“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham?…If Abraham was justified by works (then) he has something to boast about BUT not before God. For what does the Scripture say?-“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Now to the one who works his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
…to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:1-5a
Even the folks at the church in Roman get confused about the concept of Justification by Faith. Works and Faith. Earning something or getting something. Working to be justified-maybe a commendable attitude but ultimately a sinful affront to God. What??? Justification by Faith-a specific pillar of being a Christian. And I can get so confused and conflicted about it. At some level it can be very puzzling if it is not frequently thought and talked about. It really is a foundational facet of the Gospel.
How do I get off track on this Works and Faith subject? I think to understand it I really have to think with Biblical reasoning-and to do that I must study the Gospel point by point (Line upon line, precept upon precept. Ps 119)
Paul is writing the Roman Church because they were getting it wrong. The attitude that sneaks up on everybody is the one given birth in the Garden by rebellious disobedience. Adam disobeyed, succumbed to temptation, ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and then spent the rest of the life of generations of folks trying to make up (atone) for that one act. Offering sacrifice is the picture we have of the children of Israel. The key word here is not sacrifice as might be guessed, but offering. Offering is the key word and the foundational description of Atonement by Works.
“I give something from myself and I will be accepted by God” is generally how the thinking goes. I give money, time, sacrifice my wants (for a while anyway, not for good-God understands that I have needs, wants, and desires to deal with…). I become a good person, do good things, smile and be kind, tolerant, loving (not hating), never condemn someone (at least not to their face-I am not a hypocrite…) and so on and so on. All of these are works, offerings-things to give to God so that He will post a “like” on the Facebook of Life.
Unfortunately, in the ways of God, it doesn’t work out like that. Scripture is clear: we will not ever have a leg that would keep us standing and upright before God. All of our works in this manner are to promote us, to gain something, to earn a right—and it would be all stuff that would burn. In our present state, Man is condemned by the Holiness of God and is judged guilty of being rebellious and a traitor to God. Man is eaten up with Sin. We work for ourselves towards God? Our only payment is the Wrath of God which is our Just due.
But the scripture reference says “…the one that does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly…” Faith in the Cross, faith in the Work of Jesus as the atonement for my sin (not what I do as sinful acts but what I am-sinful man) is what is counted as righteousness.
He did it, He did it all. I did nothing but acknowledge He did it. I cannot add one thing to His work on the Cross for my behalf. The work on the Cross is so deep and thorough and is impossible for me to contribute to. I cannot belittle Him by even having the attitude of “I helped by doing XXX.” I cannot boast except in the mysterious and incredulous impossibility that He should have love and consideration so much that salvation would come to sinful man. Halleluiah.
Lord Jesus: the song comes to mind-“I can’t comprehend this fathomless love; I’m gripped and amazed at what you have done; Why would the Adored become the Despised to bear all the furious wrath that was mine? How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me.”
Amazed and astounded at this Mystery-the Mystery that will be contemplated for all of Eternity. AMEN.