But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. —Romans 4:5.
He that works, he that in any way works in order thus to stand righteous in the sight of God, he—note this well!—renounces the grace of God and seeks to lay claim to salvation not as a gift of grace, but as wages which God is in duty bound to give him in remuneration for his works (Romans 4:4).
He that is so blinded as to work in this way, in defiance and derision of the entire Word of God, shall receive wages very different from salvation. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse” (Galatians 3:10). “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” – Stop! What does this mean, “that justifieth the ungodly”? This means that God was in Christ, reconciling the world, the whole ungodly world, to Himself, thus not imputing their trespasses unto them.
Now, then: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” What does this mean, “his faith is counted for righteousness”? It means this: To the believer it is counted for righteousness what the Word of Reconciliation proclaims and communicates unto him, namely, that God in Christ reconciled all the world unto Himself and therefore no longer imputed their trespasses unto them.
God’s gracious forgiveness, His declaration of righteousness in Christ Jesus, is received by the Christian through faith; thus his faith is counted for righteousness. The believer accepts for himself what God in Christ did for the whole ungodly world, namely, that God in Christ justified them in His sight. Thus, through such faith, he has the righteousness of God, and now in fact he is the beloved child of God and is saved. Therefore, do not seek to work for your justification, but believe in Him that justifies the ungodly. Then shall your faith be counted to you for righteousness; and you shall obtain salvation by grace.
PRAYER – My Lord and God, grant grace to me, Thy child, to be diligent, indeed, in good works, but not to presume that by such imperfect works of mine I might become righteous before Thee. Help me to live and to die in the true faith which alone justifies me, in the firm assurance that in Christ Thou hast justified all ungodly mankind, and hence also me. Amen.
‘Tis not by works of righteousness
Which our own hands have done,
But we are saved by God’s free grace
Abounding through His Son.
Hymn 382, 3 (TLH)