If you agree to work for someone at a certain pay scale, and you get paid, that’s not grace on the other person’s part. It’s just a business deal. (In fact, it’s a legitimate arrangement even if others get paid the same amount for less work than you, as Jesus described in Matthew 20:1-16) When we agree to work for a certain amount of money, we are entitled to receive that amount of money as a paycheck (minus taxes, of course).
Consider this passage from Romans 4:
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 4:4-5 NIV
In the same way, if any of us were sin-free, perhaps we could theoretically stand before God and insist that He consider us righteous, because of our perfect good works. I suppose that Jesus could have done so, instead of taking our sins upon Himself.
However, none of us are sin-free. We have all sinned, so that option is pretty much out the window. Worse than that, the wages of sin is death, as Romans 6:23 tells us. As a result, we have earned the punishment of death, but I’m pretty sure that we’re not calling up Heaven’s “payroll department”, asking for an advance on that check! Once we understand our sin, there’s no point in asking for the wages of righteousness (since haven’t earned them), and there’s no point in asking for the wages of our sin (because those aren’t good at all).
The good news, though, can be found in Romans 3:21-26. There is another way to receive righteousness: “through faith” (v.22). This righteousness is not earned. Instead, it is “given” (Romans 3:22) or “credited” (Romans 4:5). In fact, a commentator mentions that this gift in verse 4 is the Greek word for grace [Cottrell, p.282].
So, let us be thankful to God that He justifies the “ungodly”, since that is who we are, outside of faith in Jesus!
Having said that, note that everyone doesn’t “get a pass” just because Jesus died for our sins. We must trust God and have faith. Let’s look further at what that faith looks like over the next few articles.
In the meantime, I hope that you will take some time to read all of Romans 4 this week, including verses 6-12, where Paul cites David from Psalm 32, and shows that Abraham’s righteousness through faith is not conditional on circumcision, so it extends to all people – even Gentiles – who have faith like Abraham’s. Paul also drives home the point that Jewish people don’t get an “in” with God automatically because of their ancestry. Righteousness is not a function of inheritance; instead, it results from being like Abraham in faith. In fact, circumcision itself was a sign; a seal of righteousness (obtained through faith). Righteousness didn’t come by circumcision, so Jewish people shouldn’t expect that circumcision – or being descended from Abraham – was enough. However, Jewish people by birth (and circumcision) could also be “doubly” children of Abraham if they had faith like his [Cottrell, p.293].
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 16, 2022
- The Lookout, January 16, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.