v. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I was in college I was part of an evangelical fellowship for a couple of years called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This was one of the verses we had to memorize and be ready to use with potential converts.
I suspect its use in that context was meant first of all to frighten people: the wages of sin is death. It was pretty standard thinking in that group that you had to tell people the bad news before you told them the good news. And you had to make the bad news, very, very, bad.
I don't remember much talk about the second half of the verse. It's too bad. It seems to me there could have been a very lively conversation about Paul's use of the term "free gift." I'm not sure what we were prepared to offer people was particularly free. We had a definite formula one had to follow for one to be saved, and then we, the saved, lived in constant anxiety about "backsliding." Looking back, I don't think I felt particularly free in that fellowship, which is probably why I eventually chose, instead, to become an Episcopalian, where the offer of the Sacrament had been made to me the first time I walked in the door with no test of how deserving I was or wasn't.
That the gift of God's love is free seems to me to be the very heart of the good news. The question then becomes how do I live into this freedom. How do I remain a liberated person?
That's a good question for Lent!