Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:4-5)
Good works do not justify us before God. They never have and they never will. Justification before God is a free gift to the ungodly person who simply believes in Jesus for salvation. I know that sounds outrageous; but the biblical teaching is that God takes the ungodly sinner and declares him completely justified in His sight for no other reason than that he comes with the empty hands of faith and trusts in Jesus as his Savior. We don’t deserve salvation. We don’t earn salvation. It’s completely by God’s grace, and is paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ. Every sinner is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
In Scripture we learn that God is holy (Ps. 99:9; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). Being holy means God is positively righteous and completely set apart from sin. The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). God can only do one thing with sin, and that is condemn it. The Bible teaches substitutionary atonement. It teaches that Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin. He died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). He paid the redemption price for our sins, and we need only come to Him by faith alone, trusting that His death forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for our sin. Scripture declares that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10). That’s wonderful grace!
The gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The biblical reality is that without Christ every person is spiritually dead, under the penalty of sin, and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-12; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3). The person who rejects Christ as Savior will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire, forever separated from God (John 3:18; 36; Rev. 20:11-15). The person who believes in Christ as Savior will spend eternity in heaven with God (John 3:16; 14:1-6; Acts 16:31). Salvation is completely the work of God, and those saved are the recipients of His grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5). The salvation provided by God saves from the penalty of sin (Jo. 5:24; Rom. 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jo. 3:2). Once saved, the believer is in Christ and given the gift of righteousness, eternal life, and declared justified before God.
John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
Salvation is never what we do for God, but rather what God has done for us by sending His Son to die in our place and bear the wrath for sin that was due to us (Isa. 53). We are helpless to save ourselves because we are damaged by sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:23); therefore, salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Jesus paid the price for our sin, and we need only to trust Him for salvation (John 3:16, 20:31; Rom. 3:25; 5:8). We do not earn or deserve salvation. Human works are completely excluded from salvation altogether. Salvation is said to be “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), “according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9), and “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5).
Too often people ask “how can a loving God send someone to the lake of fire?” The real question is “how can a righteous God allow a rotten sinner into heaven?” The answer is simple: because God accepts as perfect the person who trusts in Jesus alone for salvation (Rom. 10:3-4; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:8-9).
Dr. Steven R. Cook