No one can do enough good works so that God owes them. Everyone is sinful and cannot cause themselves to be in righteous standing before God. However, if we believe God, our faith is credited to us as righteousness, making us just before God.
Paul will now make a logical argument. If someone performs a job for an agreed upon payment, once the work is done the employer owes a debt. The employer is not being generous in paying off the debt. Someone can justly claim, “You owe me” if they have earned a wage. Who can say, “God owes me?” What job has God asked us to do for payment?
This is the flawed reasoning underlying legalism, which rests on the notion that God owes us. In the theme statement of Romans 1:16-17, Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4, that says the just or righteous person lives by faith. Habakkuk goes on to say the contrast of living by faith, believing God’s ways are best, is to live in pride. It is nothing but pride to assert that we can cause God to owe us in any way. God does not, nor ever will, owe any person anything. God is God. God’s very name is “I Am” – the essence of existence.
Paul’s detractors, the competing Jewish “authorities” who slandered Paul’s message (Romans 3:8), are prideful legalists. They believe that by following certain rules they can obligate God. Paul says, “No way,” God is not ever obligated. There is no place for pride. But there is good news, great news. There is room for grace, because God gives righteousness before Him as a free gift, simply because we believe. That is what Abraham exemplifies. Abraham was the friend of God because he believed God.
Contrasting the idea that any person can obligate God to somehow be indebted to pay him or her, is that if any person believes that God will be merciful and justify the ungodly he will become righteous in God’s sight. Note that within this statement lies an inherent notion that, in order to believe that God justifies the ungodly we must begin with the understanding that we are ungodly, and in need of God’s mercy. This is just the opposite of an attitude that claims God owes us. If we believe we are better than most people (and therefore God will justify us), we fundamentally think God owes us because of how we compare to others. We can think we are justified before God because of how we (as judges) compare ourselves to others based on a standard of our own making. This is prideful rationalizing. God sets the standard and God does the judging, not us.
Paul made clear that every single one of us does not measure up to God’s standard (Romans 3:9-20). Every one of us is corrupt. The fact that one corrupt apple is less rotten than another rotten apple does not make it edible. The first step in gaining the immense benefit of being justified before God, by God, is to recognize that we are ungodly and in need of God’s mercy. The second step is to believe in God’s mercy, that God will simply declare us as righteous if we believe, even though we are ungodly.
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
Check out our other commentaries:
Deuteronomy 32:7-9 meaningMoses reminded the Israelites that the Suzerain (Ruler) God elected them and had taken them as His own inheritance.......
Romans 14:5-9 meaningChrist died and resurrected to be the Lord of our lives. There may be petty differences in how we live, but whatever we do should......
Genesis 15:10-12 meaningThe covenant ceremony is prepared. God causes Abram to fall into a deep sleep. ......
Genesis 17:21-23 meaningWhen God had finished talking, Abraham immediately took all the males in his household and circumcised them as God had commanded. ......
Deuteronomy 17:8-13 meaningMoses advises local judges to appeal to the Levitical priests or to the judge in office at the central sanctuary in order to seek guidance......