The Man to Whom God Credits Righteousness Apart from Works
The first problem faced by those who are conceived in their mother’s womb is sin without justification. Put another way, everyone is conceived, and they are unrighteous before a holy God. All are conceived in a position at enmity with God (Rom 5:10).
The offspring of rebel humanity do not have right standing with God. Adam, the first man, positioned his progeny in a state of separation from God, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12).”
This first problem of disposition and its consequences should be at the forefront of education, moving toward resolution. This introduces us to the next problem: people do not think they are sinners, living under the just wrath of God (Rom 1:18–32). Humanity is in denial about its true status before God.
Like a doctor who lies to his patients, so is the preacher who dilutes the total depravity of man. Men of God are called of God to present God’s assessment of the state of humankind. The status is more dire than most preachers are willing to say. Being deluded and deceived as the next man, these impostors are merely blind guides leading the blind in to the pit of destruction (Mt 15:14).
If one knows the truth about man’s disposition with God, then, he is utterly obligated to tell others, as one who warns the sleeper on the second floor that the first floor is on fire. To neglect one’s duty in this matter of separation from God is unloving.
Everyone sins, and sin leads to death (Rom 6:23). The dead soul, from conception, is later joined by a dead body. It is appointed for men to die once and then comes the judgment (Heb 9:27). God has already condemned sinners to death (Jn 3:18), so when the Day of Judgment comes, it is a day of sentencing for sinners to be cast into the lake of fire, the second death (Rev 20:14–15). This is eternal punishment away from the presence of the Lord, which is described in the Bible as outer darkness; fiery hell; unquenchable thirst; God forsaken-ness; where the worm does not die, and where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in physical and spiritual torment.
If the first problem of disposition is properly presented, and the second problem of acknowledgment with agreement is rectified, then, a third problem manifests. The Philippian jailer poses this problem with these words, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved (Acts 16:30)?”
Sinners need protection from God’s just and terrible wrath. They find it very difficult to sever themselves from bondage to sin because they are slaves to sin (Rom 6:6), and sin is pleasurable to the flesh. It is in perfect alignment with man’s sin nature (Eph 2:3), which causes men to love darkness and perform evil deeds (Jn 3:19).
In a paradox, men attempt to remedy the problem of sinful disposition, by obeying the Law and doing good works. This, at first glance, appears noble and reasonable. If God has established His Law and men break His Law, then working hard at obedience should fix the problem. The next problem is that earnest works of obedience to the Law cannot justify sinners before God because it only takes one transgression for a sinner to be separated into God’s judgment.
Even when one finds the self-discipline to master a portion of the Law, putting on a good external performance, the preacher reminds us that God searches the heart (1 Sam 16:7), and what does God find in the heart of good performers (Jer 17:9)? The sin of pride is lurking there. Sin is insidious, in that it comes to self-righteous hypocrites. Jesus called these people, “whitewashed tombs (Mt 23:37).” They are pretty on the outside, but putrid on the inside.
Thus, we have seen that works done in the flesh by us cannot reconcile us to right standing before a holy God (Eph 2:9). Our answer to the plight of man is found in Romans 4. God credits righteousness, that is, right standing before Him, to the man who does not work to attain it (Rom 4:5). This is very painful truth confronts human pride, which always wishes to boast in “good works” performed.
The truth is that men are justified, which means they are declared right before God, by the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:22). Jesus did the work of atonement we could never do because of the weight of sin.
Christ reconciled His church, God’s chosen people (1 Pet 2:9), the Israel of God (Gal 6:16) to Himself (2 Cor 5:18–20). Having done all the work, Himself, He granted the grace that brings salvation to light, for those He gives sight to (Jn 9), according to His will (Jn 1:13; Rom 9:16).
Grace from God grants the justified a faith in Christ (Eph 2:8–9; Phil 1:29). Abraham believed God, that is, God’s revealed Word, and it was reckoned to him as right standing before God (Rom 4:3). God justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5), and then He tells His elect, redeemed people what He did, in His Gospel of salvation. He tells them how He did it, and then, He tells them He did it in love for us (Eph 1:4–5; Rom 5:5; 8).
Believers in Jesus are made to believe what is true of them. God saved us (Titus 3:5). He has given us life from the dead (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), which is an indestructible, eternal life (1 Cor 15:54–55; Heb 7:16; 1 Jn 5:12). We know this life because it manifests, in the child of God (1 Jn 3:1, 10), by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11; Jas 4:5).
God has done something wonderfully kind and merciful toward His elect (Rom 9:15, 23). He has credited righteousness to us (Rom 4:6). He did it, not we ourselves, and then He revealed to us what He did. He made us believe in Him, and it is enough for our salvation.
Spokane Valley, Washington
November 11, 2020