After a couple of months of complicated theological messages, let’s go simple this morning. My outline may be hundreds of years old and preached by thousands of gospel evangelists. But the flesh on those old bones are mine as you will probably see in a few minutes. It is a topical message on the subject of salvation from sin – or more literally “justification before God.”
You might think that a sermon on justification should come from the New Testament not the Old. And in fact, we will spend most of our time in the New Testament. But it has to be remembered that our Bible is not made up of two books. It is one book with two major divisions. And the message, although coming from opposite directions is the same in both halves. It is basically explained here, originating in what might be the first book ever inspired by God.
“How then can a man be justified with God, or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” Verse 5 is an example of Hebrew poetic parallelism – a statement and then a restatement. The second half of the verse somewhat repeats the first part of the verse. This is very common in Proverbs, but it is found throughout the Old Testament. A paraphrase of this verse based on the basic meanings of the most important words, would be something like this: “How can a man be made clean in the sight of God; how can a natural human being he be translucent or transparent in God’s sight.” The verse doesn’t supply the answer, but it helps us to understand the question.
And this may be one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask. The scientist looking into the explanations of DNA is wasting his time if he hasn’t already found the answer to Bildad’s question. What is the point of knowing the number of the stars, when neither the astronomer nor the stars are pure in God’s sight? Job had been asking why God does what He does; why do children die, why does God permit the devastating storm, and why does He let terrorists destroy civilization. But the more important question will always be: “How can a man be justified with God.” In reading between the words and lines, there is an implied difficulty – an impossibility. Let me assure you that despite the difficulty and human impossibility, there is a way to be justified before God.
It is a blessing to know that God personally justifies a few sinners Himself.
“It is God that justifieth” – Romans 8:33. Let’s say that for some reason you want to appear to be someone really important; maybe to impress. There are skilled people – forgers and others – who can make you into someone you are not. They can create paper work that gives you a new name, a new history, and even apparent money. A trained surgeon can give you a new face, and wardrobe people can dress you like royalty. You can use fancy letterheads, write your fake name on ornate checks, and use credit cards which have no limits. But it would all eventually come to an end, because you are who you are. Finger prints, eye scans and DNA cannot be changed or faked.
Or perhaps I could pretend to be some religious priest and absolve you of all your past – even your sins. But my declaration carries no weight before God – I cannot actually remove your sin. Job earlier echoed Bildad’s statement when he said, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one” – Job 14:4. And the Psalmist said, No one “can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” – Psalm 49:7. If I had all the skills, money, titles, divinity degrees, desire or love, I can’t justify you before God. And if you had all these things, you couldn’t do it either.
Only one can justify a sinner or declare him righteous in the sight of God – and that is God Himself. Only the judge can officially declare an accused man to be innocent. All the assertions of the accused mean nothing in themselves. The lawyers say whatever they are told to say or what they want to say. But the Lord sees right through them. There is a sense in which the victim has something to say – he might forgive his murderer. But, of course, the victim can’t do much, because he’s dead. Again, this comes back to Jehovah, because all sin is against God, and He cannot die. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” – Psalm 51:4.
When we need things to be done, we want them to be done right – correctly, thoroughly. When you had your appendix removed, you wanted that surgeon to get it all and to sew you up properly. When your roof was torn up, you expected a thorough job, permanently repaired. Thank God that the nearly impossible task of justification is something which the Almighty has chosen to do. We can be sure that it is done right, because all the works of God are right and holy. We can be sure it is done eternally, because “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” The justified sinner – the sinner who has been declared righteous by God – cannot fall or be lost. “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” – Titus 3:4-7. If a man is justified by GOD, then all the credit must go to God Himself.
But if a man be justified with God it has been done meritoriously by Christ.
America’s judicial system is in many ways a mockery to God and His Word. A man can kill another man and in a few years be out on the streets again. A criminal can be pardoned of his crime without any consideration of the victim. But what if the victim was the judge? What a difference that would make. Most crimes may involve sin, but sin must not be looked at as a mere crime. As I just pointed out when it comes to sin, Jehovah is both the victim and the judge. So when God absolves a sinner, that sinner is completely exonerated.
And it is all because of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – is the cause and source of justification. But the Son of God is the grounds and means of that justification and applied forgiveness. He laid the foundation which made it possible for sinners to be declared righteous in God’s sight.
