Romans 4:4-5 "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."
In our last post, we considered how justification by faith can be likened to a Heavenly credit card issued by God to the sinner at saving faith. We noted that Christ alone is the grounds for justification. By His Person and accomplished work on the cross and by His resurrection, Christ in effect "paid the bill" demanded by God's Holy character on the sinner's behalf. We can summarize the whole point of understanding what Paul is arguing for in Romans 4:1-16: when God credits forgiveness of sin and Christ’s righteousness at saving faith, such Heavenly crediting is called “justification by faith”.
Theologian Michael Horton states the radical nature of justification by faith in his volume: "The Christian Faith", page 620:
"'God justifies the wicked'. As a counterintuitive as it is simple, that claim which lies at the heart of the good new has brought immeasurable blessing - and trouble - to the church and the world. It is not the Pharisee, confident in his own righteousness, who went home justified, said Jesus, but the tax collector, who could not even raise his eyes to heaven but cried out, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' (Lk 18:9-14)."
Today’s post will further clarify for you the source, reception and guarantee of this transaction in justification by faith.
We looked already at the source or grounds for justification: Christ alone. Today we want to explore how one receives this "Heavenly Credit Card" of justification as well as what guarantees the credit granted to the sinner will be forever accepted by God as enough.
So we begin by asking the same question as we did in the last post: how is justification by faith like a heavenly credit card?
Reception of Heavenly Credit: Faith Alone. Romans 4:4-15
The Apostle Paul is getting into the heart of the Gospel by unfolding to us the doctrine of justification by faith. Contrary to what some may teach, the Old Testament does not teach one way of salvation and the New Testament another. Paul’s whole point in explaining how the righteousness of God is brought down to the sinner at saving faith is to show how such truth was communicated in the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis.
When we talk about "righteousness", what is meant by that term? righteousness is a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God. Since God’s righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ and vice-versa, it stands from scripture that His righteousness is the only acceptable righteousness before God. We've explored this point already in the previous point, noting how the grounds of justification are found in Christ alone.
So then, how does that righteousness become my own? By what means does one receive the righteousness of Christ? We know from scripture that self-righteousness or any attempt to gain salvation by our own efforts falls far short of the purity, innocence and perfection that God and Christ have. Romans 3:20 states – “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” In the Apostle Paul's other major letter arguing for justification by faith, Galatians, we read in Galatians 3:11 – “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
Notice how often we see the terms “justified” or “credited” or “reckoned”. These terms explain how the righteousness achieved by Jesus Christ in both His life, death and resurrection are transferred to the sinner’s account.
Whenever a person writes a check and gives it to another as a gift, what happens is that the monetary amount written on that check is coming out of someone’s account. It was earned by labor or some other way. Whenever they give that check as a gift, the recipient must receive it in order to place it in their account. At the bank, the recipient of the check would had to signed the back in order to have the funds available to them. We could liken faith or trust in Christ as that little signature line supplied by God in His issuing forth of Heavenly credit. Once the person brings the check to the bank, the bank teller looks at the check and looks at the person who signed the check on the back and applies it to the recipient’s account. What has happened? The bank has regarded that money as the recipient’s own, even though the check clearly came from another person from the outside.
This illustration serves to aid in understanding how the righteousness of God and Christ is applied to sinner’s at salvation. Faith alone is both necessary and sufficient. Faith is the means by which the righteous merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is applied and received. The cross of Christ is the grounds and the choice and calling of God to that sinner is the beginning point of such salvation. The righteousness demanded by the law and yet unattainable is the same righteousness promised by the Gospel that is received by faith and credited to the sinner.
Guarantee of Heavenly Credit: Grace Alone. Romans 4:16
So we've seen that justification's foundations or grounds derive from Christ alone. We've also noted how the reception of justification or Christ's credited righteousness must have faith or trust. God deems faith by itself as both a requirement and an adequate means of receiving what He desires to impute to or credit to the sinner. But now, what guarantees all this? How do we know that God isn't going to do some sort of "bait and switch", whereby after one believes the gospel, now God demands works in order to "keep the salvation He gave to them".
Romans 4:16 states: "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."
Grace, we could say, is God's freely given favor. Whenever God extends grace in any of its forms (common grace to all men, saving grace to sinners responding in faith, preserving grace for saints living in this world, empowering grace for resisting temptation or understanding the scriptures), God is in effect saying "you have my favor". In common grace, for instance, all men have God's favor in so far as they are right now enjoying all of the blessings and good gifts bestowed by God in this physical world (like sunshine & rain, Mt 5:45). Common grace grants God's favor while delaying what will be the sinner's judgment.
In the particular saving grace of God, we find that it is like a large dinner plate upon which the scrumptious doctrine of justification by faith rests. Henry Clarence Thiessen in his book: "Lecture in Systematic Theology", page 365:
"Justification thus originates in the heart of God. Realizing not only our lack of righteousness, but also our inability to attain to it, He in His kindness decided to provide a righteousness for us. It was His grace that led Him to provide it; He was under no obligation whatever to do it. In His grace He had regard to our guilt, and in His mercy, to our misery."
Grace originated in God's heart not just moments before the sinner's salvation, nor years, nor decades, nor centuries. Grace had always been in God's heart from all eternity. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 refers to this gracious intention in its article five as "God's purpose of grace", connected to the Biblical doctrine of Divine election which Paul will develop more fully in Romans 8:28-11:25. The BFM 2000 states:
"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners."
The BFM 2000 then concludes its article on "God's Purpose of Grace" with this statement:
".... yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
God's grace is infinite in duration. His desire to save sinners apart from any merit done by them guarantees the salvation of His people - both as a group and individually. Thus, justification is by faith so that it may be by grace - as such grace guarantees it.
The last couple of posts has considered Heaven's credit card: justification by faith. The credit of this card was paid for by Christ, and thus the grounds of justification by faith is in Christ alone. God issues this card and the only way in which it can be received is by faith alone. Saving faith, by itself, is enough and necessary to receive the pre-approved balance of Christ's righteousness into my otherwise morally and spiritual bankrupt humanity. Then finally, Heaven's credit card of justification is guaranteed by grace alone. To have credit from God with no worries of such credit being revoked, nor any fees like human performance means that the Issuer of such credit - God, guarantees the believer's justification because of His Son Jesus Christ.