Credit and Debit
There's the story of a frog that fell into a pail of milk. He tried to jump out, but the sides were too high. So he just paddled around and around in the milk. Eventually, it was churned into butter, and he was able to jump out and free himself. It's a cute story, but it illustrates what a lot of people think salvation is like: "Just keep paddling, do your best, and you'll get to heaven."
How much different is the truth found in the Bible! Chapter 4 of Romans is a wonderful explanation of justification by faith, and I invite you to ponder it. I want to focus on one verse: "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3).
The fact is, righteousness doesn't come by the Law, or by baptism, or by joining a church, or by any self-effort ... but by faith! "Accounted" in this verse is the Greek word logizomai. It's a banking term, and it means to apply something to one's credit.
Picture a financial ledger. There's a debit side and a credit side. Abraham, with his pagan background, was spiritually bankrupt. His ledger was packed on the debit side, with nothing on the credit side. But the moment he said, "I believe you, God," God changed the ledger and wrote "righteous" on the credit side.
So it is with us. On our debit side is sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). On our credit side, we try to put "works," "religion," "church," "baptism," "good deeds," etc. But the credit of all those things isn't enough to match the debit. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22).
The point is, for there to be enough on the credit side, somebody had to die. So God sent Jesus to die for us. It's as if God calculated the total number of sins that you individually (and the world as a whole) would ever commit, and He decided that the shed blood of His Son was adequate payment for it all!
So if you believe — not in your works, but in His finished work — the credit side of your ledger reads "righteous." It's "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). Abraham isn't the "father of those who work," he is "the father of all those who believe...that righteousness might be imputed to them also" (Romans 4:11).
We are saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ. When we trust in that, God says, "I receive you. I declare you righteous." Sovereign, holy God credits sinful man with the righteousness of Jesus Christ!
We're not left to paddle on our own. God's wonderful accounting system has made a way for us!