From: The Grace Awakening
While most people in the world are busy building towers with highest hopes of making a name and gaining fame, God’s truth sets the record straight. On the basis of God’s Book, his Holy Word, it is my plea that we simply admit our need and claim God’s grace. Instead of striving for a manmade ticket to Heaven based on high achievement and hard work (for which we get all the credit), I suggest we openly declare our own spiritual bankruptcy and accept God’s free gift of grace. “Why?” you ask. “Why not emphasize how much I do for God instead of what he does for me?” Because that is heresy, plain and simple. How? By exalting our own effort and striving for our own accomplishments, we insult his grace and steal the credit that belongs to him alone.
Let’s leave the land of Shinar with its city of towers and turn to a man who lived shortly thereafter. His name was Abraham – a man who, in himself, had quite a name, not to mention an impressive reputation. Yet, when it came to his being righteous before God, he had nothing in himself that earned God’s acceptance. All this is clearly stated in Romans 4:1-2:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.
That closing statement is worth pursuing. Anyone who has a lot of accomplishments to his credit has something to boast about before the public. People are impressed with human achievement. They will applaud you. They will give you credit. They will honor your name. They may even build a statue out of bronze or name schools and streets after you. You have something to boast about before others on Earth, no question. But according to the statement in Romans 4, there is no room for boasting before God. Not even a great man like Abraham could earn God’s favor and blessing.
In the final analysis, it was not the result of Abraham’s hard work that caused him to find favor with God; it was the result of God’s great grace.
Apart from anything Abraham owned or earned, bought or achieved, God declared the man righteous. He “justified” Abraham:
The day came when, in the accounting of God, ungodly Abraham was suddenly declared righteous. There was nothing in Abraham that caused the action; it began in God and went out to the man in sovereign grace. Upon a sinner the righteousness of God was placed. In the accounting the very righteousness of God was reckoned, credited, imputed. The Lord God himself, by an act of grace moved by his sovereign love, stooped to the record and blotted out everything that was against Abraham, and then wrote down on the record that he, God, credited this man Abraham to be perfect even at the moment when Abraham was ungodly in himself.
That is justification.
(Romans, God’s Remedy by Donald Grey Barnhouse)
How could anyone say a great man like Abraham was “ungodly”? Well, when you look behind the scenes of his life (or any life), you find out. Deep within Abraham was an emptiness. Spiritual death. Behind all of the possessions and human greatness there was a background of idolatry (according to the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 24). He had been reared by an idolater. He had married a woman who had come from the same region of idolatry. He was by birth, by nature, and by choice a sinner. However, God in sovereign grace penetrated through all of that. And when he heard Abraham say, “I believe,” God, in grace, credited perfect righteousness to the man’s account. The scriptures call this “justification.”
May I suggest a definition? Justification is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner – while he is still in a sinning state. Even though Abraham (after believing and being justified) would continue to sin from time-to-time, God heard Abraham when he said, “I believe. I believe in you.” And God credited divine righteousness to his account. This occurred even though Abraham was still in a sinning state. But never again would the man have to worry about where he stood before his God. He was, once and for all, declared righteous. He received what he did not deserve and could never earn. Once again I remind you, that’s grace. But is Abraham unique? The answer is in the next two verses:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned 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 reckoned as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
Most people I know look forward to payday. You do, too, right? For a week, or perhaps a two-week period, you give time and effort to your job. When payday arrives, you receive a hard-earned, well-deserved paycheck. I have never met anyone who bows and scrapes before his boss, saying, “Thank you. Oh, thank you for this wonderful, undeserved gift. How can I possibly thank you enough for my paycheck?” If we did, he would probably faint. Certainly, he would think, What is wrong with this guy? Why? Because your paycheck is not a gift. You’ve earned it. You deserve it. Cash it! Spend it! Save it! Invest it! Give it! After all, you had it coming. In the workplace, where wages are negotiated and agreed upon, there is no such thing as grace. We earn what we receive; we work for it. The wage “is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due.”
But with God the economy is altogether different. There is no wage relationship with God. Spiritually speaking, you and I haven’t earned anything but death. Like it or not, we are absolutely bankrupt, without eternal hope, without spiritual merit; we have nothing in ourselves that gives us favor in the eyes of our holy and righteous Heavenly Father. So there’s nothing we can earn that would cause him to raise his eyebrows and say, “Um, now maybe you deserve eternal life with me.” No way. In fact, the individual whose trace record is morally pure has no better chance at earning God’s favor than the individual who has made a wreck and waste of his life and is currently living in unrestrained disobedience. Everyone who hopes to be eternally justified must come to God the same way: on the basis of grace; it is a gift. And that gift comes to us absolutely free. Any other view of salvation is heresy, plain and simple.