In the above passage of Romans, Paul is explaining and justifying imputed righteousness. I encounter so many evangelicals who are skeptical of imputed righteousness, yet, for humanity, imputed righteousness is the only available righteousness. Paul declares in the previous chapter in Romans that by the "works of the Law" NO ONE will be justified. So then, what does it mean "but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous?" It means that people must believe what God declares. This would begin with all that is recorded that God said. Genesis 1:31 HCSB "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day." All that he had made included humanity. God had declared humanity to be good. When Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden, it was because they thought that they were evil. Why did they think they were evil? It was because they did not believe God, and had partaken of the fruit. The serpent had promised Eve the fruit of the tree would make her wise. Paul explained it this way in Romans one..."claiming to be wise, they became fools." The knowledge of good and evil allowed them to doubt God. They were unwilling to accept God's way of being righteous.
Paul states that God's way is not found in having humanity be righteous by works of the law. God's way was to declare humanity righteous, simply because he was God, and he was the creator. Then, if one would simply believe God, God would in-turn credit that belief as righteousness. Words matter, and evangelical theology is so twisted that many times we make words of no effect with our traditions. John writes: John 1:29 HCSB "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" The word for world is kosmos and it means literally the world and everything in it. This includes ALL humans. If Calvinism, and Reformed theology was correct about election, this verse would read "who takes away the sin of the elect." However, that is not what was written. Here again we have a declaration of God uttered through the Prophet John the Baptist. Jesus was the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the whole world. The question is, do you believe it?
Again, evangelical orthodox doctrine confuses sin and sins. Sin is unbelief. Sins are infractions of Old Covenant Law. Sins are merely a manifestation of a deeper reality. The deeper reality is SIN (unbelief.) The children of Israel of the Exodus, died in the wilderness because of un-belief. They did not believe God when promised them the land. They used the knowledge of good and evil, informed by their eyes and ears, and allowed the fear of what they saw, to prevent them from entering in, and taking the land that God had given them. I think that Total Depravity should be replaced by Total Inefficacy. The true state of the saint post fall is the inability to have faith without the aid of the Holy Spirit. One is not totally depraved, but totally in-efficacious. I think this change is demanded to accurately describe a life without the knowledge of the gospel of Christ. While I will admit that total inefficacy can lead to depraved behavior, even the best person, that tries to be positive and faithful, still has considerable doubt without the supernatural effect of the gospel assured by the Holy Spirit. I admit that the person that has believed the gospel can have doubt as well, but it is different as the Holy Spirit always wins out in the debate. At the end of the day, the one believing the gospel is confidently convinced that she/he is a child of God no matter what.
Even knowing that Jesus took away the SIN of the world, does not diminish the need for the gospel to be rehearsed and proclaimed over and over. It is the way in which the Holy Spirit supernaturally transforms. The one continually hearing the gospel of grace, develops such a deep love for God that it cannot help but transform their behavior. It saddens me so deeply that the main doctrine of evangelical Christianity, so pathetically misses the mark and so adversely misinforms the hearers.