God Justifies the Ungodly

by Mike Ratliff

1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8 ESV)

I was in a discussion recently where the person I was conversing with was very upset because he felt that when we raise the standard high in our churches that it can be very discouraging to those who are not as spiritually mature as others. He believed that churches need to be more easy going and less demanding. He also believed that all we have been saying lately against seeker-sensitive church models is unfair because in those churches those who may not be very mature can feel comfortable and welcome. My heart broke while reading his comments because I understood exactly what he was talking about and I began to see that there is another group of Christians out there that are drawn to churches that are not so demanding on doctrinal issues as in a typical Reformed church. They are the ones who feel that they will never measure up. They feel inadequate to the apparent “Holiness” seen in the more mature members in those churches.

Well, I don’t know what sort of Christian would ever place those sort of demands on other Christians. However, I do know that Christians are not perfect and not one of them can stand before God and say they deserve their salvation. All of their spiritual growth since their salvation would not have happened outside of God’s grace. Their spiritual gifts were just that, gifts. None of us deserve this salvation. Our good standing before God is a gift from our Heavenly Father that not one of us deserve.

I have heard many atheists say something like this, “I hate your stupid religion (Christianity) because your God saves wicked men.” I remember when Ted Bundy, before he was executed several years ago, professed faith in Jesus Christ. The howl from some people that this evil serial killer could possibly be in Heaven after he died showed the absolute absurdity of Christianity. However, as the passage that I placed at the top of this post says about God that He is, “Him who justifies the ungodly.” (v5)

What most people, including many professing Christians, do not understand is that no one is righteous before God. All of us who profess that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour were in no better standing before God than the worst murderer that has ever lived prior to our salvation. I suppose some people may believe they are better than other people because of their innate goodness, but that holds no water with God.

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

Because of Man’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) all people born since (except our Lord Jesus Christ) were born spiritually dead in their sins. Some people who are not Christians do good works. Many Christians do good works within their own strength and abilities. All of that, to God, is as filthy rags.

6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NKJV)

No matter how “good” people become outside of God’s grace, to God it is worthless. No one can do enough good things in their own abilities to be declared righteous before God. However, don’t many Christians do this very thing? Don’t we all know of Christians who have become self-righteous and, because of that, they look down their noses at those of us who may not live such perfect Christian lives as them? Yes, this piece is about how God saves the ungodly, but it is also about how Christians have no business looking down their noses at other people with a heart full of pride and self-righteousness.

God has given a task to some of His people to exercise the discernment He has given them in order to proclaim the truth about apostasy and heresies in His Church. However, they are never to do this with a spirit of self-righteousness. They must speak the truth in love always seeking to heal and bring people from darkness into light. This role is not one of a judge. Judgment is God’s not Man’s. If we exercise our discernment, but end up attacking people in a judgmental way, we have stepped across a line that will always result in very undesirable conflicts that do not glorify God nor edify His body. Remember, no one is righteous before God, but Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)

What has to happen for sinners to be declared righteous before God? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:5 ESV) What does this mean that Abraham believed God? What does that do for us? If we are in Christ then we have “faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Because of this God treats us as if we had been perfectly just and as a result, He has made us an heir with of God and a joint-heir with Christ. Although we are sinners by nature, we are treated as if we are deserving. We are loved with as much love as if we had always been godly whereas before we were ungodly. This is Amazing Grace.

Since all people are ungodly sinners and God saves sinners then this makes the Gospel fully available to who? Isn’t it available to all people and shouldn’t it be preached to them? I am Reformed, but I believe as Charles Spurgeon did, that the Gospel must be freely preached to every soul possible. God will save those who are His, but that is through the preaching of the Good News. We must never forget that not one of us deserves our salvation. All of us are guilty before God, but God’s pardon is for the guilty. Jesus said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” (Mark 2:17 KJV) Therefore, the great remedies of grace and redemption are for the sick in soul. They cannot be for the whole. Those who think they are good enough without this pardon are in for a very rude awakening because Self-Righteousness is a delusion straight from the enemy of our Souls.

