Study 4 JUSTIFICATION: BY FAITH OR BY WORKS?
(Scripture Portion: Romans 5: 1-11)
The question asked in Job 25:4 is a tremendous one. How can man, who by nature is sinful (Romans 3:10), the enemy of God (Romans 5:10), condemned (John 3:18) and living under God’s wrath (John 3:36), be justified with God? To be justified means to be made righteous, acquitted and cleared from every accusation, and God has provided and offered to man a method whereby He is able to look upon him as if he had never sinned at all.
How can man be justified with God? There is only one way, and that is God’s way. Right through human history man has substituted his own way, a false way, a way that has seemed right but that most certainly leads to disappointment and death - look up Proverbs 14:12. Let us examine:
- Man’s way - a false way, the way of human works, of doing, of merit, of law-keeping, of trying. Man says, “If I do the best I can then God will accept me.”
- God’s Way - the true way, the divinely-provided way, the way of faith in the Person and the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whose death and resurrection alone we can be justified. God says, “I will accept you the moment you trust in My Son and in His precious blood.”
Now compare two clear illustrations of man’s way and God’s way of justification.
- In Genesis 4:1-7 we read of two men who each brought an offering to the Lord. Cain brought the works of his hands, and his offering was rejected; Abel brought a sacrifice, and his offering was accepted. Cain’s way was the way of human works, which is not acceptable to the Lord - look up Jude 11. Abel’s way was the God-appointed way through the shedding of blood - look up Hebrews 9:22.
- In Luke 18:9-14 we read of two men who went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee was resting entirely upon his good works, and he was not justified before God. The publican was deeply conscious of his sin. He asked God to have mercy on him, the sinner, and in praying this prayer he indicated his trust and faith in Another who had shed His blood for him - look up 1 John 4:10. This man was justified because he was not depending upon his own works but upon the finished work of Another.
How up-to-date these two portions of scripture are! People today are either relying upon their own works for justification and acceptance before God, or they are relying upon the Lord Jesus and His finished work; it is either justification by works or by faith. How many rely upon church-going, prayer-saying, charity, service, etc., and some upon confession to a priest, doing penance - works, works, works! This is man’s way, and it is not acceptable to God.
Turn to the Letters to the Romans and to the Galatians and see what the apostle Paul says in relation to this matter of justification. Look up and study the references carefully, and notice that in each one it is clearly stated that we are justified by faith, and not by works.
- Romans 3:20-22; 3:26 and 28; 4:5 - and compare Acts 13:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-10 and Titus 3:5.
- Galatians 2:16; 3:6-8, 11, 13-14, 22, 24 and 26.
1. THREE REASONS WHY JUSTIFICATION CANNOT BE BY WORKS
- Because by nature and by practice we are sinful, and therefore we are incapable of producing any works that are acceptable to a holy God. Look up Isaiah 64:6, and compare Galatians 3:10 and James 2:10. If we are to be saved by works, by keeping the Law, we must give perfect obedience; we must keep the Law fully, in every point. But we are absolutely incapable of doing this! “Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law’s demands…” Even if we could keep the Law from now on, what about our past sins - Ecclesiastes 3:15?
- Because if we could be justified by works, then Christ’s coming, His death and blood-shedding were wholly unnecessary. In Galatians 2:20 we read “the Son of God, who loved me … and gave Himself for me”. He died upon the cross as our Substitute. But see what it says in verse 21: if we did not need a substitute then “Christ died for nothing”. If I could be saved by Law-keeping and by works, then why was it necessary for the Lord Jesus to die for me at all? - compare Galatians 5:2 and 4.
- Because justification by works would be grossly unfair and unjust and inconsistent with the character of God. Imagine two young fellows. One is brought up in an ungodly home and from earliest childhood is taught to do evil. The other is brought up in a godly home and from earliest childhood is trained to love the Lord. Which fellow stands the better chance of being justified - if justification could be obtained by good works? Obviously, the second. But would this be a fair method? No - and it is not God’s method!
2. THREE REASONS WHY JUSTIFICATION IS BY FAITH ALONE, PLUS NOTHING!
- Because this is God’s prescribed plan and method for justifying sinners. All the above scriptures indicate this most clearly, and to them can be added many others such as John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 1:16; 10:9-10, all of which are summed up in Galatians 3:11! If I am to be justified then it must be in God’s way - “it is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).
- Because this method alone is consistent with the grace of God. In Romans 3:24 and Titus 3:7, we read that we are “justified freely by His grace”. But what is grace? Grace is the boundless love and mercy of God which is given freely and fully to undeserving sinners. The very principle of grace is that the gift offered is absolutely free, that it cannot be purchased or worked for - look up Ephesians 2:8-10. If justification were by works, then the grace of God would be rendered void.
- Because millions of sinners have proved that the faith method of justification is effective. They have cast away all reliance upon their own works; they have trusted alone in Christ’s atoning blood, and they have been justified. In Romans 5:1-11, the apostle gives us seven results of justification. Please look them up!
Upon what are you trusting for justification, for salvation? Upon yourself, your own works and efforts? or, have you put your whole faith and confidence and trust in the Lord Jesus and in Him alone?