every man. Paul, therefore, communicates in this section the truth that God, as the impartial Judge, will righteously render eternal life to certain people according to their deeds.
Paul’s concluding this section by speaking of “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to [his] gospel” (2:16) strongly confirms this analysis of the preceding verses that immediately surround his reference to eternal life. This concluding statement about “the day when God shall judge” does so by forming an inclusio with the earlier reference to the day of His judgment (2:5).
Based on this analysis, Paul’s first reference to eternal life is in a context that highlights God as the Judge who gives eternal life. Furthermore, in the flow of thought, his concluding statement of God’s judging through Jesus Christ signifies that God is going to render eternal life to people through the judgment that He will carry out through Jesus Christ. The flow of thought from 2:5-16 thus sets forth Jesus Christ as God’s judicial agent who will render eternal life to those people who by patient endurance in well doing seek for it. (See both John 5:22-24 and 5:25-30 for essentially the same teaching from Jesus Himself about both His judicial agency and His giving eternal life by virtue of that authority; cf. 5:34, which makes explicit that He gave this teaching because He wanted the people to whom He gave it to be saved).
Because Paul has already taught us as the readers of Romans this glorious truth before we get to 6:23, our understanding of the subsequent reference to God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ should account for this earlier teaching. Based on this aspect of the flow of thought in Romans, we should use this truth from Romans 2:5-16 as at least a part of our explanation of how we get eternal life from Jesus. By presenting to sinners Jesus Christ as the Lord, God’s judicial agent (cf. 14:9-12), who gives eternal life, we will provide to them biblical truth that God intends for them to receive through our witness.
In my preceding article, “Extending and Repaving the Romans Road,” I argued for adding Romans 2:16 and using it in explaining 3:23. This article further supports adding Romans 2:16 to the Romans Road. We thus would do well to extend and repave the Romans Road by adding this key statement and using the vital truth that it teaches to explain both 3:23 and 6:23.
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