It's a Comma, not a Period!
Passage: Romans 6:22-23
.....I confess, I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. I’m one of those stubborn old geezers that even proofread my text messages several times to make sure there are no spelling errors, dangling participles, or dreaded split infinitives. And, of course, all punctuation must be correct. Think of it as my small contribution to creating a modicum of cultural civility.
.....Besides . . . at times, a little punctuation can make a big difference.
.....Last month I was driving home from eastern South Dakota. It was a beautiful day and westbound I-90 was (mostly!) free of the remnants of the recent snowstorm. I was listening to a football talk radio station when a billboard caught my eye. Its’ message was short, simple, and to the point:
For the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23)
.....It was one of those signs to which most evangelicals would read, smile, punch the air, and shout out, “Amen! Take that, devil!” We might even daydream about some lost soul driving by, seeing the sign, pulling over to the shoulder of the highway, and crying out: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” No doubt, that is the intent of the creator of the message.
.....As I drove by, however, I was immediately struck by a thought that something was wrong. It wasn’t the wording. You will, in fact, find that phrase in the Bible. It wasn’t the “address.” Romans 6:23 is where you will find it.
.....So, what was the problem? Actually, it was something quite small . . . it was the punctuation! Here is what Romans 6:23 says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is a comma, not a period! Do you see the difference? If it is a period, we are without hope.
.....Throughout the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul speaks of the devastating consequences of sin. Sin enslaves. Sin separates us from God; and sin’s end result is death. God’s holiness demands this, and He has revealed this truth to all generations of His creation, from the days of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:16-17) through everyone walking the earth today.
.....Complicating the problem is the reality that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin’s deadly effect taints all of us and we are condemned without hope. That is . . . if it’s a period.
.....The beauty of the gospel, however, is that Romans 6:23 does not end where our billboard evangelist ends it. It’s a comma, not a period. Just as all hope seems lost, the apostle inserts a comma and adds, “BUT.” The just wages of sin are death, BUT in the midst of our darkness, God’s hand extends a lifeline, an undeserved opportunity for grace and mercy. God offers eternal life. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting the comma. As you share the tragic truth of sin’s consequences, don’t leave out the glorious message of hope.
.....By the way, there’s another grammatical mistake to avoid (you knew I’d have to find more than one!). Don’t forget the “prepositional phrase” that wraps up God’s message of hope. Many in our day simply want to slide the period a few words to the right after the word “life.” That would make the billboard read:
For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life. (Rom. 6:23)
.....Do you see the problem? While replacing the comma with a period removes the hope of the gospel, misplacing the period gives a false hope. God’s gift is offered on God’s terms and those terms are, “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
.....There is a dangerous false teaching that “all roads lead to God,” that someday, in some way, everyone is going to heaven. That is like saying all roads lead to my house. Actually, some roads lead away from my house. In fact, if you follow that philosophy to get to where I live, you will eventually reach a dead end.
.....Jesus was unequivocal. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus’ death on the cross paid the wages of sin. His resurrection conquered the curse of sin and makes eternal life possible. We experience God’s forgiveness of sin and receive His gift of eternal life when we “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
.....In fact, there is a great irony here. If you remove Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the pathway to God’s free gift you are left with this contradiction: God’s Law demands death for sin, but He gives everyone eternal life. Without the truth of, “in Christ Jesus our Lord,” these two statements are irreconcilable. If God is holy and must judge sin, He cannot simply declare that everyone will live. If, however, He does say, “I’m going to give eternal life to everyone,” then He is not the God of holiness that must judge sin. Jesus HAD to pay the price of sin, conquer the curse of death, and establish the pathway of repentance and faith. Without it we are left with either no hope or a false hope. Either way, the end result is the same . . . death, eternal separation from God.
.....If you are overwhelmed by sin’s hopelessness, receive God’s free gift of eternal life by calling on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:13). If, on the other hand, you have been counting on the lie that, “all roads lead to God,” receive God’s free gift of eternal life by calling on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:13).
.....And . . . if you share God’s message of salvation with someone (which He commanded us to do!), be sure to use the right punctuation in the right place. Tell your story of how Jesus changed your life. Tell His story of how He died for sin and rose again. Then invite your friend to have their own story of God’s grace by responding to the truth:
For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)