Lay aside what you know about law & order – the crime, the police, the district attorneys, the judge & the trial. The moment sin is committed the omnipresent God – the victim of the crime – omnisciently judges that sin. A trial with arguing lawyers, presentation of evidence, deliberation of juries – is not necessary. The process of time and a two week trial is not necessary. When the law of God pronounces the word “guilty” the Son of God, the Saviour, when He chooses to do so, instantly steps forward, taking the sinner’s place before God’s wrath.
The grounds of justification is Christ’s willingness to replace the sinner in his execution. More specifically, it is when He does actually take the guilty man’s place. “For we have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” But “being justified freely by the his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins.” Those three verses in Romans 3 speak of two important theological concepts – one positively and other negatively. “Propitiation” speaks of a satisfaction. God is satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice for the sinner. And that sinner is “declared righteous” – he is “justified” before God by the death of the Saviour. Our salvation is not just deliverance from Hell, it is our enrobement in the righteousness of the Lord. “All to Jesus goes the glory; O this story must be told. All to Jesus goes the glory; fill our mouths, Lord, make us bold.”
“How then can a man be justified with God?” Practically speaking it is by faith.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”– Romans 5:1. When did God justify the soul of His elect? This verse says that it is a current possession of the Christian. Job and Bildad seemed to be looking for it now and later. But Paul later speaks of it as having taken place in eternity past – that is, in God’s eternal heart. Romans 8:28-30 – “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
The other day, Judy and I went to J.C. Penney to buy some socks. Then Wednesday I wore one pair for the first time. It might be argued that they became mine on Monday when we bought them. It might also be argued it wasn’t until Wednesday that I made them my own by putting one of them on. But when were those socks manufactured? Didn’t the company which made them intend for someone to wear them? Me?
Despite the extreme difficulty of justification, I have been justified by God through the Lord Jesus Christ. And when was that? Just as my socks were manufactured long before I bought them, my justification was created long before my grandfather Adam was created. And you might say that it was put on the rack awaiting my purchase, when Jesus hung on the cross. And since Jehovah is sovereign & above time, He knew & guaranteed that I would be the purchaser. But for all intents and purposes; practically speaking, I was justified when I slipped the robe of Jesus’ perfect righteousness over my shoulders.
Paul concluded that sinners are justified by faith in Romans 3:28. And he told the Galatians – that “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” And “the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” What promise is that Paul? It is the promise of salvation by God’s grace – “justification.” “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
Why did God choose to include faith in His divine plan to redeem a few wretched sinners? I am not smart enough to know the full answer. But I do know, based upon the revelation of God, that God chose to use faith in order to eliminate our sinful boasting. Romans 3 – God is perfectly righteous “that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boating then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith….”
What again was your question Bildad? “How then can a man be justified with God?” Paul’s answer is “a man is justified by faith” – by faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not justified by any kind of religious or righteous good works. He is not justified by his prayers – even the so-called “sinner’s prayer.” He is not justified by his remorse over sin. He is justified by faith in Christ.
But there is one more thing. He is justified evidentially by works.
James 2 – “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
Let it be clearly understood that there are no mistakes or contradictions in the Bible. James cannot declare something opposite to the declarations of the Apostle Paul. But don’t they do exactly that? No they don’t.
There have been a few heavily overcast days recently – not just cloudy, but foggy, drizzly, dark. But then once in a while the sun peeks out and we remember her from weeks gone by. Something must exist before it can be seen – just like the sun – it has been there every day for the last few thousand years. Just because we haven’t seen her, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t there.
And similarly justification must exist before it can be seen. James doesn’t contradict Paul; he merely says that it takes work to see justification in someone. I don’t mean it takes work on the part of the observer to pierce through the cloud and fog of life. I mean that when a person is a child of God, regenerated, alive in Christ, his life will give evidence of that life through certain things he does.
Justification can been seen in that it rises to the surface, it slices through the fog. It can be seen in that person’s hatred of sin. It can be seen in his love of righteousness, his love of Christ, his love of other believers. Love is an action verb – it does things to prove its existence. It is hospitable, it shares, it is joyful, it is compassionate.Works do not justify, but they are a barometer proving that the soul is rising toward Heaven.
I am not sure that as Bildad spoke with Job that he knew the answer to his own question. “How then can a man be justified with God, or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” But there is an answer – He is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you been justified before the eyes of God? Are you justified? Have you been to Jesus? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?