Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Today there is a pandemic of gospel perversion found throughout Christiandom but addressed here specifically amongst evangelicals and fundamentalists, two groups where it should not be. The gospel has become anemic and corrupted. Men accept it, but they shouldn't. One example of this is the false gospel teaching of easy believism and quick prayerism, of which one common element noted, to receive “the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23) comes by asking for the free gift, that this is how you receive it. But Rom 6:23 doesn't say that; it must be read into the verse. Scripture must be rightly divided (2 Tim 2:15) and not privately interpreted (2 Pet 1:20). Rom 6:23 does tell us about the wonderful gift of salvation but not how to acquire it. Salvation is only received by repentant faith in Jesus Christ.
Out of this error proceeds praying a scripted prayer to trust Jesus as your Saviour. This instruction follows from something that wasn't in the verse in the first place. The first step isn't biblical and then none that follow. The one teaching this is not starting with the Bible but following his own ideas or what someone has taught him.
Rom 6:23 is commonly used in this fashion. The passage could work in a plan of salvation, such as “the wages of sin is death,” but not by wrongly interpreting the entire passage through pulling it out of its context and teaching that you ask for the gift and God gives it. That is wrong. You can’t turn salvation into asking for the gift. This is not salvation, but it is a common turn from Rom 6:23 that many take. I think I get it. They want to simplify the plan to the extent that they get professions, that is, they get results. People want a gift. The idea is that a gift is very appealing to someone, so this offer brings more often a positive response. Since we know God is good, He wants to give you a gift. How could someone refuse a gift from God?! And the gift of all gifts, the gift of eternal life! Who wouldn't want eternal life? Come on! Just ask for it and take the gift! How can you refuse the greatest gift ever when God wants to give it to you? This emotional appeal moulds well into easy believism and quick prayerism.
I'm pretty sure the statistics on prayers prayed go exponentially upward with this approach. Who would reject a free gift? About no one. Rom 6:23 is used because it seems to sit there on a proverbial platter for using it in that way. Someone doesn't have to receive his wages for sin, instead he could just take this gift of eternal life. This simplifies salvation and provides the lure for asking for the gift, which is praying the prayer. The whole process of which I speak is very horrible. Though horrible is bad, very horrible is worse. I can't use enough "very’s" in front of horrible. The end result is high plausibility of making the lost inoculated to the truth and two-fold children of hell.
Is Rom 6:23 about salvation? It isn't in its context, unless you are including sanctification as part of one's justification, which is true. Rom 6:23 is speaking to already saved people, like the chapter is, contrasting the saved and the lost, or rather, what we had before salvation and what we are after salvation. It was to help the saints at Rome in their sanctification, to remind them of what transpired when they were justified and to understand how they’re to live the Christian life by way of contrast of their condition before salvation and their obligation to live according to their new position, which is what truly saved people will do because of what transpired at conversion. Simultaneously, it entreats self-examination to hearers whether they are truly regenerate. This theme is found throughout Romans 6, 7 and 8.
The believers in the church at Rome had a problem in their sanctification that Paul dealt with in Rom 6. Many through the centuries since Rom 6 was written have had a similar problem to the church at Rome. Salvation was by grace, but some interpreted or used their grace in the wrong way. They misunderstood grace as it applied to their own practical righteousness, its relationship to their Christian living. Paul writes about the righteousness of God in Romans. Righteousness comes by grace through faith, which is the gospel. The righteousness that comes by grace through faith should also be lived for a Christian. Since God keeps us saved by His grace, and His imputed righteousness never departs the saved, His grace keeps producing righteousness, extending from the positional righteousness that we always have. The saint has a responsibility to keep living by grace through faith the life of righteousness to which he has been saved. We see that in Rom 6 and many other passages including Ti 2:11-14.
The context of Rom 6:23 could go back to Rom 5, but for brevity sake, we’ll start at Rom 6:20. Rom 6:20-23 reads:
“For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The people to whom Paul is speaking "were the servants of sin" and "free from righteousness" (v. 20) but they "are now ashamed" (v. 21) of that former state and practice. When they were "the servants of sin," what fruit did they have from that? Their fruit, which was sin, led to its natural end, which is "death" (v 21). Now that they are in a different state since their justification, “being made free from sin, and become servants to God" (v 22), they have their "fruit unto holiness" (v 22). That means they live a life after the nature of God, which is righteousness. The end of the former fruit, sin, was death, and the end of their present fruit, righteousness, is "everlasting life" (v 22).
Rom 6 explains why someone would not live in sin even though he has saving grace in his life. To sum it all up in v. 23, death is the payment or wages of sin. The servant of sin has earned through his works, his evil deeds, the wages of sin, which is death. He was paid for what he deserved. The servant of righteousness, the servant of "Jesus Christ our Lord," who has Jesus as His Master (“Lord”), doesn't earn eternal life. He receives it by grace through repentant faith, so it is a gift of God. Death is a wage of sin and "eternal life" (v 23–identical to "everlasting life") is a gift of God. The former is earned and the latter is not.
Upon repentant faith in Christ (Ac 20:21; Mk 1:15), God sets a man free from his slavery to sin (Jn 8:31-36; Rom 6:1-23), the end of which is eternal life. He doesn't serve sin anymore, which is why he has eternal life. Servants of sin die and servants of righteousness live. If someone takes Rom 6:23 in its context, he can't separate it from repentance, habitual righteousness, the fruit of holiness, and Jesus Christ our Lord. If someone is a servant of sin, he doesn't have the gift of eternal life. The end of the fruit of holiness is everlasting life.
Let's say you know someone who is living in habitual sin (including such sins as slandering, talebearing, lording over people, teaching false doctrine, etc) and you ask him if he is saved? He says, "Yes, because I received the gift of eternal life." According to Rom 6:23, the gift of eternal life is a life of holiness since Jesus is holy and we receive Him. He isn't living a life of holiness. He doesn't have the gift of eternal life, because that is slavery to righteousness that keeps on going right into eternity (Rom 6:20-22). He isn’t “crucified with Christ” (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20; 5:24). “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal 5:24).
The life and righteousness are mutually inclusive. “For when ye were the servants [slaves, “doulos”] of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants [slaves, “doulos”] to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (vv 20-22).
To pull the language "gift of God" out of Rom 6:23 and then say it teaches to pray to God and ask Him for the gift of eternal life misses or more likely twists or perverts the entire point of Rom 6:23.
The slavery to sin is the problem. Slavery to sin is the habitual practice of sin. A person practicing sin is earning the wages of sin, which is death. Obviously the person who is no longer a slave to sin, because of the gift of God, practices holiness, which end is eternal life. Jesus addressed this in many places, but I think of John 8:34-36,
“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
Have you bought into this lie of asking for the gift? Of easy believism? Or making a quick prayer to receive the gift? Jesus says "repent [or] perish," (Lk 13:1-5) and by reading my gospel tract which will teach you true repentance, it can bring true salvation to your spirit, soul and body: ARE YOU SAVED?