Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
How do we get tricked into sinning? That’s the question on the table today, and the answer is found in Romans 6:22–23, as we will hear in a sermon clip from John Piper two decades ago. This clip was sent in by Gabriella, a listener to the podcast who lives in Sweden. She writes that “the following sermon clip has been very helpful for me in understanding the nature of sin and the true freedom we have in Christ. Living as a Christian in probably the most secular country in the world, the concept of being a slave in a culture that seems free and independent is very controversial. This sermon gave me the tools I needed to reach some unbelievers in my life.” Incredible. Well, here’s a clip from Pastor John’s sermon back in the year 2000.
Nobody sins out of duty. You only sin because the master makes it look so appealing, so pleasant to do his bidding, to keep his will, and do his commands. So, when we obey sin, it feels free; it doesn’t feel like earning wages.
My guess is that if you’re here in this room right now and you’re outside of Christ — you’re not a believer — and you’re hearing me say that belonging to the slave master’s sin is like earning wages, you’re saying to yourself, “It doesn’t feel like that to me. It feels free. I’m doing what I want to do. And it feels good when I do it. That doesn’t feel like going to work.” So, why does Paul call it wages if sin rules over his slaves like that? Why does he call it wages?
There are two reasons. One is that wages deplete life. They do for you. That’s why you want to get paid, right? You don’t put in 40, 50, or 60 hours a week and say, “That was no cost to me. I didn’t lose anything.” You want your money, and you ought to get your money, because you were depleted. Time was taken away from you, energy was taken away from you, thought was taken away from you, life was taken away from you when you might’ve been doing other things. And you invested it in that employer’s cause, and now you want some restoration of the depletion, which is called wages. That’s the way sin is.
And he’s got it all concealed. He’s got it all concealed. It’s like Dracula, who develops a magic potion, which he gives to his victims so that every time they give a pint of blood, they get a high. He comes and says, “Let me have your blood. You’ll get a high.” And they will. When they get the high, they say, “See? It feels good. I’m not earning wages here. I’m not being depleted here. I’m receiving.” And all the while, your life is being drained away. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). You get depleted. It’s death now, little by little, if he keeps you deceived. Can you feel it? And in the end, all you get is the end of your life from sin. He never pays anything like restoration; he’s a deceiver.
So, the first reason why he calls it wages is that it’s like wages: every time you sin, you lose. Every time you sin, you are depleted. You’re drawn out, and it goes and it goes. And in the end, it will all go, and there won’t be left one drop of blood in you, and your high will end. It’ll never come again.
The other reason is that when you obey sin, you get exactly what you deserve — like wages. Death will be like wages. It’s a strange way to describe death: wages, benefits, insurance, retirement, major medical, and whatever else. The benefits, what are they? Death. Those are your benefits in relationship with this master. They’re all summed up in one word, death, and you deserve them. He’s a cruel master, and a deceiver, and oh how we should hate him. Do you hate him, or do you love him? Has he tricked you into loving him?
Jesus came into the world, and men “loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). They loved it. Do you love your master, your liar, your deceiver, your depleter, your non-payer-upper who’s got you enslaved? Do you love him? Or do you love God, and hate sin and fight him, like Romans 6 says you’re supposed to do?
Let’s go to the last contrasting pair: death versus eternal life. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). So, the ultimate summary of the wages here of sin that he pays is death, and the ultimate summary of the gift here that God gives and doesn’t pay is eternal life. And since the life is eternal in contrast with death, the death must be conceived of as eternal as well. We could go to numerous texts in Paul to show that that is, in fact, the case.
And right here, oh how the parallel breaks down between Slave Master Sin and Slave Master God, because sin, Slave Master Sin, has absolutely no say and no hand in the giving of the gift of life by Master God. But God has total say and a sovereign hand in the paying of the wages of death from Master Sin. There’s no parallel here.
What you find when you think it through is this: “Oh, he’s a pretender. He’s not a slave master after all. There’s only one slave master in the universe, and that’s God. There’s only one owner, and that’s God. There’s only one sovereign, and that’s God. There’s only one giver, and that’s God. And this rascal has been pretending to the throne of my life ever since the beginning, and tricked and tricked and drained and drained. And he can’t even pay, at the end, the wages of death. Sin doesn’t pay the wages of death; it’s a trick. He doesn’t pay them; God pays them.
It’s like a pimp and a prostitute. Hell is the wage of sin, the way venereal disease and prison time is the wage from a pimp to a prostitute. He didn’t pay it. He’s gone. He’s just gone. He tricks. He lures. He cheats. He devises. He distorts. And when he’s done, the prostitute’s got the disease. The prostitute comes before the court and goes to jail. And he’s gone; he’s gone.
Sin is a liar. He even lies about his lies. He even lies about his wages. He can’t even produce the “bads,” let alone the goods. Oh, how we should hate him. Oh, how free you should want to be right now from this slave master’s clutches on your life, so that you’re not a dupe and a lackey, day in and day out, like most people seem to be. Hate him. Hate him. Hate sin with all your might, as the master of your life.
When he tempts you, and lures you, and promises you, and makes all his demands look pleasant to you, throw it back in his face with the word of God. Get free with the mirror of the word. Know yourself and what you were created for, and what he’s tried to make you think you’re for.John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.