Romans 4:1-8 (NKJV)
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”
Part of this passage is puzzling at first.
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
This seems to contradict what James says about faith and works.
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. — James 2:17 (NKJV)
But it doesn’t. James is referring to “works” (the noun ἔργα “erga” in Greek) — good deeds, which genuine faith produces.
Here, Paul is referring to someone who works (the verb ἐργαζομένῳ “ergazomeno” in Greek) — does a job for a salary. Paul’s contrasting a regular worker with someone whose faith is counted as righteousness.
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
Paul’s point is that a worker’s wage is not grace.
But faith being credited as righteousness is.
You didn’t earn the righteousness you’re credited with. It’s a gift. This is at the very heart of the gospel. None of us is capable of being righteous or earning righteousness.
But note, we’re credited with righteousness, not given righteousness. Our sinful nature lingers. The great challenge we all face is to live up to the standard we’ve been credited with.
And guess what? We fail. This makes life in Christ frustrating, but there’s one magnificent benefit. No one in heaven will think that they deserve to be there.
Even now, that attitude is the mark of the kingdom.
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