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Can A Normal Person See God?

Updated on April 14, 2015
Will you make it to Heaven?
Will you make it to Heaven?

By Harold Markham

In 1930, the Prince of Wales met and fell in love with a married American woman, Mrs Wallis Simpson. When Mrs Simpson obtained a divorce in 1936, it was clear that Prince Edward was determined to marry her. On the tenth of December in 1936, Edward VIII executed an Instrument of Abdication and the next day he and his family became ineligible for the throne. From then on Edward was the Duke of Windsor instead of the King of England. Forever his line is forfeit of the throne. In the same way you and I are descendants of one who abdicated his rightful position.Our head Adam left his righteous standing before God, and since we are his descendants we are born sinners and have no claim to any type of righteousness by birth. Romans one tells us that we don’t even respond to the clear revelation that God has given us—so we are without excuse. Here in Romans chapter three we find ourselves guilty of many specific offenses-- sins before God. Romans does not present mankind as a victim of Adam’s transgression, rather we are seen as transgressors! We are like King Edward! We have no claim to righteousness. We gave it up forever. So how can we stand before God especially since we are sinners by birth—and also by choice?

Prince Edward  of Wales
Prince Edward of Wales

“… how can a man be in the right before God? Job 9:2

What does He require of us? How do we meet His expectations? What about our failures, transgressions, sin? We are doomed. We are like the janitor was bad mouthing his employer as he cleaned the offices in the late evening. He was aggressively speaking out loud to the air calling the employer a wimp, a cheat, and a crook etc. Woe was upon him however, as an office chair swiveled around to revel the weary form of the employer who was hunched in a cubical burning the midnight oil. When we see God as He is—we see ourselves as ruined, guilty, condemned. How will we ever be able to abide with God? Our rebellion and sin have stripped our ability to stand before Him unashamed.

How can a person get a right standing with God? What must he do? How will we ever be granted a good standing before God?

In our text we see 3 truths as to how this standing is obtained

I. A Right Standing with God is apart from legalism. v. 21

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” Romans 3:21

If you ask enough people why they think they will get to heaven, someone would undoubtedly say, “Because I keep the commandments.” This most certainly will not allow a person to get to heaven. The only righteousness man possesses or attains within himself is unrighteousness. Man’s “righteous deeds,” Isaiah declares, “are like a filthy garment,” referring to a menstrual cloth (Isaiah 64:6). Law keeping is the external garb-- a mere uniform. One could dress up as a Major General, but the stars on his collar would not make him an officer in the US Army. Dead mean dress up in caskets all the time but the suit doesn’t produce life. Law keeping doesn’t produce righteousness either.

The word for law here (νόμου) could refer to any aspect of the law. Some people make distinctions as to which law Paul is speaking of. Is it the moral law, the law of conscience, ceremonial law, or Jewish civil law? Yes-- the verdict is still the same. Righteousness comes apart from legalism.One commentator wrote:

Upon hearing John the Baptist’s fearful warnings about God’s judgment, “the multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ ” (Luke 3:10). The crowd that Jesus had miraculously fed the day before asked Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:27–28). The rich young ruler asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). After hearing Peter’s sobering message at Pentecost, some of the listeners said to him “and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37). As he lay blinded on the road to Damascus, Saul cried out to Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).[1]

Man by his guilt, conscience, nature, and inclination is driven to “do” something to merit righteousness. Spurgeon noted that there were only two types of religions in the world: the religion of divine accomplishment vs. the religion of human achievement. Each day we are tempted to place confidence in the flesh. We assume we have some special merit with God because we passed out 40 tracts, prayed before we ate, and avoided the movie theater. Yet righteousness is not something we do its something we get. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Galatians 2:16

So what good was the law if it doesn’t merit us righteousness? The answer to this is given several times in the book of Romans, but look at the text. The law produces an awareness of what righteousness is.

A. The Law reflected God’s Righteousness. v.21a

It is interesting to see how the law set up a standard that was impossible for man to obtain. In fact some would even argue that the law anticipated this because as the standard was set so were the rules and procedures for sacrifice and forgiveness of transgression. The law was tough, demanding, detailed, and heavy—yet each aspect of it demonstrated how perfect God is in every area. It was impossible to keep the law—still is. The law condems. The way the moon reflects the light of the sun, the law reflected the perfections of God. According to the law God is not a jolly old Santa in the sky who says “Ho ho ho, its ok—you did the best ya could (wink) and we’ll just overlook things. Doesn’t the Bible teach that God winked at the sins that occurred early in Israel’s history? Yes and No. God did pass over immediate judgment but only in mercy, longsuffering, and with a forward look to the substitutionary atonement the Messiah would make to impute His right standing to their accounts. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

Since the Scripture is clear that God is declaring that men repent, we must repent—turn from our sin to the living God. In other words a right standing with God bears the fruit of repentance. What is it that you need to turn from today? If God is working righteousness in your heart you will turn away from sin—you must. These type of works may be the by-product of salvation but are certainly not the cause of salvation.

