Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.Romans 4:4(NASB)
The important message that Paul is sharing here is that we are justified by faith and not by works. We are saved by believing the Word of God and not by the keeping of the works of the Law. Paul wants to make a clear distinction between salvation as a gift of God's grace and salvation as a work of man's flesh.
Salvation by grace has nothing to do with what we have done but has everything to do with what Jesus has done for us, while works that we carry out in our own strength are meritorious. Any work we do to earn our salvation adds to Christ's work on the Cross and places God in a position where He is beholden to us!
Man is justified by grace through faith and not by works of the law. We are saved by God's grace and not through man's merit. Salvation is a gift - a free gift from God and not a right that has been earned. We are declared righteous by God through our faith in His Word and not the good deeds we carry out. If we were required to earn our salvation, we would consider it a legitimate payment, for wages are not considered a gift if the person has to work for them but rather an obligation of an employer, "for one who works, his wage is not credited as a favour, but as what is due."
Throughout Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, we see that salvation is not a reward for good works but is always given by believing the Word of God. We are not justified because we merit God's favour through keeping the Law, but through faith. Justification by grace through faith is not a new way to be saved.
We see that Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah... Ruth, David, Isaiah, and many other saints in both the Old and New Testaments were all saved by grace through faith and not by works of the Law. We see Christ's disciples, the apostle Paul, the woman at the well, the man who was blind, and Joseph of Arimathea were justified by their faith and not by their good deeds - and the same continues to be true today.
Paul compares receiving something from God as a recompense for work we do (a reward for OUR works) with being given an unmerited gift for the work Christ did (a free gift of grace for what CHRIST did for us). The first is a deserved entitlement while the second is an undeserved favour. The former is a well-earned wage while the latter is an unmerited gift. Meriting a reward for carrying out a specified task is very different from simply receiving an unconditional, good-will gift as a kindness.
Paul contrasted the receiving of a wage for an accomplished task and being given a free, unmerited, undeserved gift of gracious kindness. He drew our attention to the fact that in the former we deserve what we receive, while in the latter we receive that which we certainly do not deserve. "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favour, but as what is due."
Paul may seem to be labouring the point... that being entitled to a wage or receiving a reward for working should never ever be considered the same as being given a free, unmerited, undeserved favour - and yet, then as now, there are many believers who insist that although salvation is a faith thing - we can't be saved without adding some works.
This is NOT what the Bible teaches. A reward for something we do is not the same as a free gift of God's grace, for what we believe and Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 to emphasis that salvation ALWAYS has and always will be by grace through faith in God. "Then Abraham believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." And the same is true of Abel and Noah, Sarah and Ruth, David and Isaiah, and all those who are identified in the Word of God as men and women of faith as we read in Hebrews 11.
Praise God that we are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ at Calvary and receive forgiveness of sins and life everlasting as a free, unmerited gift of God's goodness and grace.
Heavenly Father, thank You that my salvation does not depend on what I have done but on what I believe. Thank You that I am not saved by what I do, but by what Christ has done on my account. Thank You that I am saved by grace through faith in the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ. May I also live every day of my life by grace through faith and may my prideful self remain nailed to the Cross, as the indwelling life of Christ works through me, to Your praise and glory. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.