Salvation: By Grace Alone, for God’s Glory Alone — John MacArthur
“Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” — Romans 4:4-5
“Although faith is required for salvation, it has no power in itself to save. It is the power of God’s redemptive grace alone, working through the atoning work of His Son on the cross, that has power to save. Faith is not, as some claim, a type of work. Paul here makes clear that saving faith is completely apart from any kind of human works.
If man were able to save himself by his own works, then salvation would be apart from God’s grace, and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would have been in vain. If such righteous works were attainable by men, then salvation would not be a gift of God’s grace but would be a wage that is due. Not only would works righteousness obviate God’s grace, it would also rob Him of glory, for which all creation was made. ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things,’ Paul reminded the Roman believers later in this epistle. ‘To Him be the glory forever. Amen’ (Rom. 11:36). The primary purpose of the gospel is not to save men but to glorify God. In another beautiful benediction in the middle of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exulted, ‘Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen’ (Eph. 3:20-21).
There are many reasons why sinful man cannot save himself by his own works. First, because of his sin he is incapable of reaching the divine standard of righteousness, which is absolute perfection. Second no matter how generous, sacrificial, and beneficent his works might be, they could not atone for his sins. Even if God recognized all of a person’s works as being good, the worker would still be under the divine penalty of death for his sins. Third, as noted above, if men were able to save themselves, Christ’s atoning death was useless. Fourth, as already noted, if man could save himself, God’s glory would be eclipsed by man’s.
God only saves the person who does not trust in his work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly. Until a person confesses that he is ungodly, he is not a candidate for salvation, because he still trusts in his own goodness. That is what Jesus meant when He said, ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ (Luke 5:32). Those who are righteous in their own eyes have no part in God’s redemptive work of grace.”
John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1991) pp. 238,239. (used with permission of Moody Publishers).