5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
5 But to him who does not work
This verse is the antithesis to verse four—“to him who works.” The person who works for salvation shuts out God who gives salvation freely, by grace. The thesis here is that a person does not work for a salvation wage, but receives eternal life without any effort of his own. The idea is not to work, in a religious sense.
The person acceptable to God is not one who stands before Him waiting for the payoff of eternal life for good work done for Him. No one has any works to plead to God. The justified person is completely without merit. This person comes to God without a plea.
but believes on [trusts] Him who justifies the ungodly,
The justified person does not work but merely “believes.” Belief here is in God, who justifies those not oriented to Him—“the ungodly.”
The word “ungodly” refers to someone who is impious. It is someone who does not hold reverence for God and actively opposes God. Abraham, as a pagan, did not believe on Jehovah but worshiped gods of the pantheon. He was “ungodly” in that sense. The ungodly are more than sinners; these are people who disregard the God of the universe in their lives.
“Ungodly” is in the singular—God does not justify communities but individuals.
his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Abraham was the kind of “ungodly” person God calculates as righteous because of his belief in God’s promises. He was the first Gentile proselyte to Judaism. God declared him right by his faith. This is not to regard his faith as a meritorious work but the absence of all work. Thus, there is no claim on God whatever by merit. God Himself does all the justifying.
God justifies us, not because we work for salvation, but because we rest on His promise for it.
Christianity does not operate on what we do for God; to the contrary, it rests on the merits of Christ, not on our merit. God justifies the ungodly, not good people.
Ro 5:6, For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.