Monday, September 01, 2008

The Justice of God

Before I further discuss what Jesus accomplished for us, I need to discuss God’s justice. I believe this is essential for us to understand man’s dilemma in regard to his sin. Too many people not only have a distorted view of God’s wrath, but they consequently have a warped view of God’s justice as well.

The Bible explicitly tells us that we will all face judgment before God (Hebrews 9:27). It generally goes without saying that the vast majority of us would want to receive mercy, rather than to receive the full brunt of God’s justice. But we are faced with a huge problem, since God’s justice will come with certainty, not allowing any room to accommodate any concessions. And we also must keep in mind that although God may delay His justice, it will indeed ultimately come to pass. [1]

6For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8; NASB)

We must also consider that God’s justice is inflexible. The very definition of justice means that “we get exactly what we deserve – nothing more, nothing less.” In human systems of justice, there tends to be tension between justice and mercy, where often one prevails over the other. But this tension does not exist with God; His justice will always prevail. And it is this justice that must prevail in order to keep His moral government from failing. [1]

Drawing from John Owen, Fred Zaspel describes the necessity of this justice.

‘"[V]indicatory justice is the very rectitude and perfection of the Deity. . . . For if such a law were not made necessarily, it might be possible that God should lose his natural right and dominion over his creatures, and thus he would not be God."(21) It would be impossible for God not to punish sin. Without it, justice would not be maintained. It would be a denial of his veracity to impose a law with threats against disobedience and not follow through.’ [2]

In order for God to maintain His justice, all sin must be punished without exception. God never exercises mercy at the expense of His justice. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that God forgives just for the sake of forgiveness. But this is completely contrary to what Scripture teaches. God must impute His justice without exception.

To summarize the main thrust of an illustration given by Jerry Bridges, let’s say that there is a man who is convicted of murder. There is no doubt that he is guilty and has been judged so through due process by the judicial system of that state, and this individual has been given a death sentence. But let’s say that the governor does not agree with the death penalty and grants a full pardon to this man. While the governor would have the authority to do so, what do you think the public reaction might be? It is likely that they would be outraged at this action of injustice. [1]

But when people think that God should relax His justice and simply pardon all of us for our sin, they are asking God to do the exact same thing in the aforementioned scenario. But God’s divine nature cannot do that. You see, this would require God to exalt one attribute, His mercy, at the expense of His justice.

So this is the dilemma of our human condition; if we are to experience forgiveness, God’s righteousness must be satisfied before we can receive salvation for our sins. Since no one has perfectly obeyed God’s law and we are all guilty of breaking God’s law (Romans 3:9-20; James 2:10), we are all under condemnation before God. It would seem that we are without any hope in this world.

But God in His mercy has provided the way of forgiveness of man’s sin through sending His Son, Jesus Christ to suffer and die in our place to satisfy His justice. In fact, this is the ultimate expression of His divine love. John Piper explains:

“The death of Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of divine love: "God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Yet the Bible also says that the aim of the death of Christ was "to demonstrate [God's] righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed" (Romans 3:25). Passing over sins creates a huge problem for the righteousness of God. It makes him look like a judge who lets criminals go free without punishment. In other words, the mercy of God puts the justice of God in jeopardy.

So to vindicate his justice he does the unthinkable - he puts his Son to death as the substitute penalty for our sins. The cross makes it plain to everyone that God does not sweep evil under the rug of the universe. He punishes it in Jesus for those who believe.” [4]

However, it is this expression of divine love that the world looks upon as foolishness. The world does not want to acknowledge that they have actually committed any sinful acts worthy of divine retribution, let alone acknowledge that these sinful acts necessitate the death of Christ, and that there is nothing that man can do to rectify their guilty standing before God apart from the work of Jesus Christ. But their denial of this reality will not in any way change the facts. As Fred Zaspel explains,

“If there is a God and if He is righteous, then all unrighteousness will one day be punished. Indeed the knowledge of this aspect of divine righteousness is innate in every man. Though they deny it, still they "recognize [epignontes] the righteous judgment [dikaioma] of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death" (Rom.1:32). No denial of the facts will alter their reality. Knowing it they hate it, and hating it they deny it, but only to become more culpable. It is one horrible prospect that awaits the sinner.” [3]

But the fact remains that the only remedy for the transgression of man’s sin is the finished work of Jesus Christ through His sacrifice. Only Jesus could satisfy God’s righteousness and justice. I will be discussing more on this subject soon.

1. Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 41-43

2. Quoting and commenting on John Owen; from Fred G. Zaspel, “Four Aspects of Divine Righteousness: God’s Justice in Dealing with Sinners”, [Reformation & Revival Journal, Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1997]

3. Fred G. Zaspel, “Four Aspects of Divine Righteousness: God’s Justice in Dealing with Sinners”, [Reformation & Revival Journal, Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1997]

4. John Piper, “The Goal of God’s Love May Not Be What You Think It Is”, Desiring God, October 14, 2000

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