By Henry Mahan
Job 9:2; 15:14-16; 25:4-6
This question is asked over and over by Job and his friends. 'How should man be just with God?' (Job 9:2). 'What is man that he should be clean and righteous?' (Job 15:14). 'How then can man be justified with God?' (Job 25:4).
This question of questions arises from an understanding of three things. The holiness of God, the sinfulness of men, and what it means to be justified.
1. God's chief attribute is his holiness!
If there is one word used to describe our God, it is holy (Isa. 6:1- 5). 'Holy and reverend is his name' (Hab. 2:20; Psalm 99:1; Zeph. 1:7). 'The Lord is in his holy temple.' Everything about God and having to do with our God is said to be holy--his holy angels, his Holy Spirit, his presence was manifested in the holy of holies, on the mitre of the High Priest were the words holiness to the Lord, and 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' When God manifests his grace, mercy, and love, it must be in keeping with his holiness. God is holy!
How holy is God? So holy that a fallen Adam must be separated from his presence; so holy that Moses could not look upon him and live; so holy that Uzza was smitten dead for touching the ark; so holy that the seraphims covered their faces before him; so holy that Isaiah, upon discovering God's holiness, cried, 'I am cut off;' so holy that he deserted his beloved Son, bearing our sins on the cross.
2. The word that most accurately describes man is sinner.
Man was not created a sinner. He was created holy and upright, but he became a sinner through the fall (Rom. 5:12, 19). He is 'born in sin' (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3) and incapable of any good in the flesh (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 8:8).
How sinful is man? 'Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually' (Gen. 6:5). 'They are all together become filthy' (Psalm 14:1-3). 'None good, none righteous' (Rom. 3:10-19). The Scriptures declare that men are dead, having no hope and without God in this world (Eph. 2:1, 12).
Men may seek to justify themselves (Luke 16:15) and compare themselves with themselves (2 Cor. 10:12), but in God's sight 'every mouth must be stopped and all the world become guilty.' 'Therefore, by the deeds of the law and works of the flesh shall no flesh be justified' (Rom. 3:19-20).
3. What does it mean to be justified before God?
To be justified is to be without sin, guilt, or blame. 'Just as if I had never sinned!' 'Holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight' (Col. 1:22).
To be justified is to have perfect peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
To be justified is to be free from the curse of the law and free from all charges (Rom. 8:33).
To be justified is to have eternal life and glory (Rom. 8:30).
To be justified is to be totally reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10).
Therefore, knowing the holiness of God, the sinfulness and inability of men, and what it means to be justified, clean, and righteous before God, the question is asked again and again, 'How can man be justified in God's sight?' How can God be just and justify sinners? A man cannot be justified by words (Job 9:20). He cannot be justified by law (Gal. 3:10-11). He cannot be justified by works (Titus 3:5). Then how can man be just with God?
4. The answer is found in Romans 3:21-26.
v. 21. 'The righteousness of God' is not God's own personal holiness, but that righteousness he has (by his grace) provided for and imputed to guilty sinners through his Son (Rom. 10:1-4).
The righteousness of God signifies both the precept of the law and the penalty of the law, Christ having honored every precept in his perfect life and satisfied every debt in his death. 'Without the law' simply means without the sinner's obeying the law, for this Christ certainly did for us. 'It is manifested' in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). Why is the gospel the power of God unto salvation? Because in, through, and by Christ, this righteousness of God is revealed. All we need is accomplished and set forth in the gospel.
vv. 22-23. This righteousness of God is accomplished by the faithfulness of Christ and imputed to those who believe. As the representative man (Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 47), God was made of woman, made under the law, and perfectly obeyed it in order that all whom he represented might have a perfect holiness and standing before God (Gal. 4:4-5; Rom. 4:17-25).
There is no difference between Jew, Gentile, male, or female; all have sinned.
vv. 24-25. Those who believe are made righteous in Christ and are freely and fully justified by his obedience and death, even believers of Old Testament times; for Christ is also the propitiation for their sins.
v. 26. Christ came to the earth in the flesh as the surety of God's eternal covenant, obeyed the law, and died for all our sins in order that the holy God might be just and justifier of all who believe. He is 'a just God and a Saviour' (Isa. 45:21-22). This, dear friends, is the very heart of the gospel of God's glory; for it manifests and magnifies every attribute of our holy God. In Christ, our substitute, 'mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other' (Psalm 85:10).