“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”
Works vs. grace is a very controversial topic and I think it’s very misunderstood because they do go together and are inseparable under both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. These two things, works and grace, are undeniably both terms of God’s Everlasting Covenant.
If God’s grace were unconditional then everyone would be saved whether or not they accepted Jesus Christ.
But this scripture in Romans 4:4 is talking about a mindset concerning salvation that has to do with what some of the unbelieving Jews thought. These folks had lost sight of their Messiah and began to falsely assume they could earn their salvation based upon their works alone without Jesus. They did it as if the reward of eternal life were owed to them because of obeying God’s laws, but they misunderstood their circumstances and their position because of sin, which was a state of death, and their situation required the sinless blood atonement of Jesus.
We are supposed to obey and keep God’s covenant because God established our inheritance of eternal salvation based upon the terms and conditions of His covenant; and it’s through this covenant alone that we are able to receive the blood of Jesus Christ; no part can be left undone. Partial obedience is disobedience and without faith in Jesus we can’t inherit eternal life.
Still, our eternal reward is reckoned of grace.
A man who works in his own strength is owed something for his labor, someone is indebted to pay him in exchange for his work.
When we believe and obey God we have saving faith which will be rewarded by God by His grace with the free gift of eternal life, not because God owes it to us, but because of His mercy and grace He gives us this promise of His covenant of salvation. No matter how much work we could do, we could never earn that free gift or “be owed” that free gift because it took the blood of Jesus to pay our sin debt – we never had what it took to save ourselves. On the flip side if we continue to live in sin without returning to God in confession and repentance, then we won’t inherit eternal life either (1Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21).
God’s patience and long suffering is often mistakenly called unconditional love, because to us it’s so profoundly merciful that it appears to have no limits. No one is so bad that God can’t forgive them and save them, so when I say that there is a limit to God’s love, I mean that the Bible tells us to open the door of our hearts while He can still be found. When God calls us to obey, we need to do that as quickly as possible. Jesus did incredible miracles in some cities for a certain amount of time while Jesus gave them an opportunity to repent and some didn’t.
Matthew 11:20-24 “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”
While it is true that God loved us before we were saved; while we were still in our dirty mess of sin, the Bible tells us that we love Him because He first loved us. If God didn’t call us to Himself, we would never have gone to Him or found salvation. This initial approach to us is truly unconditional because we didn’t do anything to deserve His love or salvation. This is what many Christians would call unmerited favor. But eventually if we continue to refuse this invitation to love God back, at some point we are warned that He will withdraw and reject us too. None of us know when that point of no return may be and that’s why He pleads with us that when we hear His voice not to harden our hearts but accept Him. It’s possible that even at that point there may still be hope for them if someone else in their life is persistently interceding for them in prayer. We all have freewill and so we all have to choose and continue choosing daily. God’s definition of love and hate are different than man’s. Jesus said if you love me keep my commandments.
The LORD’s covenant of salvation is very conditional upon our believing Him and obeying Him. Contrary to popular belief is the fact that we are judged by our own works. We are judged by God daily and evidence is found in 1 Corinthians 11.
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
God judges us daily from His throne at His judgement seat within the heavenly sanctuary; not to destroy us, but to turn our hearts back to Him so He won’t have to destroy us at the final judgement when He will permanently destroy all evil including the devil and then finally death too.
“By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.”
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
We are told that everyone will be judged at the final judgement based on the choices we have made; based on our thoughts and our actions; by what we do and don’t do.
(What Jesus said in Matthew 25, listed below, is more proof; also 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.)
After we believe and receive God through confession and repentance, which is obedience to His laws governing the heavenly sanctuary contained within His covenant; we are then accepted or rejected by God based upon our works, based on what we’ve done and what we haven’t done. But between now and final judgment, we have a loving, compassionate and merciful God who keeps trying to permanently win our hearts and affections so that He can keep us with Him forever. That’s because He loves us – but we have to choose to love Him by faith. For all His children who believe Him, God’s mercies are new every morning and although He judges us daily we have the opportunity to also be forgiven daily and be cleansed from all unrighteousness (sin) through ongoing confession and repentance just like Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer.
There is a reason why there are books in heaven that record our works; that’s because we will be judged by those works and that’s why it’s imperative that we 1.) believe God and 2.) obey God.
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
“Wherefore we labour, THAT, whether present or absent, WE MAY BE ACCEPTED of Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be GOOD or BAD.”
God said from the beginning at creation that “the wages of sin is death”.
“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for THE END of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and THE END everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but YE HAVE OBEYED from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”
“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, COME, ye blessed of my Father, INHERIT the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: FOR I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as YE HAVE DONE IT unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: FOR I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as YE DID IT NOT to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Jesus warned us and said:
“But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”
Jesus gives us hope and reassurance saying:
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
And Paul also said this:
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”