Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

Despite what this passage clearly says, people naturally believe that the way to be saved is to be good, and the way to become righteous is through our behavior. We assume that Christ came to help us become righteous enough for God to accept us and welcome us into His presence. The truth, however, is that no one ever received righteousness by work or worth. As strange and impossible as it seems, righteousness has nothing to do with “doing right.”

 As long as a person clings to his hopes of gaining God’s favor by his own efforts, self-denial, or his prayers, he will never know righteousness. As stated in today’s passage, God justifies the ungodly, not those who have (in their own minds) made themselves godly. We tend to assume that God cannot declare a man godly if he is really ungodly.

But God never said He would declare the ungodly to be godly. He said He would declare the ungodly to be righteous, that is, the ungodly who believe. God can certainly do that! For God can reckon to an ungodly man who dares cease trying to change himself, and relies on God just as he is, a sinner—God can and does reckon to such a one the glorious benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of sinners. And of such a believing sinner, God declares his faith is counted as righteousness.

By justifying only the ungodly in verse 5, God removes any other class from justification. If we say, God, indeed, has in some special cases justified notoriously, openly, evidently ungodly ones; while His general habit is, to justify the godly (which is what human reason demands), then we at once deny all Scripture. For God says, “There is no distinction; for all sinned; there is none righteous—not one.” And if you claim that God justifies the godly, we ask, on what ground? If you say on the ground of their godliness, you have left out the blood of Christ—on which ground alone God can deal with sinners; and you have really denied this so-called “godly” man to be a sinner before God at all, since he is to be justified on another ground than is the openly ungodly sinner—the shed blood of Christ.


While God lumps the entire human race together as unrepentant sinners, we imaging distinctions that will lift one “class” (ours) above the others. What an abomination before a holy God! What does it matter whether you are a recognized Bible scholar or brand-new Christian if God has said He declares sinners righteous only by Christ’s blood? What does it matter whether you are an honorable woman or a repentant prostitute if God says both are sinners and that the only ground of being declared righteous is the blood of His Son?

The burning question is, have you and I been truly convinced that we are guilty, lost and helpless sinners with no hope of ever attaining on our own a righteousness acceptable to God? It is only when we admit that we have nothing good to offer to God that we see that our only hope is for God to give us His own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) while we are still ungodly. Let that sink in.

Deep down, do you still believe that you’re not as bad as God says you are? Do you actually believe your own righteousness can ever be perfected? Can the old person you used to be attain perfection with Jesus’ help? Never. God had to start over. Out with the old and in with the new (Gal. 2:20).

Today’s verses contrasts God’s way vs. the world’s way of reaching heaven—believing vs. working. What a place heaven would be if we were allowed to pay our way! We would boast all through eternity, one about this, another about that. If we had earned our way, God would actually be in our debt! But the works method and the grace method are mutually exclusive. Each shuts out the other. We may claim to understand this regarding salvation. We know we’re saved by grace through faith, but yet we keep clinging to the notion that righteousness is earned. We really think we can become righteous on our own, and in doing so, we deny the very thing we claim to embrace—the matchless grace of God.



Man’s way leads to a hopeless end — God’s way leads to an endless hope.



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