B. The Prophets revealed God’s Righteousness. v. 21b

Not only the Law, but also the Prophets reveal God’s righteousness. In other word the entire Old Testament (Law and the Prophets)[2] is a testimony of God’s character. The prophets identified what the Messiah would be like. It spelled out His righteous judgments but also His mercy and grace.

When I want to know about Greek words I open a lexicon, when I want to know about God I open the Bible.

What else gives us a view of what real righteousness is? Psychology? Philosophy? Tradition? No. The wisdom of man is incapable of reaching an awareness of that which is holy without a divine revelation. My dear friends we must engage in reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and hearing the Word of God. Nothing else is capable of setting the standard of righteousness. When is the last time you opened your Bible? When is the last time you prayed before you read, “Oh Lord Help me see you high and holy today.” If works do not produce righteousness, how then do we get the ability to stand before God?

II. A Right Standing with God is available through faith. vv. 22-23

“…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:22-23

No matter who we are our only hope for a right standing with God is through faith in Christ. Consider the following verses:

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”Hebrews 11:6

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

"...Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Galatians 3:6

“and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.” James 2:23

“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31

What does it mean to have faith? This is a verb that means “…to believe something to be true and, hence, worthy of being trusted—‘to believe, to think to be true, to regard as trustworthy.”[3]

F-orsaking A-ll I T-rust H-im This faith is not a general belief i.e. “you just got to have faith”… It is a faith that lets go of the insufficient and embraces the all sufficient.

A. Faith must be placed in the correct object. v. 22a

“… faith in Jesus Christ…”

It is not enough to have a blind belief that something is true. Universal realities exist without our consent or affirmation. It is very possible to place all your trust in an object that will not deliver. Once I believed that a car I owned would travel to Atlanta and back. I actively claimed it could do it and placed all my trust in its ability to do so. I realized that it is a long way from Atlanta, Georgia to Upstate South Carolina when you need to walk. The object of my faith—though sincere, through claimed, though actively trusted, failed to get me to my intended destination. Today many people are trusting in something other than Jesus Christ to deliver them from unrighteousness. Yet the fact is nothing else but Christ has the ability to give us a proper standing before God. A church won’t take us there, a family heritage won’t make the trip, your tradition will fail to produce righteousness.

What about those who are sincere? Surely they can’t fail—can they? Dear friends people can be sincerely wrong. Many investors invest in companies with the sincerest trust only to lose their entire investment in a market crash. Children sincerely think they can fly like superman, but the reality of gravity crashes upon them and there is many a broken arm to attest to that fact! The faith that produces righteousness is the faith that is placed in Christ alone—solo Christo! Trust Christ alone for a righteous standing before God.

B. Faith must be embraced by all men. v. 22b

“…for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

There is no privileged status before God. All have sinned, Jew, Gentile—all men are the same before God. We are all sinners in need of a righteous standing. The idea of sin here is the concept of missing the mark—an arrow falling short of its target--God’s perfect glory. You may believe that somehow you are an exception to this rule. That God has favored you because of your family. Perhaps you have a close relative who was a preacher, or you feel Christian because you are an American. None of these things matter. There is no spiritual silver spoon that you can be born with. Each one of us needs to have a personal faith in Christ!

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

No matter whom you are, trust Christ alone for a righteous standing before God. The reason we need to trust God is because salvation is His work.

III. A Right Standing with God is accomplished by God. vv. 24-26

"being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:24-26

James Montgomery Boice in his commentary set on Romans quotes Donald Barnhouse as saying:

“Look into your own heart and see whether you are trusting, even in a small fraction, in something that you are doing for yourself or that you are doing for God, instead of finding in your heart that you have ceased from your works as God did from His and that you are resting on the work that was accomplished on the cross of Calvary. This is the secret of reality: Righteousness apart from the law. Righteousness apart from human doing. Christianity is the faith that believes God’s word about the work that is fully done, completely done…Righteousness without law. Righteousness apart from human character. Righteousness without even the consideration of the nature of the being that is made righteous. Righteousness that comes from God upon an ungodly man. Righteousness that will save a thief on a cross. Righteousness that is prepared for you. Righteousness that you must choose by abandoning any hope for salvation from anything that is in yourself. And underline this—it is the only righteousness that can produce practical righteousness in you.[4]

According to the IRS a gift ceases to be a gift when you have to work for it. It then becomes an earned income. Salvation ceases to be a gift if it is somehow tied into our own efforts. Is faith something you do? No. It (faith) is the gift of God ( Eph. 2:8-10). According to 2 Timothy 2:25 even repentance is given by God’s gracious hand.

