1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.It would be worth your while to commit the above passage to memory, as it points as clearly as any other to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for the love that caused God to become a man (John 1:1-3, 14) so He could take away our sins (1 John 3:5) and deliver us from fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15) by laying down His life and then rising again the third day (Philippians 2:5-9).
But what I'd like us to consider today is a phrase that jumps out in this verse. Among the other things said here of Jesus Christ, it is said that He was justified in the Spirit. Now, to be justified is to be declared righteous. And this is one of the great things that happened to you and me when we got saved (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:24-26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16; et al.). But obviously, the word justified can be and is used outside the context of salvation. Jesus did not need to be saved. But the scripture says that when He became a man, He was justified.
Why is this important? Well, it is key to a proper understanding of James 2*, the point of which is to show how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (v. 24). Now, to connect this justification to salvation from sin contradicts far too many scriptures...those listed above and many, many more. What then is the meaning of this statement?
I believe it's important to understand this passage because every false religion that teaches salvation by works will use it in an attempt to refute the true, biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, plus or minus nothing.
We don't have the time or the space to go very far into detail, but there a few things we should note. First of all, the whole discussion is prefaced by the question, What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (v. 14). What is being discussed is what a man says he has, and the point is this: If I tell you I'm saved but don't give you any evidence to back up my claim, why should you believe me? On the other hand, if my works give evidence of my faith, then you'll have reason to believe me when I tell you about it.
Now, the 2 OT characters that are brought out as examples are Abraham and Rahab. Note that neither was ever under the law. In addition, note that the vast majority of their works was horrific. Abraham lied and gave his wife to another man and fathered a child by his servant. Rahab was a harlot. Further, consider the works that were said to justify them: Abraham, attempting to murder his son; and Rahab, committing treason against her nation. And they're supposed to be an example of salvation from sin by good works?
Thirdly, consider how their works were evidence of the faith they already possessed, which again is the point of the passage. In Genesis 12, God promised to make a great nation of Abraham. Abraham believed God and sojourned in the promised land (Hebrews 11:8-10). In Genesis 15, Abraham believed God's promise concerning the land of Canaan, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. He was justified BEFORE GOD (Romans 4:9-13). In Genesis 21, Abraham believed God's promise regarding the birth of Isaac. Again, God declares him righteous (Romans 4:16-22). Up to this point, His belief in what God has said has cost him basically nothing. I'm going to make you a nation. Great! I'm going to give you land. Great! I'm going to give you a son. Great! But in Genesis 22, Abraham is asked to sacrifice the one through whom the promised would be fulfilled. For this first time, he is being asked to act in faith – and it will not benefit himself. Before this, who (other than God) would have testified to Abraham's righteousness? Sarah? Abimelech? Lot? Terah? Hagar? Ishmael? But in Genesis 22, the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God (James 2:23). His faith became evident. This is how that by works a man is justified (v. 24).
Likewise Rahab. Read Joshua 2:8-10, where Rahab confesses her faith in the God of Israel before she ever hid the spies in her house. Listen, she claims to believe the promise God made to Abraham. But who would have known it? She's Rahab THE HARLOT! She's a citizen of Jericho. But when she received the messengers and sent them out another way it became evident to men that Rahab had faith in God. A woman who was already a believer gave evidence of that belief in the sight of men. That's James 2 justification.
What about you? Are you twice justified? I mean is your faith profitable (v. 14)? Is it evident to those around you by virtue of your obedience to the word of God – even when it costs you something? Or is your faith like a body without the spirit – there, but unable to fulfill its purpose?
*Material on James 2 from a class on the General Espitles at DeLand School of THE BIBLE