This is the Third of Five Posts on the Topic of Salvation. This post examines the magnificent Epistle to the Romans:
One of the clearest Epistles, and probably the most theologically rich, is the Epistle of Romans. It spends a lot of time on salvation. St. Paul wants us to understand salvation.
So, let’s dive into it a little. Let’s begin with Romans 3:23. St. Paul says,
. . . all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (NAB)
Here, Paul states the obvious. None of us are perfect and we don’t deserve God, ever. We have “all sinned” and have not, and cannot, earn “the glory of God.” We don’t deserve to be in God’s house. But check this out:
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24 (NAB)
Justification here is offered “freely by his grace.” Works are not added. Salvation is an act of grace (“unmerited favor,” or “favor without works”). And, just to be clear, Paul specifically says good works are not part of the salvation equation (although they are very important):
A worker's wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due. 5But when one does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6So also David declares the blessedness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven
and whose sins are covered.
8Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record." Romans 4:4-8 (NAB)
What’s the natural reading of this text? Paul is comparing the idea of earning salvation through good works with the idea of receiving salvation solely as a gift. If you work for something, it’s not a gift. But something received through trust or faith is a gift: “his faith is credited as righteousness apart from works.” This isn’t vague language. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
Other passages that teach, very clearly, this principle are the following:
But what does it say?
"The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we preach),
9for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:8-9 (NAB)
Notice, there’s a promise, a done deal sealed in the heavens, “you will be saved.” Also, the faith is more than mere profession, it’s real faith, from the heart.
But if by grace, it is no longer because of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6 (NAB)
Here, St. Paul is emphatic. Grace cannot be confused with works. If works have anything to do with grace, grace is no longer grace. This is very clear.
What then can we say that Abraham found, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2Indeed, if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, he has reason to boast; but this was not so in the sight of God. 3For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4A worker's wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due. 5But when one does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:1-5 (NAB)
Again, Paul makes it clear that the “credit” we receive is not our own, but Christ’s and is given as a remarkable “gift” and not earned.