A reality all humans have to reckon with is death. Death reminds us not only of our mortality, but also our sinfulness. Paul makes us aware in his letter to the Romans that the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23). The first mention of the association between sin and death was stated by God when enacting the covenant of works with Adam (Genesis 2:17). Adam breaks this covenant by disobeying the law of God and thus dies, as well all those in his loins (Romans 5:12). But what does it mean to die and why is death the consequence of sin?
Dead in Sin
When Adam sinned, sin entered into the world with death accompanying it. As a result, all those who come from Adam are in sin and death (Romans 5:12). This paradoxical reality can seem confusing to the natural mind – how can people who are alive be dead? Well, we must first define what it means to die. When God created male and female, He created them to be ambassadors of His glory (Genesis 1:26) as well as to be in fellowship with them (Genesis 2:16-17). This covenantal relationship came with a condition – to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If Adam or Eve were to disobey, death awaited them. Yet, they didn’t die immediately. Physical death eventually caught up with them, as well as the generations that were to come after them (Genesis 5). However, there was an immediate deathly reality. Upon being confronted by their sin, God announces curses on His creation and drives Adam and Eve from His presence (Genesis 3:8-24). This is what is referred to as spiritual death. Ephesians 2:1 refers to this reality by declaring that we are dead in our trespasses and sin. This was Paul writing to the church in Ephesus, he was reminding them of their state before being saved by Christ and the state of people outside of Christ. The point being living people can be dead.
Humans were not meant to die. Death came because of sin. Why is death the punishment for sin? We must first realise what sin is. Sin is falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This is what man was made for, to express and behold the glory of God (Psalm 8:1-2, 5). Sin corrupts this reality and taints the image humans were created to bear. God is holy, therefore God cannot abide with darkness since He is light (1 John 1:5-6). This means that when Adam and Eve sinned, they broke their covenant with their Maker and forfeited their union with Him. God drove Adam and Eve out of His presence to purify His presence. Spiritual death alerts us to this vital truth, sin and God are incompatible. As the late R.C. Sproul put it – to sin is to commit cosmic treason. And yet, there is hope.
Death to life
Whilst sin causes death, Jesus causes life. That is good news. Sin causes eternal death but Christ offers eternal life to all who believe in Him. What is eternal life? Eternal life means to know God (John 17:3). Sin causes us to be estranged from God, the gospel causes us to be united with God. Eternal life doesn’t mean you won’t die physically. Eternal life means that the separation that occurred in the garden is no longer a reality. Mankind does not have to be spiritually dead forever, through Jesus we can be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus dies the death that sin produces so that we wouldn’t have to. And the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, will raise all those who trust in Christ to new life too (Romans 8:11).