"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Our sin separates us from God, the creator and sustainer of life. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). God is known as the great "I AM." Life is in God. So, when we sin and become separated from God, we become separated from true life. Sin does not necessarily result in physical death right away, rather, it is referring to spiritual death. Christ died so we don't have to face the ultimate penalty of sin, "eternal separation from God".
Think of a child and a parent. When a child disobeys, the relationship with his parent is strained. The parent still loves the child and still has the child’s best interest at heart. The child never stops belonging to the parent. However, the child may experience some consequences: mistrust, discipline, a sense of guilt, and the like. The relationship is ultimately restored, but generally pain comes first.
So it is with us and God. When we rebel against God’s rule in our lives, we rebel against the Life, and therefore experience "death" (a brokenness resulting in pain). When we return to God, we are also restored to spiritual life communion with God, a sense of purpose, righteousness, freedom, etc.
What path can a sinner take to return to God after being condemned to hell?