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"Ungodly Yet Justified"

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5).

Here we have the gospel of the grace of God in Christ stated in one its most gracious fashions, at least as far as the sinner’s perspective is concerned. This fact testifies to the glory of God’s free grace and it is indeed good news or the gospel to believing sinners. Here the believing sinner is told that there is righteousness before God by being justified by God Himself in an act of grace apart from all human effort. There are several glorious facts brought out in this verse that teach this truth. Some of these are stated directly and others are inferred. I will state them first and then look at each in more detail. They are as follows:

By the first word but we see that God’s grace in Christ is set in direct contrast to works for righteousness before God.

With the phrase to him that worketh not being put in the absolute negative sense then works for righteousness before God is cast out altogether.

By the second word but we see that God reveals the believing spoken of here to not be works for it is not wrought by human effort.

The word believeth shows that the believing spoken of here is a continual, ongoing, ever present believing.

The believing spoken of here is specifically that of believing on God and that He is justifying people who are ungodly.

As with the believing here the justifying is the continual, ongoing, ever present fact of God who justifieth.

The phrase, which declares the believer’s faith to be his faith, shows faith to be the free gift of God.

The gift of faith to the ungodly is counted (imputed) for righteousness.

The grace of God in Christ is grace in fact as well as it is grace in name. Many seem to use the word grace with no real understanding or even care to protect it’s meaning. Grace is often made out to be a gift God offers rather than the truth of grace being a gift God freely gives. The truth of scripture leaves no uncertainty as to the true nature of God’s grace. As seen first in the text at hand…

By the first word but we see that God’s grace in Christ is set in direct contrast to works for righteousness before God.

Paul says that the difference between grace and works is the difference between a gift and a debt (4:4). A gift given may well induce great gratitude from the recipient toward the giver but that is a far cry from a debt being owed for duties done. If I work for righteousness and it could be so gained then God would be indebted to me. Paul makes it clear that God will receive no boast from men even if they were to seek their own glory (4:2). Grace and works, like oil and water, will not mix (11:6). Thus we see why the second statement is given…

 

With the phrase to him that worketh not being put in the absolute negative sense then works for righteousness before God is cast out altogether.

Paul makes it clear that not only are works not considered in the matter of righteousness before God but also there is to be a definite, even willing refusal to work for righteousness. It is not that a person can work if they wish to but there is a refusal to work in this matter of righteousness before God (cf. Phil. 3:4-9). A true believer in God in the sense of the text is one who refuses to do any work to gain God’s favor. Even the believing of this believer is not of human effort because…

By the second word but we see that God reveals the believing spoken of here to not be works for it is not wrought by human effort.

Believing is not wrought by human effort. Here is where the truth of scripture and lies clearly depart. In other words, believing is not by human free will. Believing comes by Christ (Acts 13:39); believing comes by grace (Acts 18:27); believing comes by the working of God’s mighty resurrection power (Eph. 1:19-20); and believing comes because God chose who would believe the truth having been set apart by the Spirit (II Thess. 2:13). This is the clear testimony of scripture, which also declares that some people cannot believe, and having belief put here in this text as a matter of grace and not a matter of works is just another testimony to God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ.

 

The word believeth shows that the believing spoken of here is a continual, ongoing, ever present believing.

Believing on God who justifies the ungodly is not some past event. Many when asked if they are saved will respond, "Of course, because (then they given some time period – such as, when I was 15 years old during the revival meeting) I believed. Once a person has believed by grace then that person continues to believe until their last breath (Heb. 10:38-39; 11:13a; Matt. 24:13). A believing that does not last is not saving belief.

The believing spoken of here is specifically that of believing on God and that He is justifying people who are ungodly.

The believing spoken of in scripture, which is connected to salvation, is specific. It is much more than believing God exists only as one (being monotheistic) and being afraid of Him (Js. 2:19). It is not a temporary thing (Lk. 8:13) nor is it apart from an inner change of heart and mind toward Christ (Jn. 8:30-47). Believing also acknowledges the truth (Titus 1:1) and it confesses that God saves sinners (I Tim. 1:15). God justifies ungodly people. God is not saving good people but ungodly people (cf. Lk. 7:29-30; Rom. 5:6-10).

As with the believing here the justifying is the continual, ongoing, ever present fact of God who justifieth.

God does not justify once and then the believer must after this so walk an untainted path so as to gain final entrance into God’s presence. We are justified once but it is a "once for all" justification that has ongoing results and not a "once for the past" justification which stops where belief begins (Rom. 8:33-39; Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 3:19-26). Moreover, justification is based upon the person and work of Christ (Rom. 3:24) and it is not based upon the believer’s personal flaws (II Pet. 2:7-8).

The phrase, which declares the believer’s faith to be his faith, shows faith to be the free gift of God.

We have looked at believing and how it comes by the free grace of God in Christ. Here we clearly see indicated that even faith (a state of being) is the gift of God, from which believing (the state of responding in faith) flows. God gives faith as a gift and faith is not a product of human ability or works (Eph. 2:8-9). However, God does so give faith that faith then exists in that recipient as his or her own. It is for them and not another. Moreover, faith is not passed from person to person but from God to man as a gift. The gift of faith is as personal as the call of God is personal (Jn. 10:3). The idea that all men have faith as some inner ability and they can believe if they just exert enough power of the will is a lie (II Thess. 3:1-2; Jn. 3:11-12; 5:44-47; 10:26; 12:37-40).

The gift of faith to the ungodly is counted (imputed) for righteousness.

Here is where many seem to go astray, even some who have knowledge of the truth of grace. This does not teach that faith, even the gift, is my righteousness before God. Faith is not counted as righteousness because faith believes (it lays hold of in the heart) that Christ is the righteousness of God to me (Rom. 10:3-4). Faith is counted (laid to my account or imputed) for (on the behalf of) righteousness. God puts righteousness to the account of the believer, and only to the account of a believer, based upon the person and work of Christ and not based upon the faith and believing of the person even though it is a gift. It could be said that the gift of faith, from which believing on God who justifies the ungodly flows, is the intermediary means by which the righteousness of the Mediator Himself (Jesus Christ) is put to my account.

Suffice it to say that salvation is of the Lord. If we are what God demands we be and where He demands we be then it is based upon His free gift in Christ. If we believe we cannot take credit. This is not just some religious theory and then men call it grace but the truth of grace based upon the fact that believing comes from God because He chose to give and actually did give me the faith with which to believe on Him. A faith worked up is no faith at all; that faith that comes down is everything for it believes Him who justifies the ungodly. This is what I am by nature – ungodly, thus I need that kind of faith, this God, and His Son. In having these I have all He demands thus He will not impute my sin to me. Glory!

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