TWO PARADOXICAL ABSURDITIES
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
It is natural for people to believe works save us, but to God such an idea is absurd. God instead offers us salvation without works, an idea we view as absurd.
Romans 44-5 deals with these two paradoxical absurdities. Paul is trying to turn us from what seems logical in our eyes. It is imperative that sinners lean not unto their own understanding. We must instead accept Gods prescribed way.
Romans 44 Holman Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift,
but as something owed.
Paul used a simple illustration from everyday life to show the absurdity of believing in salvation by works. If people could earn their salvation, Heaven would be not a gift, but a debt God owes us.
When we work for an employer we do not consider our paycheck a gift. It is earned. The employer is in debt to the worker and can be jailed if he refuses to pay.
This is the way sinners wish salvation to be. They want God in their debt. Our pride relishes something that can be earned. Man is much like a silkworm, he is a spinner and weaver by nature. A robe of righteousness is wrought out for him, but he will not have it he will spin for himself, and like the silkworm, he spins and spins, and he only spins himself a shroud. All the righteousness that a sinner can make will only be a shroud in which to wrap up his soul, his destroyed soul, for God will cast him away who relies on the works of the law (Spurgeon). God owes the fallen human race nothing God will never allow Himself to be viewed as a debtor.
As long as people work for salvation, they will not receive it. It is impossible for God to be a debtor to any person. Imagine a sinner demanding Heaven with the boldness of a laborer demanding a paycheck. No human can dare approach God and say, You owe me Heaven. You are in debt to me.
Heaven would be a Pharisees paradise if we could earn our salvation. For eternity we would have to listen as people bragged about this and that. Heavens glory would belong not to God, but to humans.
This can never be. Do not go to Heavens gate expecting to find a cashiers window there. They are not going to distribute x number of tickets based on x number of good deeds which will entitle them to x degrees of happiness in heaven. No No No Away forever with any such thinking. Everything will be of grace.
You would be foolish to come claiming you deserve what is inside. You must come solely as a suppliant, as one staking all on mercy. It is natural for sinners to believe we are saved by works, but to God the notion is absurd.
Romans 45 But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who
declares righteous the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness.
Having revealed the absurdity of believing in salvation by works, Paul will now establish the validity of that which people by nature view as absurd–salvation without works.
According to this verse, the person right with God is the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares righteous the ungodly. In other words, the one who receives salvation is one who casts aside any pretense of earning salvation.
God does not mean for believers to forsake good works, nor does He disparage obedience to the law. The only kind of good works He forbids is when they are attempts to bribe Him. God disdains our trying to be mercenaries, to buy Him off.
We must never demand things of God as if they are justly our due. God utterly refuses to take anyone into heaven who claims to be good based on their own merit.
God saves those who place their trust in Him rather than in themselves. Faith involves recognizing ones own inability to save self. Faith is unnecessary in one who senses total self-sufficiency. Faith involves the distrusting of every earthly thing for salvation, the desertion of every human means for merit. Faith never approaches God as a hireling. It refuses to claim it is owed any wages. It clings to God and God only. Salvation is found totally apart from works. In fact, any who try to merit salvation are making their chances for Heaven worse, not better.
Salvation without works seems to sinners ludicrous, impossible, ridiculous. But it is true, and our text tells us why–God declares righteous the ungodly.
Justification by faith without works has to be the means of salvation, because God justifies the ungodly. Ungodly people are the only kind Jesus saves.
Justifying the ungodly is Gods noblest work. No other judge or court can do such a thing. They can only justify the just and punish the guilty, but God reverses this process. He condemns those who profess innocence, and justifies those who profess their guilt in repentance and faith.
Salvation is an absolute miracle. God does not first make us good and then save us. He saves us first and then sets Himself to the task of making us better. It is a miracle wrought by grace through faith in Jesus.
As a result, ungodliness is no barrier to salvation. The only thing that keeps a sinner from being saved is their refusal to repent in faith. The load of our sin cannot in itself keep us from salvation. There is no need to despair. We are not beyond hope.
In fact, if you are a sinner (and you are), you are a prime prospect for salvation. Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost (LK 1910). He saves ungodly people. This is why I know I am saved.
If this verse had said God would save John Marshall, I might fear it meant another person of the same name. Seeing my name in this verse would not give me near as much assurance as seeing my spiritual name does.
Ungodly is the real me. I know to whom it refers. I cannot mistake that identification. It means even I can be saved. William R. Newell is best known now as the author of our beloved song At Calvary. In his lifetime, he was famous as an excellent Bible expositor. D. L. Moody brought Newell to Chicago to serve as assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute. Moody later commissioned Newell to devote all his time to Bible teaching. Newell led weekly Bible classes in Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and St. Louis. He had an experience in St. Louis that involved the verse we are considering.
Newell was holding noon meetings in the Century Theater. After the lesson one day, a riverboat captain, one of St. Louis most widely known men, confronted him. The captain said, You are speaking to the most ungodly man in St. Louis.
Newell shouted, Thank God
The captain was stunned. Do you mean you are glad that I am bad
Newell replied, No, but I certainly am glad to find a sinner that knows he is a sinner.
The captain confessed, O you do not know the half I have been absolutely ungodly here in St. Louis for years and years. The captain told how he had tried to read the Bible and pray. He had even given money to help the needy, but he still sensed his own guilt. William Newell turned to Romans 45 and read it. The captain, seeing the word ungodly, said, There Thats what I am–ungodly.
The captain asked what he needed to do to be saved. Newell told him the main deed had already been done. Jesus died for the ungodly. Gods judgment fell on Him. All who believe in God on the ground of Christs shed blood shall be saved.
The captain immediately said, Mr. Newell, I will accept that proposition, and off he went without another word.
Next day, the captain asked permission to address the theater of businessmen. They all knew of him and listened as he said, I want to tell you all of the greatest proposition I ever found. I am a businessman, and know a good proposition. But I found one yesterday that so filled me with joy, that I could not sleep a wink all night. I found out God for Jesus Christs sake declares righteous any ungodly man that trusts in Him. I trusted Him yesterday and you all know what an ungodly man I was. I thank you for listening to me I felt I could not help but tell you of this wonderful proposition that God should count me righteous. I have been such a great sinner.
Newell said the man lived many years in St. Louis, an ornament to his confession.