From the January 5 Thursday Night Bible Study:
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The vast majority of explanations of this verse say that salvation is a gift, all you do is simply take it. Here are a few direct quotes from people about this verse:
Eternal life is a gift, you just take it. There are no strings attached, minimum qualifications, or other such nonsense.
You don’t have to be willing to do anything to be saved. All that is required for salvation is that you come as a guilty sinner (Romans 3:19) and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive your sins (Acts 16:30,31). You don’t have to surrender your life to Christ, nor forsake your worldly ways, nor make a commitment to Christ. The changes that need to be made in one's life is God's department and He will attend to that (Hebrews 12:6-8), you can be assured; but the gift of God is free with no strings attached.
This general sense I get of people's interpretations of Romans 6:23 are that: God gives people eternal life even though they are sinners. It’s his grace and His free gift that allows sinners to go to heaven even while continuing to live in sin. Frequently I hear people saying that salvation is like Christmas morning. You get a present from your dad. You don't work for the present, you don't buy it, or earn it. You just take it and open it!
Clearly salvation is a free gift; the Bible clearly says so. Clearly this gift is from God's grace; the Bible clearly says so. But do we take it simply as though it were a Christmas present? Just take it and open it?
Consider the following:
Matthew 16:19-22—what must I do to have eternal life? Keep commandments, give all to the poor.
Matthew 19:28-30—if you forsake things to follow Christ you will inherit eternal life.
Matthew 25:34-46—Separation of sheep and goats. Getting eternal life is for the righteous, those who clothed, fed, etc., the least of these.
Luke 10:25-29—asks what to do to get eternal life—love God and neighbor, followed up by parable of the good Samaritan
John 12:24-25—if you hate your life you will keep it unto life eternal.
Jesus doesn't tell people that salvation is as easy as opening up a present. He tells people to count the cost. Is this just Jesus being crazy? Does Jesus not know grace? Does Jesus have a different Gospel than Paul? Although some would affirm some of these assertions, they are not biblically sound. Consider some of what Paul said about how to get eternal life:
Romans 2:6-8—people who do patient continuance in well doing get eternal life
Galatians 6:7-9—reap what you sow: if you sow to the flesh you will reap corruption. Those who sow in the Spirit will reap eternal life.
1 Timothy 6:12-19—fight the fight, give up possessions to lay hold on eternal life. This passage sounds remarkably similar to Jesus' words to the rich young ruler in Matthew 16.
In fact, the best sense to understand what Paul means in Romans 6:23, is to look at what Paul talked about in that same context.
6:1-2--people who are dead to sin shouldn't live in sin.
6:3-5--we were buried with Christ and raised to new life, so walk in that new life.
6:6-7--we are free from sin, so don't serve sin.
6:8-11--we are now living in Christ, free from sin, so act like you are dead to sin and alive to God.
6:12-13--don't let sin reign in your body, present your members as servants to righteousness, not sin.
6:14-16--people who continue to live in sin will die; those who obey do righteousness.
6:17-19--you are servants to God and to righteousness, use your body to do righteousness.
6:20-22--You are free from sin, so do righteousness, which has fruit unto holiness and the end of that is eternal life.
Romans 6:23 should not be interpreted that salvation is as easy as opening a Christmas present. Nor should we understand it to be saying that salvation is added to us, we go to heaven when we die now, so you can keep sinning. Paul says this new life, this eternal life, begins at conversion. WE begin living a new life of righteousness as we put to death the deeds of the body.
Salvation is a gift and it is free. No one is disputing that point here. But we need to see the significance of the gift! I have never opened a Christmas present that I needed to reorient my entire life once I had it! Usually, Christmas presents are stuff you don't need anyway. If you needed it, you'd already have it! Christmas presents require no change from you at all. I opened a pack of socks. You don't reorient your life around a pack of socks. "Oh boy, now that I got this free pair of socks as a present, I need to yield myself a servant to socks."
Salvation is free, again, no one is disputing that. Salvation, however, is much more significant than a pack of socks or any other Christmas present. Don't belittle the significance of the gift! Salvation is free, but don't let the freeness make you under-esteem the gift.
The gift of God is not just eternal life period. "When I die I go to heaven instead of hell." Eternal life is for righteous people, people who are living this new life Christ has given them. The gift of God, Christ Himself, brings new life, walking in newness of life, not walking in the oldness of the letter but in newness of the Spirit. This free gift is new life in Christ. New life in Christ is righteous and holy. Without holiness, no man will see the Lord. Holiness is not achieved through works of the law, but through faith in Christ and walking in the Spirit.
We get a free new life. You can expect some changes to occur if this gift is truly received. This is no average Christmas present; this is new life in Christ. This will mess with some stuff. Jesus says to count the cost. Not because you pay to receive the gift, but because the gift will seriously mess with your plans for your old life!