The 21-Word Gospel
If you want to share the Gospel in the quickest, most succinct manner, start with Romans 6:23. It may be the clearest single verse in the Bible to encapsulate the truth of the Gospel, a beautiful and hard-hitting summation of the whole of Scripture in 21 words (ESV):
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For: When you see the word “for” or “therefore,” find out what it’s there for. It is building on a previous thought. In this case, the verse follows Paul’s explanation of the differing “fruit,” or results, of pursuing a life of either sin or righteousness. This verse condenses his description.
the wages of: Result of, or in this case, the penalty for … We typically think of wages as money received or paid for work performed, but it is better thought of as the result of something. We understand that an activity has a cost, whether it is time or money or something else. Have you ever heard someone say a particular activity took an “emotional toll” on them? That is a cost.
sin: wrongdoing or missing the mark … The Bible is clear that every human being is born in, and with, sin. It is part of our nature since the fall of Adam and Eve. It also envelopes our behavior from the first breath. When we don’t get what we want, we cry, throw a tantrum or get angry. As we grow, we create more inventive (selfish? diabolical?) ways to get our way. All of it breaks the law or misses the mark of God’s standard, the Ten Commandments.
is death: This covers spiritual death, which is separation from God now and forever, and also eternal torment in the lake of fire that results from rejecting Christ for salvation (Rev. 20:11-15). Both outcomes are exercises in misery. Sin causes this, because God is holy, pure and righteous. He can have no sin in His presence.
but: perhaps our favorite word in all of the Bible … It means there is something more, something better to come, than a death sentence.
the free gift: a benefit that costs a person nothing to receive … This is an easy concept to understand. A free gift is not a payment for services. On your birthday, you don’t receive presents after handing $20 bills to the givers. They don’t call you a week ahead to get your credit card number so they can buy your gifts. They give out of their love and kindness. It costs them, but it is free to you. In the same way, God gives out of His perfect love and kindness, and a sinner does nothing to earn it. There is one more facet to a gift: It is useless unless received, opened and enjoyed by the recipient.
of God: the giver of the free gift … Human beings cannot earn it, pay for it or do anything to be worthy of it, the Bible says. It comes solely from the hand of God, out of His goodness, grace, mercy and justice.
is eternal life: never ending … If spiritual death is separation from God, spiritual life is spent in His presence. For undeserving sinners—every one of us—this is too good to be true. Yet it is true. God has made a way for us to be with Him for eternity. That place is marked only by joy, peace, kindness, goodness, worship and all things pertaining to His holiness. Noticeably gone is any vestige of the plagues of this world.
in Christ Jesus: union with the author of eternal life … John Piper lists 13 profound truths from Scripture on what it this means, such as being chosen by God before creation, redeemed, justified, given His righteousness, become a new creation and a son of God, seated in the heavenly places, made holy, supplied with all needs, receive the peace of God, and made alive at Christ’s coming. Piper marvels: “Union with Christ is the ground of everlasting joy, and it is free.”
our Lord: exalted to the place of master of believers’ lives … To those who believe, we willingly surrender to Christ out of love and gratefulness for the salvation He secured, and place His desires above our own. Therefore, our lives are marked by obedience to His commands with the goal of bringing glory to Him in all that we do, think and say. This results in true joy, peace and purpose. This life is not our own, we’ve been bought with a price.
Romans 6:23 brings a truth so profound, we cannot exhaust the riches of its meaning. All praise to Him for His sure promises.
– Randy Franz