"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Ro.6:23).
Sin is the master of his servant and pays wages, and that wage is "death." In other words, the sentence that God places on sin is death. A "sentence" is a judicial decree or determination of the penalty to be inflicted on a convicted criminal. The unconverted sinner is said to be "dead in sins."
Sir Robert Anderson writes that "the sentence upon sin is death. Man has fallen beneath that sentence; he is hopelessly, irretrievably doomed. No law-keeping therefore could bring him righteousness: if he is ever to be justified, it must be by the penalty being borne" (Anderson, The Gospel and Its Ministry [Kregel Publications, 1996], p.101).
Let us look at a "type" that speaks of a death sentence. In the eleventh chapter of Exodus we see the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt, as slaves and forced to work from morning until night. They had fallen under Egypt's doom as a death sentence went out against all the inhabitants of that land. The Lord said:
"About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt. And all of the first born in the land of Egypt shall die" (Ex.11:4,5).
However, a "way of salvation" from this death sentence was proclaimed. A lamb was to be killed in every household (Ex.12:5,6), and then the blood of that lamb was to be sprinkled upon the door posts of the houses. Then Moses told the children of Israel the Gospel message that he had received from God:
"When He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not permit the destroyer to come into your house to smite you" (Ex.12:23).
So the children of Israel were spared the death sentence when they killed the lamb and placed the blood of that lamb upon the door posts of their houses. That is because a death had already occured at those houses, and the blood was the evidence of that death.
In this "type" the passover lambs symbolize the Lord Jesus, our Passover Lamb. The death in the "type" is a physical death, or the separation of the soul from the physical body. That physical death symbolizes a spiritual death, the separtion of the soul from God. That happened on the Cross, as witnessed by the Lord Jesus' words here:
"And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mk.15:34).
Anderson says that "The cup which the Father had given Him to drink was death in its primary and deepest sense, as separation from God" (Anderson, Redemption Truths [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2003]. p.116).
Dr Jim Brettell writes, " 'Forsaken' implies 'separation.' The mechanics of this 'separation' is clear. An absolutely righteous God the Father was required to 'separate' from His Son because His Son was 'made to be sin' for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21).
"2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (KJV)
"The principle is this: Absolute righteousness cannot relate to or fellowship with sin in any form, therefore, when the Son was 'made to be sin' for us, an absolutely righteous Father had to 'separate' from His Son" (Brettell, Two Deaths of Christ on the Cross).
"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" (Eph.2:5).
If not for the "gospel" the sinner would be doomed to an everlasting separation from God. The gospel comes in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5) and it is the Spirit that gives life. The Lord Jesus said, "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (Jn.6:63).
The very moment that the sinner believes the gospel he is then "baptized" into the Body of Christ (1 Cor.12:13) and he is also "baptized" into Christ's spiritual death on the Cross:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Ro.6:3-4).
It is only the believer who is "baptized" or identified with the Lord Jesus' death. The Lord died as a substitute only for believers. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founding President of Dallas Theological Seminary, understood this principle:
"It is both reasonable and scriptual to conclude that a perfect substitution avails for those who are saved, that in the case of the elect it is delayed in its application until they believe, and that in the case of the nonelect it is never applied at all" (L.S Chafer, "For Whom Did Christ Die?" Biblioteca Sacra 137 [Oct.-Dec., 1980], p.321).
Anderson writes that "if the death of Christ be substitutionally instead of the unbeliever, his conversion may alter his condition spiritually and morally, but it can in no wise affect his judicial state: he is saved in fact and of right, whether he believes or not" (Anderson, The Gospel and Its Ministry, p.98).
That is correct. If the Lord Jesus died as a substitute for the unbeliever then the penalty for his sin in regard to eternal separation has already been borne by the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the Lord God would have no judicial right to impose the penalty of separation from God upon the unconverted. However, we do know that there will be some people who will eternally be separated from God, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thess.1:7-9).