Why is the Wages of Sin Death?

By David
Published July 31, 2015

In Romans 6:23, Paul writes that the wages of sin is death, meaning that the penalty for sinning is to die. In Ezekiel 18:20, God says, "the soul that sins shall die." The question these passages often bring up is, "Why is the wages of sin death?" If God is sovereign over all of creation why does He have to punish sinners? If God can do whatever He wants, why can't He just decide that everyone can go to Heaven?

The penalty for sin is death, not because of some arbitrary punishment defined in Romans 6:23, but because God is perfectly holy. The definition of holiness that the Bible gives us is "set apart from sin". God is perfectly holy so He cannot even be in the presence of sin. Sometimes we say that God is a just and righteous judge so He must punish sin. While it is true that God is a perfect judge, God is not subject to the dictation of justice as if it were a supreme entity. Justice has its origin in God. The penalty of death for sin is more than merely God's righteous punishment. God cannot even allow sin to be near Him. More than punish, He must banish sin as well. This is what death is.

Death = Separation

Death is defined in the Bible simply as separation. There are three kinds of death mentioned in the Bible. The first is physical death, the separation of the spirit from the body. This the death that we are all accustom too. Ecclesiastes 12:7 speaks about physical death when is says, "The dust (body) will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it." The body and the spirit are no longer connected and cannot function together. 1Footnote 1

When Jesus comes again the church will be raptured and those who have physically died will be made physically alive again with glorified bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51)

The second kind of death mentioned in the Bible is spiritual death: the separation of a man's spirit from God. Because God is holy (set apart from sin) when we sin we become set apart from God. Ephesians 2:1 says, "You were dead in your trespasses and sins." And God says in Isaiah 59:2, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Since we have sinned, we are spiritually dead (separated from God), and cannot connect with Him.

The third kind of death that the Bible mentions is eternal death, sometimes called the second death. This is a continuation of spiritual death where after physical death the spirit of a sinful man is banished from God to spend eternity in Hell. Revelation 20:10, 14-15 says, "The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever… [14] This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says, "Those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord."

Adam: An Example of Spiritual and Physical Death

An example of the differences in kinds of deaths in the Bible is the fall of man recorded in Genesis. When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden He said, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 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 will surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17) When Adam ate of the tree, he and Eve hid themselves from God whom they had previously walked with side by side (Genesis 3:8).

They had not died physically from eating the fruit, but they had died spiritually; their communion with God had been severed. The immediate penalty for Adam's sin was spiritual death, but the Bible goes on to record Adam's physical death in Genesis 5:5. "So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died." The immediate penalty for sin is spiritual death. The eventual penalty is physical death. And if a sinner continues and dies in their sins the penalty is eternal death.

Life = Communion

If death means separation then the opposite must also true: life means communion. Physical life means the spirit and the body are together, and spiritual life means that a person's spirit is in communion with God. Ephesians 2:5 says, "Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ" Jesus said in John 10:10, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

In John 17:3 Jesus said, "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Like eternal death, eternal life is a continuation of spiritual life after physical death. It is not necessarily that we will live forever; even the unbeliever will live forever in Hell. Eternal life is a perfect communion with God for all time. In John 11:25 Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies," We will all die (if Jesus doesn't return to earth first) but believers in Christ will live even if they die because we they will have perfect communion with God forever.

Why the Wages of Sin is Death

Getting back to our original question, the reason God cannot allow a sinner into Heaven is that God cannot spend eternity in communion with a sinful spirit. Because God, by definition, is set apart from sin, He cannot be intimately acquainted with sinners. That's why He cannot magically absolve anyone from guilt even though He is all-powerful and makes the rules. 2Footnote 2

Some people might raise the argument that since God is all-powerful, He can do anything. That assumption actually isn't true. There are several things God cannot do. For example Hebrews 6:18 says God cannot Lie.

God's Plan for Life

But He did provide a way for sinful souls to be absolved of guilt. Jesus Christ came to earth to be born as a man, live a sinless life, and die on the cross. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, God turned His back on Him. (Matthew 27:45) Jesus then cried out, "My God My God, why have You forsaken Me?" How does this help sinners come to God?

God had turned His face away from His Son and had broken off intimacy with Him for the first and only time in history. This is because Jesus had taken all of our sin upon Himself. God the Father could no longer be in communion with God the Son because He is holy and Christ had taken our sin upon Himself. This is why Jesus sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:44) The agony of His not being with the Father is beyond imagination.

Jesus, God the Son, died and was separated from God the Father, taking our sin with Him. If you believe in Him and forsake the sins He died to take away, you too can become spiritually alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5) and have communion with God forever in Heaven. Your sins have already been banished at the cross; all that is required of you is to believe that. 3Footnote 3

For more information see my article "How to Have Eternal Life"

Paul said in Philippians 1:21-23, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain… and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." And in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."

Application: Godly Living

Now those who have trusted in Jesus have died to sin. We have been separated from sin because of our faith in Christ's death and resurrection. In Romans 6:11 Paul says, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." We are no longer separated from God because we have been separated from sin. This spiritual communion with God is only possible because of a spiritual separation from the sin that God cannot commune with.

Though we have been made alive in Jesus Christ, and no one can change that, not even we ourselves (Romans 8:38-38), our communion with God necessitates a separation from sin. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks the rhetorical question, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" He answers his question in verse 2: "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"

We have died to sin. But even so, we still have our sin nature or "flesh" as Paul calls it. Believers still sin. Paul says in Philippians 3:12, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus." When we as Christians sin, we do not lose our salvation, but the communion we share with God is damaged. We must restore that relationship. John writes in 1 John 1:19, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

This concept can be seen in physical relationships. When you get in a fight with a friend or relative, your closeness is damaged. You don't want to see each other or feel uncomfortable around them. This damaged relationship continues until you two apologize and make up. After that the relationship is renewed and the intimacy restored. It's the same way with our relationship with God. When we sin our communion with God is injured. We must confess our sins and apologize and God will restore us to a right relationship with Himself.

We must confess and repent of any sin that we keep close to our hearts to fully enjoy our communion with God. Psalm 66:18 says that God will not even listen to our prayers if we are cherishing sin. Since we are dead to sin (separated from it) we do not need to ever sin again. Like I said before, we still sin, but now we don't need to. Paul says that since we have died to sin, it has no power over us. In Romans 6:12 he writes, "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts." We have the power of God in us allowing us to refuse sin.

We have the ability to never sin again, but let's be real here. We will sin every day. When we are doing well, we start to get prideful and stumble there. When we do sin all we need to do is come to God and repent; He will always remain faithful to us (2 Timothy 2:13). God has promised eternal life for those who will forsake their sinful ways and believe in Jesus. The life that He promises is not just eternal in length, but eternal in communion and intimacy. He will never let you go because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Will you join in everlasting life with us?


  1. When Jesus comes again the church will be raptured and those who have physically died will be made physically alive again with glorified bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:50-55) 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 says our spirits will reunite with our new bodies. So in the end we will be alive in every sense: physical, spiritual, and eternal.

  2. Some people might raise the argument that since God is all-powerful, He can do anything. That assumption actually isn't true. There are several things God cannot do. For example Hebrews 6:18 says God cannot Lie. 2 Timothy 2:13 says God cannot deny Himself.

  3. For more information see my article How to Have Eternal Life.