Rom 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
Rom 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
When it comes to understanding the above passage one’s theology makes all the difference. On the surface it seems pretty clear that we are not saved by any work we can do through faith. Since this is the main point then it cannot be teaching us that faith is a work that we can do in order to be saved. Yet there are a vast number or Christians who believe this very thing.
This is mostly seen in the concept that God has provided a means of salvation and all that is needed to finish the job is for us to agree with it by faith. But if all men are born with the ability to believe then how is this not a work? Does not the very term ability necessitate something we have to aid in our salvation?
The idea is that since none are righteous and can obey God’s Law then he has lowered the bar just low enough so that everyone has the ability to get in. Faith becomes the one thing that we all can “do”. But this is still a work and the above passage is saying that this is not an option.
Our theology helps here as we know that the Bible teaches that salvation is a work of God in which he enables us to believe thus faith is not a work but a means by which the Lord justifies us in such a way that we cannot boast that we did anything, even believe, in order to be saved. Yes, we trusted in the work of Christ but only because God regenerated us and gave us the power to do so.
Another reason we know that faith is not the one thing that God will accept in order to save us is because faith does not equal our transgressions. The Muslim god for instance will forgive sin if certain prayers are made. But in essence this is to forgive sin without it ever being paid for. Prayers don’t make up for transgressing a Holy God nor does believing. Sin must be paid for which is why Jesus had to die.
Now you might be thinking, “Well there you have it. Faith doesn’t equal our sin; Jesus also had to die for them. But Paul tells us in Galatians that if we add anything to Christ we miss the gospel entirely. In Galatians they were adding circumcision; in the case of the Church of Christ they add baptism; in the case of most Arminianism they add “faith”. The idea is that God has done everything needed for salvation except one thing is left for us to “add to Christ’s work”. That is we must add our faith to it. In the end it boils down to a work that we can do that the lost will not do.
Because of this it is good and necessary to understand that we are justified not on the basis of faith but through faith. We are saved by grace, through faith. Our salvation is all a gift of God but he enables us to believe when he gives us the new birth as the mechanism in which he justifies us. We can take no credit. I will leave you with these verses which I believe say the same thing, Php 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. Act 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 2Ti 2:25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.