"The Wages of Sin…" in Context






Romans 6:23 begins, “the wages of sin is death…” and then counters it with “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”

Often, I’ve heard that first part of the verse thrown at people as a threat; completely void of its context. And context is everything. And the context for this verse is incredibly liberating, empowering and truly good news.

If you read Romans 5 and 6, fully, you’ll find there’s zero mention of humanity making some sort of choice or decision. Why? Because the context is the complete works of Christ.

“…the wages of sin is death but God’s free gift is eternal life in Jesus…”

This scripture is often taught as though Paul was giving us a choice; as though we can invite Jesus into our hearts and make Him the Lord of our lives, or we can go to hell, where we will experience eternal conscious torment, and there will be torture and there will be flames.

But that’s not what Paul wrote. There is no such context.

What if “the wages of sin is death” is announcing the inherent consequences to sinful actions and what they will produce in this life, as opposed to saying if we sin we deserve torment?

Remember it says “death;” not “everlasting life while being tortured in fire,” it says “death.”

I challenge you to read Romans 5 and 6. Read what Paul was actually writing. See how he contrasts universal humanity “in Adam” with universal humanity “in Christ” as a result of the complete work of Jesus on behalf of all of humanity

What if there isn’t a judicial system in family?

Let me ask that again.

What if…there isn’t a judicial system…in FAMILY?

What if His name really is Abba and He is a Father and Physician? What if He is not a judge and we are not in some courtroom accused of crimes and misdemeanors. What if He is not a Master and we are we not His subjects and servants. What if we – humanity – are his children, sons and daughters of the living God; sons and daughters of heaven and eternity and glory?

What if the atonement – what happened at the cross – was totally void of violence from the Father altogether? What if it really was a victory over the Satan, sin and death, and an unveiling of His heart; as well as Him healing us of the delusions we’ve created and been deceived by… all of which, manifested death in our lives and in the earth.

What if Jesus came to reverse the trajectory in order to bring on earth as it is in heaven.

What if we’ve been looking at this completely through the wrong lens.

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God (for all of humanity) is eternal life in Christ.

That is a conclusive statement.

It is finished… behold, I make all things new! (See John 19:30 and Rev 21:5)

He’s better than you’ve been taught.

Michael McElyea is a husband and a father; a guy who left evangelical church leadership to go on a journey with Jesus; just a man trying to follow Jesus. He lives in MD with his family.

For more on Micahel
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  1. Bryant Spratlin

    I love your posts and have read all your books. The goodness of God is a message that I proclaim everywhere I go. And I totally am ok with the Father being even better than I think. My question about this post and what you are saying, is how does Luke 16:19-28 fit into that? Jesus seems to be sharing a parable about a man who didn’t accept the way and was in torment in the after life. Would love your thoughts on this.

    • Jason Clark

      Hey Bryant,

      Thanks for the kind words! It’s encouraging to read how our Father is working in and through you, honored to be on the journey with you.

      I imagine you know of Brad Jersak, we had him on our podcast (http://afamilystory.org//2020/03/s-01-ep-5-brad-jersak/)
      he wrote a book titled, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (https://www.amazon.com/Her-Gates-Will-Never-Shut/dp/1606088823) I found it to be a really helpful book. He also writes on Luke 16:19-28.

      However, I’m gonna post a link to an article by Brad that gives a little insight into Lazarus and the rich man.


      Also, Brian Zahnd has written lots on this topic. He has an article titled, Hell and How to Get There
      It’s long but a worthwhile read. He also goes in-depth into Luke 16.

      Here is an excerpt about two-thirds of the way through

      “How do I read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? I don’t read it as a reconnaissance report on hell — a hell I’m certain I’ll never see because once upon a time I prayed a salvation prayer. No, this parable is not a voyeur’s view of the damned to inform the comfortable and curious. I read the parable as a rich man living in a world where at least a billion people long for the crumbs from my table. I don’t read it and then think, “Well, after all, I prayed a sinner’s prayer when I was fifteen, so I don’t need to worry about any of this.” That would be to mock Jesus, the very thing the Pharisees did! To be a Christian means I am deliberately attempting to follow Jesus. Being a Christian does not mean I can ignore Lazarus with impunity! Being a Christian means I can no longer pretend that I don’t see Lazarus lying at my door…” Brian Zahnd

      These guys have spent more time on that passage and I have leaned on their thoughts as well as others like Baxter Kruger and even David Bentley Hart, though he is a tough read, very heady.

      I also just let Michael know (he wrote this article) that there were comments here. He might jump on with more.

      Bless you, man!

  2. Jon A. Gerdts

    This sure sounds like universalism to me – and that goes against everything that the Bible declares. Certainly Jesus died for all humanity, past, present, and future, but it wasn’t a universal “get into heaven free” card. Jesus never declared that. If universalism is what it’s all about, then, as soon as Adam & Eve sinned, why not just send Jesus to die for our sin and get it over with. If we have no choice, and/or our choices have no consequences, then why put a tree in the middle of the garden in the first place and tell Adam that he cannot eat from it, for the day that he eats of it, he will surely die? Why offer that choice if it really means nothing? And what was the serpent thing all about? Telling Eve that there really wouldn’t be any negative consequences for her rebellious action? Are you kidding me? If you are saying that Jesus came and paid the price and everybody goes to heaven – no matter what – then God is NOT better than I think – at all! And heaven will be a very scary place to go! What about God’s will being done?

    • Jason Clark

      Hey Jon,

      I understand your thoughts and appreciate your sharing them.

      I thought I’d share a link to an article I wrote (it’s also on this website) entitled, Why I Am Not A Universalist. I think it will answer some of the questions you asked, or at least, it will give more insight into the approach to scripture Michael takes in this article.


      Also, while answering a comment from another fella, I found an article I read years ago that helped me as I began to re-evaluate the modern retributive teachings on hell. It’s by a theologian named Brad Jersak and it’s titled, Who Are You Calling A Universalist.

      It also might be helpful in explaining the way Michael has interpreted Romans 6.


      Blessings, man!

  3. Tineke Ziemer

    Gosh, I feel like I’m going to be the odd one out here, but I just want to say how encouraging, heart-lifting, spirit-filling and hope-inducing this article is. Thank you to Michael and Jason for spreading the Good News of how all-encompassing God’s love is – He truly is better than we were taught. After having discovered Him in this way (inside of me all along!), I can never go back to the old way of fear and condemnation. I pray that everyone would have their eyes opened to His goodness. His compassion sees waaaaay beyond behavior and into the very heart of every person, knowing that negative behavior is birthed out of a wound that needs to be healed, not punished. May his love pour out of us in the same way.

    • Jason Clark

      Oh, I love reading about your journey!! I am thankful for you, Michael, and many others who are leaning fully into the always good love of our Father! It is encouraging to my heart to run with you guys!

      “May His love pour out…!!”

      Yes and Amen.


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The Price Is Too Steep

I was heartsick and disturbed by the theological certainty he placed in the punishing nature of God—a certainty that was clearly crushing him. He was tormented over whether he’d “evangelized” enough. He wondered aloud if a prayer said in the horror of a violent car crash would be enough.

“What am I still lacking?” That was the cruel and punishing road my pastor friend traveled. He seemed to believe God counted his dad’s sins against him—and his dad had come up lacking.

My pastor friend’s pain was real, traumatizing, and tragically unnecessary.

You see, what he described to me wasn’t Christian hope. It was fatalism.

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