by Matt Slick
If it is true that Jesus paid for all of our sins on the cross, then why do we still have physical death? Doesn’t Rom. 6:23 say that “the wages of sin is death”? And, isn’t physical death the payment for sin? So, if Jesus paid for our sins, why do we still die physically?
When we look at the entirety of Rom. 6:23 we find that it says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We have to ask, what is the death that is spoken of here? Is it physical death or spiritual death? We often think of death as only a physical thing, but God refers to death as a spiritual separation from him. Let’s take a look at the first mention of death in the Bible, which is a statement made by God himself.
Gen. 2:17, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
We know that when Adam ate the forbidden fruit he did not physically die on that day. In fact, he lived for hundreds of years afterwards. So, what death was it that God was referring to? It was spiritual death, separation from God. As physical death is the separation between body and soul, spiritual death is separation between God and man.
Furthermore, Rom. 6:23 contrasts death and eternal life. Again, it says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” Notice there is juxtaposition, a contrasting of two things: death and life. In this case it is death contrasted with eternal life. So, what is the opposite of eternal life? It is obviously spiritual death. It makes sense to say that the death spoken of in Rom. 6:23 is not physical, but spiritual.
This contrasting pattern appears in other scriptures written by Paul.
- Rom. 5:21, “that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
- Rom. 8:13, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
- Rom. 6:16, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
- 2 Tim. 1:10, “but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
As you can see, death and life are contrasted and in each case it is a contrast between spiritual death and spiritual life. This is how Paul often wrote.
Jesus' death was a payment for sin
Our physical death is the consequence of our sin, not the payment for it. It was Jesus’ death on the cross that was the payment for our sin. Unfortunately for us, the effects of our sin continue, even after we have been forgiven. If the effects of sin were to stop in forgiveness, then we should also not have any sickness, plagues, deformities, death of animals, etc. All of these things, which are the consequences of sin, should likewise disappear. But, they have not because Jesus' death on the cross bought us spiritual life with God. He purchased us from the death that is separation from God due to our sin (Is. 59:2). He bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) so that we could be justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). The result is having eternal life with him (Rom. 6:23; John 3:16; 10:27-28).
We still die because even though our sins are forgiven, its effects continue. Furthermore, the death that Jesus saved us from is not a physical one, but a spiritual one – separation from God.