Summary: My standing with God is dependent on what I receive not what I achieve
I’m sure all of us are pretty familiar with how our finances operate in this culture. We go to work and we earn wages which we deposit in a bank account. The bank credits that amount of money to our account. But we also have bills to pay. And regardless of how we might choose to pay those bills on the front end – debit card, credit card, bill pay, check, or cash, those funds have to eventually come out of our bank account. When that occurs, the bank debits our account for that amount of money.
If we’ve done an effective job of budgeting, then at the end of each month, the amount that has been deposited into our account will be equal to or more than the amount that comes out of our account. But if we’re living paycheck to paycheck or, if for some reason the amount of our paycheck is decreased or our expenses increase, then there is going to be a whole lot of stress about our finances.
Unfortunately, that model seems to have greatly influenced how many people view the way God deals with us. I know that is true because I was one of those people for the first 18 years of my life. During that time, I believed that God had a spiritual bank account for me and that every time I did something “good”, He would make a deposit on my behalf and credit my account. Conversely every time I did something “bad”, God would make a withdrawal and debit my account. I assumed that as long as my deposits were greater than my withdrawals at the end of my life, even if only by a little bit, then I would earn my way into heaven.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has viewed God like that. A recent study by the Barna Group found that 72% of the people surveyed believe that it is possible for someone to earn their way into heaven by their good behavior. Even nearly one half of those who identify themselves as “born again” Christians believe that it is possible to earn one’s salvation through good deeds.
As we’ll see this morning, God does indeed have a spiritual accounting system. But fortunately for us, it doesn’t work the way that I once thought it did or that a majority of people think it does. So go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 4 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 1.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
(Romans 4:1-8 ESV)
As you can see, the verb “count” is central to this passage. It is used five times here in this passage and we’ll see Paul use it six more times before we get to the end of chapter 4. So it seems that if we’re going to be able to accurately understand what Paul is writing here, we probably need to take a moment to define that term:
“to count” =
The underlying Greek word is an accounting term that means…
“to enter something into a ledger”
The frequent use of this verb does reveal that God does in fact have a spiritual ledger into which He enters debits and credits to our account. But as we’ve seen in Romans and as we’ll see confirmed once again this morning, He doesn’t do that in the way that Paul’s audience thought He did, or the way most people today think He does. In God’s spiritual accounting system…
My standing with God is dependent on what I receive
not what I achieve
This may very well be one of the most freeing concepts in the entire Bible. If I don’t really believe this, then I am going to live my life from paycheck to paycheck spiritually. I am going to constantly be stressed out wondering whether I’ve made enough deposits into my account by my “good” deeds to cover the withdrawals that result from my sin. If I live like that I can never be sure of exactly where I stand with God and that’s not a joyful way to live at all.