“… if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,” 2 Tim. 2:25

Since salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and it His work, we should not be ashamed to relate His work in our testimonies as believers. Look and see His love and care. Our text tells us that this wonderful justification is a gift of His grace.

A. God is gracious. v. 24a

It is a bestowal of unmerited favor. Grace is the obtaining of thing which we do not deserve. This is comparable to the teacher giving the failing grade in the class an A. It is not deserved. It is grace! Unmerited favor.Not fair! Exactly--but gracious. Better than fair.Have you received God’s gift of grace? Do you thin of salvation as an act of unmerited favor? But wait there more too it. Look also at the last part of v. 24…

B. God is the redeemer. v. 24b

According to Liddell and Scott’s, redemption is“a ransoming, Plut.: redemption by payment of ransom, N.T.”[5] There are a few other words used to describe the exact process, but the text here brings us to the conclusion that Christ has paid the price necessary to free a slave. Paul in Ephesians 2 goes so far as to say that we were dead…held captive to an alien power. So the act was far more than just simple bondage it was also death. What great price can both make alive and free? What great ransom can provide a righteous standing before God? Peter points out

“…that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19

D. A. Carson wrote a tremendous song that grips the theme of Ephesians 1 and Romans 3 and combines it into a wonderful song of praise:

Long before the creation began, He foreknew those he’d ransom in Christ; Long before time’s cold hour-glass ran, He ordained the supreme sacrifice. In the cross he removed our disgrace, To the praise of his glorious grace. To the praise of his glorious grace. To the praise of his glorious grace. [6]

Such grace should grip our hearts with praise and thanksgiving. When is the last time you just thanked God for His wonderful blessings bestowed upon you? But what about that which we deserve?

C. God is merciful. v. 25

In as much as grace provides the ransom, mercy keeps the punishment from falling upon us. Mercy can be simply understood as the withholding of just punishments deserved. Remember how in the old western movies, just before a man was “hanged by the neck ‘till dead” the judge would menacingly proclaim, “May God have mercy upon your soul.” In other words we are inflicting justice on your physical being, but maybe God will have mercy on your eternal destiny. A right standing with God is exactly that—God having mercy on our souls.Since God is a God of incredible mercy—shouldn’t we also exhibit the same quality?

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8

This passage is a gold mine. I feel like we have just scraped the surface with the edge of a pickaxe—and much more needs to be mined here. But let’s pause and see what we have uncovered so far. Have we answered Job’s question? “… how can a man be in the right before God? Job 9:2

About the Author

Harold Markham is the host of the ER Podcast. He studied to be a pastor and holds degrees in Bible, pulpit speech as well as a Masters in Biblical studies. Click here for more articles by Harold Markham.


We have seen that…

I. A Right Standing with God is apart from legalism. v. 21

A. The Law reflected God’s Righteousness. v.21a

B. The Prophets revealed God’s Righteousness. v. 21b

II. A Right Standing with God is available through faith. vv. 22-23

A. Faith must be placed in the correct object. v. 22a

B. Faith must be embraced by all men. v. 22b

III. A Right Standing with God is accomplished by God.

A. God is gracious. v. 24a

B. God is the redeemer. 24b

C. God is merciful. v. 25

God is righteous—we have seen it clearly in His actions. He alone is the just one and the “justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:26

How do you stand before God today? What do you trust in? Have you come to the point in your spiritual life that you are comfortable with giving God the glory for your salvation?

[1] MacArthur, J. 1996, c1991, c1994. Romans. Moody Press: Chicago

[2] The terms “Law and the Prophets” is commonly used to refer to the entire Old Testament. Modern ex: “cover to cover”

[3] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. 1996, c1989. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament : Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) . United Bible societies: New York

[4] Boice, James Montgomery, An Expositional Commentary: Romans volume 1 Justification by Faith Romans 1-4;Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991, p. 352. Plut. Plutarch. (Plutarchus) Biographus et Philosophus i/ii a.d. N.T. New Testament

[5] Liddell, H. 1996. A lexicon : Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA

[6] Carson’s marketing website. <December 15, 2003>


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