What does it mean to be justified? Are good works bad? We think it will be clear once we break it down. Some people want to insist that works are bad because works are done by those who are trying to save themselves. But is it true that works are bad? That depends on whether someone is trying to do good works in their own strength to save themselves or not. Paul doesn't contradict himself here. There's another way that good works can be done – they can be done by the Spirit of God. All this text is saying is that people who try to keep the law and their own strength will not be justified. We believe that since all our righteousnesses are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6 KJV), then the attempt to save oneself by their works is actually sin. This is because those who do this make themselves to be their own god, little “g”. It is God’s job to save us, not ourselves – we have no ability of saving ourselves. For someone to be justified - that's an act of grace by God alone, which is Paul's point. Those who are trying to save themselves cannot have the Holy Spirit, or enjoy what it means to really live – which is to be filled with wonderful peace, great love and joy inexpressible! Nor can they ever be truly righteous – it is a hollow shell. Paul’s point is not that we won't be doing good works, his point is that those who seek to try to work out their own salvation by themselves will not be justified. We think this is clear! Jesus said, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 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 18:13-14 KJV. The danger for those who trust in themselves, the self-righteous, is that they do not see their need clearly and may fail to confess their sins and humble themselves before God before it’s too late, because they may think that they are good and do not need to repent. So those who try to keep the law in their own strength will not be justified, until they ask for mercy, this is what Jesus and Paul taught. If they feel that they are keeping the law, they may have failed to confess the sin of breaking it. Self-righteousness is a form of Spiritual blindness. Therefore Galatians 2:16 does not contradict our passage in Romans 2:13: 'For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.' They are both in perfect harmony with each other, but they're talking about two different things. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Proverbs 28:13 KJV.
The inspiring testimony of Charles Fitch - how he came to receive the Holy Spirit and have a closer walk with God. He learned how God could make him more like Jesus:
It is now several years, since, after a season of spiritual gloom and sadness, I came fully to the conclusion, that there was something in the religion of Jesus Christ, to which I had been a stranger. I had seen myself to be a sinner before God, richly deserving His everlasting indignation. I had seen that God would be holy, just and good, and worthy of universal and eternal adoration, while punishing me with everlasting destruction from His presence and from the glory of His power. I had also seen in Christ a Saviour, who, after atoning for all mankind on the cross, was able, on the merits of that atonement, to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him; and on that Saviour I had cast myself as my only hope, and trusted in Him, and Him only, as my Deliverer from the wrath of God.
The sacrifice has been made; Abraham’s faith had been tested and found perfect; “And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That […]
A Grant of Land: But in this covenant the central promise was concerning land. All the land of Canaan was promised to Abraham and his seed for an everlasting possession. And then the seal of the covenant, —circumcision, — was given, — a seal of the righteousness which he had by faith. This shows that the land of Canaan was to be possessed only by faith. And here we have a practical lesson as to the possession of things by faith. Many people think that a thing that is possessed by faith is only possessed in imagination. But the land of Canaan was a real country, and was to be actually possessed. Possession of it was to be gained, however, only through faith. This was indeed the case. By faith the people crossed the river Jordan, and “by faith the walls of Jerico fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.” But of this we shall have more hereafter.
Editor’s Notes by John Foll: “It came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Gen. 22:1, 2. This is such an amazing story, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son on a mountain in the land of Moriah! From a human standpoint, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own eternal life! Or ‘to put a knife to his own throat,’ as Waggoner put it! And he was asked to sacrifice the eternal life of everyone in the world. Would he continue to believe God’s promise, that he would personally have a possession in the land of Canaan, which could only happen for him through the Resurrection, and that from one born to him would all the nations of the world be blessed? Or would he lose his faith in God’s promise? This was the test!
We pass by a period of several years. The number of years we cannot tell, but Isaac, the child of faith and promise had been born, and had grown to be a young man. Abraham’s faith had grown stronger and more intelligent, for he had learned that God fulfills His own promises. But God is a faithful teacher, and does not allow His pupils to leave a lesson until it is thoroughly learned. It is not enough for them to see and acknowledge that they have made a mistake in the lesson that He has given them. Such acknowledgment of course insures forgiveness; but, having seen the error, they must go over the same ground again, and possibly many times, until they have learned it so well that they can do without stumbling. It is solely for their own good. It is no kindness on the part of a parent or teacher to allow his children to pass by lessons that are unlearned, simply because they are difficult. So “it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Gen. 22:1, 2.
The Sign of Circumcision: And now we must carry a little further the study of the seal of the covenant, namely, circumcision. What does it signify, and what is it in reality? We have learned that it signifies righteousness by faith. It was given to Abraham as a token of the possession of such righteousness, or, as an assurance that he was “accepted in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Eph. 1:6, 7. What circumcision really is, may be learned from the following Scripture : — “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Rom. 2:25-29.
“Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children; and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; I pray thee go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened unto the voice of Sarai.” Gen. 16:1, 2. This was the great mistake of Abraham’s life; but he learned a lesson from his mistake, and it was recorded to teach that lesson to all. In the first place, we should learn the folly of man’s trying to fulfill the promises of God. God had promised to Abraham an innumerable seed. When the promise was made, it was beyond all human possibility that Abraham should have a son by his wife, but he accepted the word of the Lord, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness. This in itself was evidence that the seed was not to be an ordinary seed, but that it was to be a seed of faith.
The fifteenth chapter of Genesis contains the first account of the covenant made with Abraham. “The word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not Abram; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Notice the statement that God said that He Himself was Abraham’s reward. If we are Christ’s, then we are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Heirs of what? — “Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” Rom. 8:17. The same inheritance is mentioned by the Psalmist: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.” Ps. 16:5. So here again we have a link to connect all God’s people with Abraham. Their hope is nothing else but the promise of God to him.