The following quote is from Charles Spurgeon’s All of Grace. “Do you think that you must be lost because you are a sinner? This is the reason you can be saved. Because you realize that you are a sinner, I would encourage you to believe that grace is ordained for such as you. The hymnwiter Joseph Hart even dared to say, ‘A sinner is a sacred thing; The Holy Ghost hath made him so.’ It is true that Jesus seeks and saves those who are lost (Luke 19:10). He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words or calling themselves “miserable sinners” in false humility, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors on such, neither on weekdays nor on Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins. His heart’s blood was spilled to wash our deep crimson stains that nothing else can remove.

He who is a dirty sinner is the kind of man that Jesus Christ came to make clean. A gospel preacher on one occasion preached a sermon from the verse, “Now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees” (Luke 3:9). He delivered such a sermon that one of his hearers said to him, “One would have thought that you have been preaching to criminals. Your sermon ought to have been delivered in the county jail.” “Oh, no,” said the good man, “if I were preaching in the county jail, I would not preach from that text. There I would preach, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). This is true.” The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” – Charles Spurgeon

I know that most reading this are Christians, however, there could also be those who are not or are not sure about their salvation. To the Christian, if you know lost people around you then share the good news with them in the power of the Holy Spirit. To those reading this who are not Christian or are not sure about your salvation, this message is one of good news. Yes, you are a sinner, but so am I and so are all other Christians. The difference is that all in Christ have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. They have seen their utter lost condition before God against His perfect Righteousness and Justice. They have believed that Jesus Christ died in their place to pay the price for their sin. They have confessed and repented of their sin. They have, in turn, surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is their Lord and Saviour. At that moment of belief, God the Father declared them Righteous and, in fact, imputed the Righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account. Then He adopted them into His family. He is in the process of changing them from the inside out in order to build their character to be like Jesus Christ. They also now have the Holy Spirit within them. If you are in the place where you know you are lost and know that the only hope you have is found in Christ, then now is time of belief for you. Simply turn your heart to God, confess that you are a sinner to Him and ask that He forgive you. Turn from your sin and ask Jesus Christ to save you and be your Lord. There is nothing magical about the words you use. Simply believe, confess, repent, and surrender to Jesus as Lord. Now, if you have done this, then let others know. Get into your Bible and find a good church that preaches the gospel so that you can be discipled. l would really like to hear from you as well. Email me through the contact me link on this blog.

Jesus Paid it All by Elvina M. Hall 1865

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”


Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim,
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.


And now complete in Him
My robe His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.


Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.


When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.


And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down
All down at Jesus’ feet.


Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “God Justifies the Ungodly

  1. Mike – are you not called to preach, my brother? It certainly seems so. Blessings in Christ for being faithful to His Word. May He continue to be your wisdom and sufficiency.


  2. We don’t have the last two verses of the song in the hymnal we use…but we often sing Jesus Paid it All…at the Lord’s Table..
    Mike, oftentimes I see folks doing things that are sinful.but He has given me to see them differently…and I’m saying to Him, ‘Lord only You and I know how much worse I am than those people! and through all of eternity, I’m never going to fathom why You chose me for Your own! But I wouldn’t have it otherwise, no way!!!’
    I remember, reading your comments on Slice of Laodicea (?) back in 2005 was it?….I used to think I would like to get to know you, because there was a loving and non-judgemental spirit in what you wrote.
    The Lord keep you that way.


  3. Thanks Celine. Yes I think it was 2005. Well we will walk as brother and sister in eternity with our Lord. I for one cannot imagine what that will be like, but not one of us will be able to say we deserved to be there.


  4. {They are the ones who feel that they will never measure up. They feel inadequate to the apparent “Holiness” seen in the more mature members in those churches.}….
    How do the mature members get to maturity? IITim 2:15..study to show thyself approved a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly handeling the word of God…I believe the inadequacy comes because they are being confronted internally by the Holy Spirit to take their walk and bring it up a notch or two and taking the time to “sit” down and study, giving the Lord the “time” it takes to get schooled from the Lord and stop devoting so much time to ones own self gratifications outside of the word…..Correct me if I am wrong please…


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