“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin’” (Romans 4:5-8).
The two focal persons in Jesus’ Jewish heritage were David and Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Abraham was the one promised a land, a nation, and a seed (Genesis 12:1-3). David was the king promised an everlasting dynasty and kingdom with an everlasting throne with one of his descendants seated upon it (2 Samuel 7:13, 16).
Not long after the prophet Nathan had announced these staggering promises to King David (2 Samuel 7), the son of Jesse walked on the roof of his house one evening and espied Bathsheba bathing (2 Samuel 11:2). His sins of lust, adultery, and getting her husband Uriah drunk occurred soon thereafter (2 Samuel 11:3-13). His lawless deeds did not end until he had completely abused his royal authority by having Uriah purposely killed in battle (2 Samuel 11:14-27).
Nathan returned to David and confronted him and the evil he had done in God’s sight. The king had despised God’s commandments and murdered an innocent man; he had despised Jehovah (2 Samuel 12:9-10). He and Bathsheba deserved to die (Leviticus 20:10).
God forgave David; He put his sins away (2 Samuel 12:13). He forgave/justified David, not because he “worked off” his forgiveness through works of merit. The king had not earned or accumulated spiritual brownie points which could be used to negate his guilt. Justice demanded his death. He was guilty of capital spiritual crimes.
Like father Abraham and his lie about Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20), King David’s sins of adultery and murder were forgiven by God’s grace and his faith in God’s word. Because of his penitent confession of his sin, God said He would not hold his guilt against him, and David believed Him. “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13) did not merit God’s grace or earn divine forgiveness. He, in no way, deserved God’s declaration of justification. He simply obeyed God’s conditions for having righteousness imputed to him.
The same is true with the gospel. Those who were guilty of having Jesus crucified and put to death (Acts 2:23) did not earn God’s grace or deserve divine pardon. When told of their guilt they were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Their sins were forgiven when they believed and gladly received God’s word (Acts 2:41) and then obeyed God’s conditions of repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38).
The gospel does not justify sinners by works of merit. No amount of “Hail Mary”s will effect the forgiveness of even one sin. Justification by the gospel of Christ occurs in the same way it did for Abraham and David—not by works of merit but by an obedient faith.