Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)
One of the distinctives that make Protestant Christianity unique from every other world religion is the belief that good works add nothing to one’s salvation. Roman Catholicism teaches that eternal life comes by faith in Christ plus fulfilling the sacraments of the Church. Church of Christ teaches that salvation is by faith plus baptism. Islam teaches that eternal life comes from submitting to the rule of Allah. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other world region teaches that eternal life or reincarnation into something better comes from doing our best to be a good person and doing the right thing. However, Protestant Christianity, biblical Christianity, is the only religious view which understands that nothing we do adds one iota to our eternal life. We believe this because this is the point the apostle Paul is arguing by using Abraham as the prime example in Romans 4:2-5. There he says, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Paul is referencing Genesis 15 where God takes Abraham, a 75 year-old man whose 65 year-old wife is past childbearing years, outside and has him look up at the night sky and promises him that someday his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This was before Abraham was circumcised or had done any kind of good deed for God. Thus, using Abraham as an example, Paul goes on to say, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” In other words, if you want to depend on good works to earn eternal life, understand that you will get what you deserve. And Jesus tells us that God’s standard is perfection (Matt 5:48). Unless you have lived a life of perfect obedience to all of God’s law, the idea of meriting eternal life through good words is not possible. Thus, Paul says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (emphasis added). Like Abraham, to those who simply place their faith in God and in the word of God, in the promise of God, their faith will be counted as righteousness. This is both wonderful news and difficult news for people to accept. Difficult because it strikes at our sense of human pride, our sense of self-sufficiency. Humans are prideful by nature and we want to believe that good things that happen to us do so because of our hard-earned effort. We want to believe that if we enter into eternal life, it is because somehow we earned it. Somehow, we deserved it. We want to be able to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘I did this.’ For this reason, most people are attracted to other religions where they can try and earn their way to heaven, where their sense of pride and self-sufficiency can be stoked. But the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is simply this—salvation is a matter of faith alone in Christ alone and to God be the glory alone. In this way, God gets all the glory for our salvation and we get none.
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