Romans 4:4-5 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Paul is being very careful here to lay this all out clearly, because it contradicts how every other religion looks at salvation. Indeed, it violates human logic. There is a song in The Sound of Music that expresses how human logic sees things. “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.” It then goes on to say, “So somewhere in my youth our childhood I must have done something good,” as an explanation for the joy of young love the singer is experiencing. It is true that actions have consequences, and we are not to forget that. However, God’s grace transcends that, and that truth is what Paul is trying to communicate here. We tend to hang up on one side or the other of this issue, and sometimes it feels like it’s both sides at once! We cannot earn salvation because we cannot be good enough; we are too stained with sin. However, we must not cheapen grace by taking it for granted. Sometimes we even ask for forgiveness ahead of time, before we willfully commit sin. That’s spitting in God’s face! On the other side, there are people who cannot seem to get free of emotional guilt. They have confessed their sins to God, but can’t seem to trust that He has really forgiven them, and that is crippling. John wrote the first part of his first letter to address exactly this issue. The foundation of an active Christian life is gratitude for salvation, not doing stuff in hopes of pleasing God to make up for what we’ve done wrong.
This is something it seems like I’m trying to communicate at every turn. Japanese in particular are very hard workers, and Japanese Buddhism tends to assign tasks as steps to enlightenment. The average Japanese thinks that’s what the Catholic confessional is all about, as assorted gags on Japanese television make clear. It’s probably also a major factor in the success of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Japan, because they can identify with trying to earn salvation by door-to-door visitation. The problem is, all of that violates God’s plan, which Paul expressed so clearly in Ephesians 2:8-10. Salvation isn’t by works, but God has prepared stuff for us to do, and gratitude for His salvation should motivate us to apply ourselves fully to those tasks. I’ve tripped up on both sides of this, at times taking God’s grace for granted and being casual about sin, (including being lazy) and at other times having trouble grasping that I really was forgiven, so that sin had no more hold over me. 2 Peter 1:9 was liberating to me there, because continuing to beat myself up over a particular sin actually made it all the more likely I would succumb to it again. God’s plan really does transcend human logic and wisdom, so my only hope of communicating it is the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Father, I pray for that anointing more and more. May Your words through me penetrate “to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow,” (Hebrews 4:12) so that people may be liberated from the lies of the devil to receive and walk in Your full salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!