Guest Post – “Wages or Gift?” – Steve Robinson
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By Steve Robinson
It’s amazing how a “framework” can constrain how you understand a piece of text. For example, 2×4 is either 8 or a piece of lumber depending on whether you are a mathematician or a carpenter. The “juridical/accounting/transactional” framework always told me that St. Paul meant “Jesus paid the debt to God for our sins, and the zero balance of the ledger was our free gift from Christ.”
Over the years the “substitutionary” framework (as it is usually preached) made less and less sense of “the gospel” in light of what I read about God in the Gospels. One day, I read the text exactly as it is written: It said SIN pays the wage of death. Not God. God doesn’t kill us because we sin. We serve sin and sin pays us what it promises: separation from God who is Life. We die apart from Life.
And yet God still offers a free gift–himself, Life–not “wages.” He always has from the beginning. There is no death in God, only in us.
Gregory of Nazianzus said, “What is not assumed is not healed.” When Jesus died in His human flesh, he assumed ALL that is within us, even death. He accepted sin’s “wage” even though he didn’t earn it by sinning.
So, God didn’t kill Jesus instead of us (the Evangelical take on Good Friday). Christ accepted the wages from sin (not from God the Father) on our behalf and nailed the W-2 to the cross (Colossians 2:14). There will be no fear of an audit, no taxes due, no penalties for non-payment or back taxes. Free.
In all the parables, the Master, Lord, King, or Landowner forgave the debts of his crappy householders, borrowers, scammers, and negligent subjects with a Word. He NEVER extracted the due debt from an innocent third party and then offer the zero-sum, paid-off balance sheet to the debtors as a “gift.” On the Cross, God absorbs death, the wages of sin, into himself because God is life and not even death can prevail before and within God. As Solomon said, “Love is stronger than death…”
As St. Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” at the Cross (2 Cor. 5:19). He was not vicariously punishing Christ, exacting a penalty, or substituting Him for us in some cosmic juridical execution. It is why we celebrate “the Precious and Life-giving Cross” where death is slain through the power of love, not “the Horror of the Penalty God Demanded in His Righteousness.”
The Gospel is not about wages, books to be balanced, or penalties to be paid to a God who must pay himself off via his Son to satisfy his need for a balanced ledger or justice served. The gospel is about a benevolent King who just forgives because that is his nature and takes all the crap and debt and death we can deal out into Himself for our sake just because He loves us, because that is His nature.
I once held the former thing as “gospel” and it made sense to me until it didn’t. Then I found the latter thing in the Parables. The longer I live the latter thing makes more and more sense to me.
As if we can make sense of the horror of the Cross.
As if we can make sense of human, much less, divine Love.