No Extra Credit

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, March 25, 2015 0 comments
by Logan Ames

I would assume that unless you were a perfect student for your entire life, there was some point during your time in school that you did something to earn “extra credit” toward your grade, whether it was a matter of necessity to pass a class or you just wanted to make that report card a little bit better. I had my fair share of those times, but I remember one specific time in college when I didn’t get the answer I wanted. I couldn’t “earn” my way out of trouble.

It was my junior year. I was taking a liberal arts class that had absolutely nothing to do with my field of study, but was needed to complete the bachelor’s degree. To be honest, I hated the subject matter and thought it was ridiculous that I was forced to take the course. To make matters worse, the professor had no sympathy and was practically offended if you didn’t grasp what he was teaching. The class was a major struggle for me and I came to a point about two-thirds of the way through it where I was clearly not going to pass the course. So, I did the only thing I could think of - I asked the professor if there was any way that I could do a project for extra credit in order to pass the course. To my surprise, the professor said “no” because the syllabus had been written in advance and everyone in the class knew what would be needed for a passing grade. He told me that I could still attend the class for the rest of the semester anyway if I wanted to learn about the subject, to which I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me." I made it very clear that I was there to get a passing grade and move on, and that if he wasn’t going to allow me to earn extra credit, then it looked like I had just earned a free hour on those mornings!

Isn’t this how Christians sometimes view their salvation? Everyone knows that we can’t escape or defeat death on our own, so we become obsessed with figuring out what will happen after we die. This then leads us to put so much attention on the end result and not all of the time between now and then. It’s as if we are telling God to let us know what is needed to “get the passing grade” and then expecting him to let us EARN extra credit when we realize we have fallen short. If that’s what we are counting on, and we realize that we can’t earn our desired result, we are almost certain to give up.

It turns out that God does give us the “syllabus” and tells us exactly what is necessary to “pass the course” of life so that we are permitted into eternity with him. But it’s not something we can simply earn outwardly. It’s a matter of the heart. In Romans 4:1-12, the Apostle Paul begins to explain how Abraham, whom the Jewish people held in very high regard as their forefather, was justified by his faith and not by his actions. This was a shock to those who had ignored the Word of God. As this commentary explains, there were writings from ancient Jewish rabbis that said, “We find that Abraham our father had performed the whole Law before it was given” and “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord." They must have either forgotten or willfully ignored the fact that Abraham was a married man who slept with his wife’s slave to try to have a child (Genesis 16:1-4). That is why Paul basically says that even if Abraham could be justified by his works before men, he would have nothing to boast about before God (Romans 4:2). In other words, most people would consider Abraham a righteous person overall because of all the good things he did despite his sin with Hagar. But in God’s eyes, messing up even one time is the same as breaking the entire law (James 2:10). God’s standard is perfection, which means Abraham’s works were not good enough.

Before Abraham had sinned with his wife’s slave girl, God had told him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:4-5). Right after that, we see that he “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Paul quotes this Scripture as part of his argument in Romans 4:3, then goes on to explain to the readers that this all took place BEFORE Abraham was circumcised. A quick look back in history shows us that the circumcision took place in Genesis 17. The reason this is a critical piece of information for Paul and should be for us is that the Jews put so much emphasis on the physical act of circumcision and believed that was what set them apart from others and made them righteous before God. But the command for males to be circumcised was given to the Jews, so their faulty thinking caused them to consider anyone who was not circumcised (Gentiles) as “unrighteous."

Paul exposes the wrong thinking of the Jews in this passage. It wasn’t Abraham’s work of circumcision or any other act that allowed him to be considered righteous by God. Instead, it was his faith. He believed God. Because it happened before he was circumcised, the Jews needed to face the reality that even those who are not circumcised can be considered righteous if they believe God as Abraham did. This also meant that Abraham was not just the father of the Jews, as they boasted, but also of anyone else who chose by faith to believe God.

The application for you and me is twofold. First, we must remember that we are mistaken if we judge any other human being as unworthy of the righteousness that comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. Second, if you choose not to believe God but think you can be a “good person” and get by that way, you are also mistaken. Trying to gain righteousness through works attempts to put us in control. It’s a system that tells God what he owes us because of our good works. But as we’ve established through Romans thus far, no human being can be good enough on their own to meet God’s perfect standard. God’s system is one of grace, where he gives us something we could not obtain on our own. We can’t choose not to believe him and then come back at the end and find out what we can DO to earn extra credit. His Word tells us ahead of time that only faith will matter. Will you choose to believe God today? It’s your only way to be saved and justified before him. Don’t waste the opportunity he has given you today, since you know there is no “making up for it” later.

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