How Can I be Right with God

March 23, 2014 / No. 3716

Dear Radio Friends,
How can I be right with God? This is the important question we consider today from the mouth of Job, in Job 9:2: How should man be just with God?
I say, it is an important question. It is the most important question that any person could ever ask. Have you asked this question: “How can I be right with God?”
This was the important question that the Reformation of the sixteenth century asked. How can man be justified before God? This question distinguishes Reformed truth from Roman Catholic error. And this is a question that is still being asked and disputed today in Reformed circles. How are we justified? Is it by our obedience, by our good works? Or is it partly by our works and partly by the good works of others? Are we perhaps justified because of our act of faith, so that God takes faith as a substitute for works? Or is our justification entirely by grace, through faith, in the complete righteousness of Jesus Christ?
To be justified is to be accepted by God. It is for God to say to the sinner, you deserve no punishment, you are completely forgiven for all your sins, you are received as My friend, you are My adopted child, and you will receive life in heaven to eternity with Me. To be justified is to be declared innocent, to be freed forever from any punishment for sin, and to become an heir of eternal life.
Do you see how important this question is?
The alternative to justification is condemnation. It is for God the judge to declare that a person is guilty, and that he will suffer for his sins eternally in the torments of hell. On the other hand, to be justified is to be made right with God, and to be saved from the wrath to come.
The Christian faith is not a religion of morals, of good works that we must do in order to be accepted by God. No, the gospel is the good news of deliverance from both the consequences and the power of sin, through Jesus Christ. God is righteous and He will and must punish sin. The gospel teaches that Jesus Christ has taken God’s wrath on Himself in our place so that we can be right with God.
Job asks, “How should a man be just with God?”
Job asks this question in the context of his suffering. Justification is not an abstract theological idea, which has no connection to our life here on earth. No, it is a part of the answer to why the righteous suffer, and we are going to see that today.
Job’s question is rhetorical. That is, the answer is implied in the question itself. How can a man be just with God? The answer: he cannot, that is, standing all by himself before God, man cannot be justified. The force of Job’s question is this, that no mere man can be justified before God. It is impossible, and it is foolish to try.
Job asks this question as he contemplates a hearing with God. Job’s friends have been his comforters. They have tried to evaluate his circumstances and come up with answers, but their answers are wrong. They are no help to Job. They are miserable comforters. And so Job, knowing that God will be just and merciful, wants a hearing with God, but as he contemplates it, he realizes that such a hearing would be futile. There is no way that he, a mere man, could justify himself before God, and say to God, “I don’t deserve all this suffering.”
Job realizes this as he thinks about God. He understands how great God is. That is what we have in verses 3 through 13—the greatness of God.
It is very easy for all of us to justify ourselves, and usually we do this by comparing ourselves to others. There is always someone else whose life is worse than mine, and who does things that I would not even think about doing. We think of ourselves as “good Christians,” and we think of ourselves as worthy of God’s favor and love. But when we stand before God, it is impossible to have a works-based righteousness. That is what Job says here.
In verse 3 Job says, If God would contend with man, if He would take him to court, man would not be able to answer God’s questions one time in a thousand. He means that there are thousands of uncovered sins that God could bring against any one of us, that we would not be able to excuse. We may be able to put on a show of piety before people, but God is not impressed by it. Even if we would acknowledge all our known sins before God, we would not have begun to express the depth of it. In Psalm 19 David says, “Who can understand his errors?” That is, who can know all of his own sins? And so David prays, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” He, like Job, knows that God sees much more clearly than we do, and when our conscience convicts us, how much more does not God know our sins? And should we stand before God, He will not be satisfied merely with what we confess, but He will judge us according to what He sees and knows in us.
And so Job declares in verse 4 that God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. He is the omniscient and omnipotent God, and no one would dare to go to court with so powerful an opponent. Job asks, “Who hath hardened himself against God, and hath prospered?”
Besides this, God is the sovereign and the invisible God. This is what Job describes in verses 5-13. God can do whatever He pleases in the earth. He removes mountains, He shakes the earth, He commands the sun to rise, He seals up the stars, He spreads out the heavens. No one can stop Him or say to Him, “What doest thou?” God does things beyond our understanding, and His ways are higher than ours. “He doeth great things past finding out; yea and wonders without number…. Behold, he taketh away, and who can hinder him?”
