Vol.XI No.IX Pg.7
November 1974

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Dear Bro. Turner:

Please explain ROM.4:5........"to him that worketh not ... his faith is counted for righteousness."


Paul is contrasting two systems by which a man is justified, i.e., justly acquitted of sin, there being no guilt. Via "law" or "works" only, one could be free of guilt only by breaking no law, doing all that perfectness requires. When he says (vs. 4) "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" he is supposing someone could "work" perfectly all that was required of him— thereby earning his freedom from any guilt. This is clearly a theoretic supposition, for arguments sake, for he has already shown (3:23) that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." So, "to him that worketh not" does not mean to one who renders no obedience whatsoever, but points to the man who realizes the inadequacy of relying on a system of works, and turns instead to trust in Christ.

"God imputeth righteousness without works" — not by clothing us with something not ours, but by forgiving us of something that is ours, namely, our sins. ROM.5:9 says we are justified by Christs blood. ROM.4:6-8 is not disparaging such "work" (obedience as one may render) but teaches that our hope lays not in perfectness (via system of works) but in Gods promise to forgive — in Christ.

In our emphasis upon obedience and over-simplification of "the gospel" — as though it consisted of "steps" of obedience — we have likely under emphasized the true significance of the cross, its vindication of the justice and righteousness of God, etc.

We may be encouraged and rejoice that many younger preachers are "digging in" to such matters, and seeking to make our faith in Christ more meaningful. But the commentaries and theological source books for much of this "fresh", "new" (to us) thinking, are steeped in Calvinism or like reasoning. While searching for better ways to express our dependence upon Christ, many are being "sold a bill of goods" on grace, imputation of righteousness, etc. The word "faith" is being given Calvinistic flavor, and I catch the scent of inherent depravity and a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.

As "works" in ROM.4:5 refers to a system of works, so "faith" is used in the broad sense of trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. The contrast is in a system of works or law (exemplified by the Old Covenant, through Moses) and in the system of faith, or New Covenant. The Apostle is not saying that one who does not obey —who believes but does not obey — will be counted righteous. Faith in Christ embraces a submission of our will to His, and a sincere effort to obediently serve Him. But having recognized our own inadequacies — realizing that to seek justification via "works" is to be "under the curse" (GAL.3:10-f); we are constantly aware that our trust must be in Him (where there is forgiveness rather than in our imperfect "law keeping."

"Law" (the generic authority of God in Christ) is "established" not destroyed by faith in Christ. (3:31)