When we have truly been saved, good works will always follow. When Jesus takes up residence in our lives, it should make a difference. Paul teaches that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. Faith is always accompanied by good works.
That’s a picture of the human race: We feel exposed, unacceptable, and ashamed. Our whole lives are spent as a quest to re-clothe ourselves. We’re always looking for what sets us apart and makes us “right.” We’re always looking for something to validate us, something to prove that we’ve earned our place in this world.
The book of Romans was written right after Jews returned to the church in Rome after being banished for five years by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18). Prior to their banishment, Jews had basically been in charge of the church because they had been the first Christians, and Gentiles had been added later. But after they left, Gentiles took charge.
I often get the question, “How were people saved in the Old Testament?” To answer this question, I usually follow the Apostle Paul’s logic in Romans 4. When God chose Abraham to father a nation and promised to one day bring salvation into the world through him, Abraham and his wife were already in their 70s. Abraham didn’t just believe in God in general; he believed a specific promise God had made, and he adjusted his life around it.
When God promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation, there were a lot of discouraging things Abraham could have thought about as he considered his future. But according to the Apostle Paul, Abraham didn’t think about those things. Instead, he chose to focus on God’s power. Depending on God alone like that can be scary, but Abraham did it. Unlike Abraham, most of us prefer a faith where we depend a little bit on God and a little bit on us.
We tend to see people in categories: the successful and the unsuccessful, the intelligent and the dull, the beautiful and the ugly, the fit and the fat, the rich and the poor. Our natural impulse is to assess everyone around us, ranking ourselves against them. We scoff at those “beneath” us and resent those “above” us. But before God, we are all sinners. And there is only one kind of sinner.