And so Job, in verses 15 through 31, asks series of three questions that show the impossibility and folly of self-justification.
First he says, “If I would get a hearing with God, what would I say?” In verses 14-15: “How shall I answer him, and choose out my words to reason with him?”
Second, he says, “If I could prove my innocence to God, what would that achieve?” In verse 20: “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” In the very act of self-justification, I would prove by my defensiveness that I am guilty.
Third, he says, “If I would just act as though nothing had happened, if I would smile and wash myself and change my clothes, still God would declare me a guilty sinner.” In verses 27-28: “If I say, I will forget my complaint, I will leave off my heaviness, and comfort myself,…I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent.” The defendant may be well dressed and mild mannered, and he may smile as if he has done nothing, but that does not keep the judge from saying, “Guilty!”
Job realizes the greatness of God. In verse 32: “He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.”
And so, back to Job’s question at the beginning of the chapter, “How should a man be just with God?” The answer, It is impossible.
What Job is saying is this, that every man stands on the same footing before God. The wicked and the righteous together, are damn-worthy before God. The wealthy and prosperous, as well as the poor and afflicted, are condemned before God. No man can justify himself before God. It is folly to try to do so.
And this is a foundational truth of the Christian gospel, the truth of the total depravity of man, and the impossibility of man to save himself, even in part, by his own good works. In Psalm 130 it is put this way: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?” Also in Psalm 143:2: “In thy sight shall no man living be justified.” It is this truth, expressed by Job and David, that Paul reiterates in the book of Romans chapter 3, verses 19 and 20, when he writes, “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.”
Self-salvation is impossible. This is what Job is saying. How can I be right with God? It is impossible for me to make myself right with God.
But now, how does what Job is saying fit with his suffering? What does this truth of man’s total depravity have to do with the story of Job?
We see how it fits when we put it in context in the book of Job. Job’s rhetorical question, “How should I be just with God?” is a part of his answer to his friends, and particularly here to Bildad, who spoke in Job chapter 8.
Bildad, and Job’s other two friends, Eliphaz and Zophar, claim that Job’s suffering is a result of his sin. Suffering, they say, is always punishment for sin, and Job’s suffering indicates that God is angry with him, and that Job needs to come clean, confess his sin, and that then God will bless him again.
This is how Bildad puts it in chapter 8:4-6:
If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression; If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty; If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.
And then again in verses 20 and 21:
Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers: Till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing.
Now, there is some truth to what Bildad says, and Job even admits that in the beginning of his response in chapter 9, when he says, “I know it is so of a truth.” Yes, Job is saying, God is a righteous God who punishes sin. But the problem is that Bildad makes a blanket application of the justice of God, and even lifts himself up in pride, by implying that the reason he himself is not suffering is that he is more righteous that Job. We know, from God’s own word at the beginning of the book that this is not true. Job is the most upright man in all the earth, and Job’s suffering does not come on him as punishment from God because of sin in his life.
Job here is answering this wrong view and application of the truth of God’s justice. And let us remember, that very often we can fall into the same kind of thinking as Bildad. Sometimes we look at the suffering that other people experience, and we quickly judge them and say, “I saw that coming,” rather than being compassionate. Or, maybe we do it sometimes with regard to our own suffering. We blame what we are going through on things/mistakes that we’ve made in the past, rather than realizing that God sovereignly and lovingly brings whatever He does into our lives. Or we can do it this way, that we view prosperity and health as the signs of God’s blessing, and we are thankful for that, but prone to complain, as though God does not love or care about us, when something difficult comes in our lives.
Job’s question here in verse 2 answers that thinking. Can a man be right with God? No. Not one man can be right with God. Job’s point is that no one deserves a thing from God, that if we would get what we really deserved, all of us would find ourselves in a situation much worse than Job’s. You see, God does not operate according to Bildad’s view of justice. No, sometimes the wicked prosper and seem to have an easy and trouble-free life, without even their conscience bothering them as they go on in their sin. Meanwhile, God’s people go through extreme trials and persecutions, and all the while they love the Lord and serve Him, and confess His name. Regardless, if any one of us would stand before God to ask, “Why?” or to say that we do not deserve the troubles that come our way, well, we would have nothing to say. We all receive less than we deserve, and God’s hand equally measures out difficulties and trouble to the righteous and the wicked. In verse 22, Job says of God, “He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.” Being upright does not spare one from trouble in this life.
