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The Wages of Sin is Death

Fr. Scott Haynes

Brethren: I speak in a human way because of the weakness of your flesh; for as you yielded your members as slaves of uncleanness and iniquity unto iniquity, so now yield your members as slaves of justice unto sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free as regards justice. But what fruit had you then from those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of these things is death. But now set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and as your end, life everlasting. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:19-23


Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Man’s rebellion against God goes back to the Garden of Eden. Though God never intended mankind to know pain, suffering, or death, the sin of Adam and Eve has left mankind with some hard consequences. Perhaps the initial result of their sin was shame. They became ashamed that they were naked and covered themselves with fig leaves. Because of their sin, they were no longer in contemplation of God, but were now self-centered in their bodies.

Their souls were no longer in communion with God. The sour note of sin introduced discord into the loving harmony they had enjoyed with God. Once they chose to sin, their bodily desires took charge, and they were filled with shame and fear.

But then, after Adam and Eve sinned, they decided to play a game. It is a game that we, as sinners, all play with God – hide and seek. The Book of Genesis explains:
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8- 9).
We know they were separated from God because He had to call to them:
“Where are you?”
God called. God knew where they were. He is omniscient. But now they were separated from Him and no longer in communion with Him. God was calling to bring them ack into relationship with Himself. He was calling them to repentance. He was calling them to acknowledge their sin, and to ask for forgiveness.


Having lost the contemplation of God, now separated from Him, they are confused and afraid, as Adam himself says:
“I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
But then Adam begins the blame game, as he tells the Lord God:
“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
Eve, in turn, points the finger too, saying:
“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. Neither of them accepted responsibility for rebelling against God.

They respond with self-justification. They showed no humility in the face of God. Being separated from God, they were now destined to suffer the consequences of eating of the tree of knowledge that God had warned Adam about earlier. They now knew evil and were blinded by it. It was through their sin that death entered the world. Saint Paul emphasizes this in his Epistle to the Romans:
“The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).
People sometime ask,
“What was the forbidden fruit?”
Was it an apple, a pear, or something else? Scholars and poets have spilled a considerable about of ink discussing it, but the more significant question is this:
“What was their sin?”
The answer is simple — pride. And the original sin, pride, is the root and foundation of every sin of every man. [1]


After the original sin was committed, our first parents had to leave the Garden of Paradise. Their own sin drove them out of God’s presence. Their sin made it impossible for them to face God. They could no longer live in a place of purity because of the impurity of their hearts. Paradise is lost!

As they walk into the wild wilderness, God places cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24). Our first parents no longer had access to the tree of life—eternal life. Now instead of eternal life in union with God, Adam and Eve, polluted by pride, are at enmity with God. Sin stands in the way.

What are the consequences of their rebellion against God? While man was not at peace with God, man still had the image of God within himself. Because of sin, the image of God within us was now “tarnished.” Our human bodies became subject to sickness, corruption and death. The Garden with tree of life was no longer open for the children of Eve. This condition we inherit from Adam and Eve [2] is what we call “ancestral sin” or “original sin.”

We do not inherit the guilt for the sin of Adam; that is his to bear. But we do inherit the consequence of his sin. Saint Paul writes:
“Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so, death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
We are born with a sinful nature and our bodies are subject to death and the corruption of the grave. Since we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, we all inherit their sinful nature that resulted from their fall from grace.

Remember, all that God created was good. The cause of evil was in the separation of Adam and Eve from God. This is what sin brings about, a separation from God, due to man’s sinful rebellion. The introduction of sin into this world was not God’s doing; it was man’s own doing. Evil in the world is a consequence of falling out of union with God, and of turning to rely only on our own will instead of the will of God.


How could Adam and Eve fall into this sin of pride? Our Creator created man in His image and gave man three great gifts at his creation: freedom, reason, and love. These are all essential for his spiritual growth. But along with freedom goes the possibility of making the wrong choices and being subject to temptation. St. Augustine of Hippo comments:
“I say that there was free exercise of will in that man who was first formed [Adam]. He was so made that absolutely nothing could resist his will, if he had willed to keep the precepts of God. But after he voluntarily sinned, we who have descended from his stock were plunged into necessity. For today in our actions before we are implicated by any habit, we have free choice of doing anything or not doing it.”
Suffering began with the Fall. The cause of every form of human suffering is found in the sin of Adam. The consequences of the sin of our first parents effects the entirety of God’s creation. St. Paul writes:
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now…” (Romans 8:22, 20-21).
Evil is a deviation from the original condition of Paradise, where man lived in peace with God. Yet, God never abandoned mankind. Throughout the Old Testament we can see how the Lord tried to call mankind back to Himself. He took away neither His image in us, nor the freedom of will we enjoy, nor our ability to reason and seek the truth.

After falling from grace, man could still choose to love God with all his heart and mind, but now he had to struggle against his own concupiscence. Man was now morally weak and needed help to reunite with God. The Church teaches that we have a free will and can choose to be in a loving relationship with God or not. We cannot be responsible for the actions of others, but we are accountable for our own choices. Adam and Eve sinned, and the consequence was a change in their nature where they became subject to death and corruption. Separated from God, they were blind as to His plan for them.

The fallen nature we inherit from Adam and Eve is passed on from generation to generation down to all mankind. To be freed from the shackle of death and to be shown the way back to Paradise for eternal life in union with God, we needed a Savior. St. Augustine of Hippo remarks:
“In the beginning man’ nature was created without any fault and without any sin however, human nature in which we are all born from Adam now requires a physician, because it is not healthy.”
In Jesus Christ we find our Divine Physician and the Savior of the World. He saves us from sin—He who has trampled down the gates of death. After Christ’s crucifixion, Our Lord harrowed hell and came to the Bosom of Abraham to deliver His loved ones from their exile. [3] He came to reward those who, from our first father, Adam, to His own foster-father, Saint Joseph, had fought the good fight and had finished the race. [3]
The King descended to the dead to bring souls the Good News that He had trampled upon the gates of death. It is most fitting, then, that the aforementioned homily contains these beautiful words spoken by Christ to our first father, Adam:
For the sake of you who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on my face the spit I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you. Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.
I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see! I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. [4].


Notes
[1] St. Augustine of Hippo remarks: “The soul lapses by pride into certain actions of its own power and neglecting universal law has fallen into doing certain things private to itself, and this is called turning away from God. Then, take our very love for all those things that prove so vain and poisonous and breed so many heartaches, troubles, griefs and fears; such insane joys in discord, strife, and war; such wrath and plots of enemies, deceivers, sycophants; such fraud and theft and robbery; such perfidy and pride, envy and ambition, homicide and murder, cruelty and savagery, lawlessness and lust; all the shameless passions of the impure-fornication and adultery, incest and unnatural sins, rape and countless other uncleanesses too nasty to be mentioned.”

[2] St. Augustine of Hippo states: “Therefore, given that our nature sinned in paradise we are now formed through a mortal begetting by the same Divine Providence, not according to heaven, but according to earth, not according to the spirit, but according to the flesh, and we have all become a mass of clay.”

[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that “during the three days of His death, the whole Christ was in the tomb, in hell, and in heaven, on account of His Person, which was united to His body lying in the tomb, and to His soul—harrowing hell, and which was subsisting in His divine nature reigning in heaven” (Compendium Theologiae, ch. 229).

[4] St. Epiphanios of Cyprus (d. 403).
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