by Brian E. Coombs Pastor of Messiah’s Church
How can a man be in the right before God?
Have you ever asked this question about yourself? Job asked it in the midst of his suffering and grief (Job 9:2). He teaches us that we should ask about our state before God, especially when we undergo trouble, suffering, and the many pains of life. Where there is a belief that salvation is possible, there have been mainly four ways people have answered Job’s question in terms of faith, being right before God (justification), good works, and their relation to each other. Several wrong answers have been given to Job’s question. But there is only one true answer given in the Bible. What follows are wrong answers given by people to this most important question, and then the true answer given in the Bible.
1. GOOD WORKS = JUSTIFICATION
This is the view of Pelagius, a 4th century priest. He said that man is not corrupt in his nature because of Adam’s sin. To Pelagius, mankind did not inherit Adam’s guilt and original sin. Therefore one can be right before God because of his own merit or good works. Pelagius’ thought lies underneath modern Secular Humanism. Where the Bible says otherwise : Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 64:6; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-28; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5
2. FAITH + GOOD WORKS = JUSTIFICATION
This is the official teaching of Roman Catholicism; that in addition to faith, good works are necessary to obtain salvation. The Judaizers of the first century, too, insisted on this in opposition to the apostles’ message. They taught that a man, in addition to faith, must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Where the Bible says otherwise : John 6:28-29; Romans 3:28; 4:5; Galatians 2:15-16, 3:1-3; Ephesians 2:8-10; Acts 13:38-39
3. FAITH = JUSTIFICATION – GOOD WORKS
This is the belief of advocates of the ‘easy believism’ gospel or, ‘cheap grace’ gospel. Sadly, this view is found among confessing Evangelicals. Those who see saving faith as chiefly an intellectual faith advocate this view. Some believe that a sinner may come to Jesus as Savior first, and then submit to Him as Lord later (hopefully). Others believe that emphasizing good works after justification is to encourage legalism or works righteousness. Although both discourage good works as a condition of salvation, they do not clearly insist on good works as evidence of salvation. Where the Bible says otherwise : James 2:14-26; Romans 6:1-2, 17-18; Titus 3:8; 2 Peter 1:3-11
4. FAITH = JUSTIFICATION + GOOD WORKS
This is the biblical position; the right answer to Job’s question. A sinner is justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but NOT through a faith that is alone. In other words, good works will unquestionably characterize a redeemed and justified sinner. Like water out of a pitcher, good works come from saving faith. They are not works that make one right before God, but they are necessary works that flow from being right with God. They show the presence of true, saving faith in the doer. Where the Bible says so : Titus 2:11-14 with 3:8; Ephesians 2:8-10; James 2:14-26; Philippians 1:3-6 with 2:12-13; Galatians 5:6
A Fuller Solution: When we survey the whole of humanity from Adam until now, which is corrupted by sin, the issue is not whether one is already right before God. The issue is how one can become right before God. Notice how Job’s question rightly started with the assumption that man is in the wrong before God. Many today, like those surveyed above, think they are in the right before God. They try to do good. They think they do good. And they think this because they think too well of themselves. They do not regard themselves as in the wrong before God. But their thoughts are contrary to what God has said in His Word, and their trust is contrary to what God has done through His Son.
How does your view compare to what God has said? Are you in the right before God?
Job’s assumption must be your assumption if you are to be saved from sin, death, and judgment. And if it is, then look to Him who is in the right before God, Jesus Christ. He is not only in the right before God, but He is at the right beside God, ready to save each person who comes to Him for salvation, now and evermore. After God later revealed Himself to Job, Job said, ‘I retract; I repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42:6). The good news is that if you do this toward Jesus Christ, God will save you. And then you truly will be in the right before Him.
Not having a righteousness of my own, derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith.—Philippians 3:9