And so, Bildad’s argument that Job had this coming because he did something to deserve it is wrong. We should not reason, from trouble in a person’s life, that God is angry with that person, and on the other hand, we should not reason from prosperity and health in a person’s life, that God is showing grace to that person.
That is especially important when we ourselves, like Job, go through severe trials. If sickness comes on you, or if you lose your job, or if your child is taken from you by death, you should not think that this is a sign of God’s judgment on you, and you should not reflect back on what you have done, and wonder if you could have done something differently to avoid these trials.
Yes, it is true that we should learn things through our trials, but that is not the same as saying they are a judgment or a punishment of God on us. No, for God’s children, the troubles that come in life always come out of God’s love, for their good, and are under His absolute sovereign control.
Listen to what David says in Psalm 119:75. Maybe if you struggle with these questions, this would be a great verse for you to commit to memory. This is what David says: “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” There are two things he confesses there. The first is this, that God is always just, and so we have no right to question what He does. And yet, at the same time, when He afflicts His people He does it in faithfulness, that is, out of His love and commitment to them. “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
That is similar to what we read in Hebrews 12:5-6: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
So Job confesses the justice of God, and the impossibility of self-justification for any person, including himself, and this helps him to respond properly to his trials. Even though the troubles he goes through are not punishment from God, he nevertheless receives them in humility and faith, trusting God, and acknowledging that God is just in all His ways.
John Calvin says that it is important for us to meditate on the justice of God so that when He afflicts us we will remain humble and will acknowledge that He, God, is just and blameless. That is exactly what we should learn from this too. It is not our place to put God on trial, or to question His dealings. Who are we, to think that we can do that? And yet we all do this. Maybe not so directly as Job, by asking for an appearance before God so that we can argue our case, but we do have other ways of questioning God. We do this by complaining against, or by becoming angry with God. We do this when we get anxious and fearful, and think that God is getting it all wrong. Let us remember to be humble, to confess that God is right and just in all that He does, and to acknowledge that in mercy and faithfulness He afflicts His own.
How should a man be just with God? Standing alone before God, he cannot, and so we humbly bow under the chastening of the Lord.
But now, is there no answer to Job’s question, How can a man be right with God? We do need an answer to this important question, do we not?
And there is an answer. A man is made right with God through the blood and righteousness of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. We cannot stand alone before God, but we can stand with and in Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the gospel, to all who stand empty and condemned before God. I Timothy 2:5-6: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Here we have one of the exclusive claims of Christianity: there is one Mediator, not many, and not an assortment, but only one, the man Christ Jesus. That is specific and exclusive. There is no other way to stand before the righteous God. As Christians, we should never be embarrassed of being that specific. Jesus is the only way. He Himself spoke this way. In John 14: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
We live in a day when people want to muddy the waters, when too many want to present a Christianity that is accepting of other religions, and so they won’t say, Jesus is the only Mediator. But the way to heaven and eternal life is narrow, and there is only one way. We need to be specific in calling men to faith. Jesus is the only way, so believe in him.
Job anticipates Jesus the Mediator right here in Job chapter 9. Later, he will confess a living Redeemer. Here, in verses 32-35, he says in essence, “I would love to plead my case before God, but I cannot do that. God is not a man that he and I should argue this out on common ground. No, I need a Mediator, one who can put his hand on both God’s shoulder and my shoulder, one who is equal to God and equal to me; I need this Mediator to remove God’s rod of justice from me, to remove terror from my heart, so that I can stand before God, and speak with him.”
That is what Job says here. And it is marvelous, because everything he says he needs in a “daysman” or an arbitrator, Jesus Christ the Mediator is.
And believing in Jesus Christ, there is a way for us to be right with God. He takes the weight, the curse, the consequences, and the punishment of our sin on Himself at the cross, and he stands as our daysman to arbitrate between God and us. Justified through Him, we have the confidence that God is not against us. If God be for us, who can be against us?
How should a man be just with God? Through Christ alone.
Let us pray,
Father, we are thankful for the gift of Thy Son Jesus Christ, who stands where we could never stand, before Thy judgment seat, so that we are not condemned, but forgiven and accepted. Accepted in Him, we are sure when the troubles of life come that nothing can be against us, and that it is out of Thy love and faithfulness that we are afflicted. We know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted us.” Amen.