Long ago Bildad the Shuhite, when contemplating the greatness of Jehovah, asked this question: “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4). If not even the stars are pure in His sight, how much less is a man, that is comparatively nothing more than a worm (Job 25:5,6). While not everything Bildad is recorded as saying was exactly right, this question captures the heart of a man who understands his own human failures and God’s perfect goodness. But the question is worthy of consideration: How can a man be justified with God?
For one, the Bible teaches us that we are justified by humility. Jesus said of the penitent publican, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14). No man who is proud or arrogant is going to submit himself to God’s will. Such an attitude certainly goes before the fall and before destruction (Prov. 16:18; 18:12). God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Our words are another measure by which we are justified. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36, 37). Our words are a window to our soul for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45). God has of old condemned bearing false witness (Ex. 20:16) and taking the name of the Lord in vain (Ex. 20:7). Furthermore, the Lord hates a lying tongue, a false witness that beareth lies and he who sows discord among brethren (Prov. 6:16-19). Even though the tongue is just a little member, it can do great damage that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to undo (James 3:5). If we do not confess Christ, we can never be justified (Matt. 10:32,33).
Clearly, however, we are justified by Christ. Paul said as Christians we are in the process of seeking to be justified by Christ (Gal. 2:17). It is by Him that we are justified from all things from which the law of Moses could not justify us (Acts 13:39). Paul said we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 6:11). If we try to be justified through some other means than that revealed in the Scriptures, that is, other than through the Lord, Christ becomes of no effect unto us (Gal. 5:4; Acts 4:12). But how are we justified through Christ?
First, we are justified by His grace (Rom. 3:24; Tit. 3:7). Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. We do not earn it, it is given to us freely, but we must obtain it or access it. God manifested His grace and it has appeared to all men in the form of His Son suffering for us on the cross as the propitiation for our sin (I John 2:1). In that act He has shown the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us (Eph. 2:6,7). But that act alone is not sufficient to save us, for if it was, then all would be saved, for it has appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11). But we are saved and justified by His grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Second, then, we are justified by faith. Paul wrote, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). Jesus said that if we do not believe that He is the Messiah, we will die in our sins. Therefore, faith is essential. Indeed, it is through faith that we have access into the grace of God that brings salvation (Rom. 5:2). But faith alone is also itself not enough.
In the third place, then, we are justified by works. If someone were to say “I have faith” but did not manifest any works, that faith could not save him (James 2:14). What if Noah never built an ark, would he have been saved? James emphatically states that we can see from the scriptures, particularly from the life of Abraham, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:24). This is the only time the expression “faith only” is found in the Bible and we are told that “faith only” does not save. The very fact that we are going to be judged according to our works ought to be evidence enough even to the most skeptical, that works are essential to justification (Rev. 20:11-15).
So then how can a man be justified with God? In a word, through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that we are “justified by the faith” (Gal. 3:24). In the original, the word “faith” is preceded by the article. It is “the faith.” This is the faith once delivered (Jude 3). Notice that verse 25 says that “faith is come.” Faith just didn’t come with Jesus, for Abraham was justified by his faith (Gen. 15:6; Gal. 3:6). Abel demonstrated faith by which he obtained witness that he was righteous (Heb. 11:4). That faith Paul spoke of is the gospel system and it is by it that we are justified. For which cause Paul could write that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed (Rom. 1:16,17).
Eric L. Padgett