4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
1901 ASV Translation:
4 Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.
I. The Issue: the Nature of the "Reward".
A. Paul has argued that both Abraham and the Scripture argue that justification is by faith asopposedto a performance method ("works").
1. Paul sees no amalgamation of two methods: it cannot be "both/and" because the "way" a reward is reckoned denies the possibility.
2. His argument is twofold...
a. "Works" based justification does not handle the "boastfulness" problem of Sin.
b. Scripture clearly reveals a "justification by faith" that occurs long before the death (and, thus, the end of the human works) of the justified.
1) That the Scriptures reveal such a "justification" must be addressed.
2) That it occurs long before a person's death means that it cannot be based upon the "works" of the person -- since justification has already occurred long before those "works" are done (Ezekiel 18:24 denies "justification" to anyone before his life is over).
a) Some, not understanding this reality, have argued that justification is only a mutable possibility that is extended when a person "believes" but is then rescinded when that person fails in "works of faith". This is normally taught as a "one can lose one's salvation if that one's works of faith do not come up to a certain standard". This is, however, simply a variation of "salvation by works" because all "works" have some kind of basis in some kind of "faith". It is impossible for a person to "act" apart from some kind of driving "faith". There is no such thing as a "work" that does not have some kind of conviction behind it.
b) Others, not understanding this reality, have argued that, since all works have some kind of faith behind them, "justification by works" is really "justification by faith". The argument runs thus: if one "really believes", he/she will not fail to act in harmony with the "faith" -- both in not failing to do what is commanded and in not doing what is forbidden. Thus, for instance, baptismal remission can be taught as a "work of faith" that boils down to "justification by a kind of faith that sponsors submission to baptism". This also is simply a variation of justification by works that does not address either the problem of boasting, nor the Scriptural declaration that God justified Abraham when he believed, not when he acted on his "faith".
B. Paul is now arguing that the issue is the actual nature of the reward.
1. One question is this: what is the specific identity of the "reward"?
a. In the context of Paul's argument, "justification" is what is "at stake".
b. This means, then, that "justification" is the "reward".
2. The next question is this: is it possible to conceive of the "reward" as coming as a consequence of a performance issue?
a. It really does not matter what is put forward as the "performance" issue as long as it is something a person does.
b. And Paul clearly admits that it is possible to conceive of the "reward" as a consequence of action: he calls it a "reward reckoned according to the standard of obligation (debt)". His meaning is this: if a "reward" is received out of an agreement between two parties in which one promises the "reward" upon the performance of an act or a set of actions and the other performs that act or set of actions, the "reward" is the consequence of an obligation that has been established by the agreement. This is "reward" on the basis of legal, contractual foundations which establish both the type of "work" that must be done and the nature of the "reward" that will come.
3. The third question is this: is it possible to conceive of a "reward" that is given without any performance issues being involved?
a. Clearly there is such a thing as a "gift" that is given without any foundations in law or contracts.
b. Thus, it is possible that "justification" is simply that: a gift.
C. But this raises this issue: if the reward is really a gift, why is it conditioned upon "faith"?
1. The Scriptures are clear: God reckoned Abraham's faith for righteousness.
2. Does not this mean that the "gift" is not free of contractual obligation? How can one "require" faith before extending a "gift" if the gift is supposed to be "freely given"?
a. Part of the answer rests in the nature of the "gift".
1) "Justification" is not a "thing" that can be given and received.
2) "Justification" is a "relationship-adjusting decree" that cannot be "received" without "adjusting the relationship".
a) The "typical" relationship between God and man is inimical. Man is the rebellious competitor for the position and privilege of deity and God is the retaliatory Judge Who puts down the rebellion.
b) To "adjust" this relationship so that it becomes a friendship requires a shift in attitude on the part of both involved parties. The rebel must cease the pursuit of rebellion and the Judge must suspend judgment. The two must become "friends".
c) This shift of attitude on the part of both parties cannot happen as long as one or both do not "shift" (this should be self-evident).
d) This shift cannot occur without a new basis for a new relationship and that new basis is a different perception of the "opponent".
e) This different perception is impossible apart from "faith". If one does not "believe" that the "opponent" is different than the earlier perception, there can be no "shift of attitude".
b. Part of the answer rests in the nature of the "Giver" and the "Receiver".
1) Man, as Receiver, cannot "perceive" of God as different than He "was" unless he realizes that it was his perception that was wrong.
a) God cannot "change" so that He is different than He was.
b) The problem from the beginning was not that God was a legitimate object of rebellion and competition, but that man's perception of God was led astray by flawed reason and motivation.
2) God, as Giver, cannot "perceive" of man as different than he "was" unless he is different.
a) God extends "justification" to man when man' s perception of God changes to fit reality so that man can be considered by God to be different: by a new content of "faith", man has become different.
b) Justification is not a "thing" that is transferred from one person to another; it is a determination by God that because man has been transformed in his attitude from enemy to friend He can now relate to him as "Friend" rather than "Judge".
c) But justification cannot be extended by God without Justice in God being legitimately satisfied: He must be able to be both just and justifier of the one whose attitude has shifted. Justification is rooted in real action by a real Man Whose actions were on the behalf of a new humanity who would exist by re-creation just as the old humanity existed by creation.
3. Thus we conclude that "faith" is not a "contractual necessity", but an "essential necessity". Faith is not required by "Law"; faith is required by the reality of relational harmony. Thus, the "reward" is not rooted in "works", but in the actual shift of attitude that is actually created by the offer of the reward. It is because God offers Life that man begins to see Him as Friend. When the offer is "believed", it is "given".
a. At the heart of man's original rebellion was the "conviction" that God was a tyrannical demander rather than a loving provider.
b. At the heart of the Gospel is the argument that God is a loving provider.
c. When man "believes" the Gospel, he is capable of beginning to respond to God as He is for two reasons.
1) First, he is qualified by God (justified) to be a recipient of the provisions of God.
2) Second, he is enabled by faith to indulge in those provisions.
d. Man's "faith" is, thus, not a "work" that obligates the Rewarder, but a transformation of perception that does not rest in the man, but in the conviction of God in the heart of the man by the truths of the Gospel.
1) "Faith" does not "obligate". There is no merit in it; there are no contractual links in it.
a) Those who do not understand this often turn "faith" into some kind of human "performance" issue in which they can, and do, boast. The "boasting" reveals the misunderstanding.
b) "Faith" is simply accepting Truth as true. It is not even a "cessation of rebellion"; rather, it is a "right perception" that makes rebellion look dumb.
2) "Faith" merely begins to see the Truth clearly and embrace it. If God were not full of mercy, "believing" the truth about Him would not lead to justification at all. The decision to justify is God's becauseHeisgracious, not because man has "done something" to merit a decree of righteousness.