Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 7 July 2019
Page 8

The Justice of God

Clarence Lavender

All of the attributes of God are so important to the development of Christian character. It is necessary that as Christians we understand or have a working knowledge of the justice and righteousness of God.

“Just” originally meant straight in a physical sense, while in a moral sense it referred to right. A thing is right when it is as it should be. Willmington says, “Righteousness can be defined as moral equity. Justice is the illustration of this moral equity. In righteousness, God reveals His love for holiness. In justice, God reveals His hatred for sin.” Lanier says, “That justice and righteousness, in God’s dealings with men, are simply manifestations of the holiness of God.” Burder says, “By the justice of God we understand that universal rectitude of His nature, whereby, in His government of the world, He does all things with perfect righteousness, giving to everyone his due.” Watson defines justice as follows, “Justice, in its principle, is holiness, and is often expressed by the term ‘righteousness’; but when it relates to matters of government, the universal rectitude of the divine nature shows itself in regard to what is right, and in opposition to wrong, which cannot be warped or altered in any degree.”

With these definitions in mind, let us understand that the Bible speaks of three kinds of justice. First, there is “legislative justice,” sometimes called “mandatory holiness.” This is what determines man’s duty and binds upon him the performance of it. It also defines the rewards for obedience and the punishment for disobedience. All the commandments binding upon people today, whether in the realm of morals or the performance of worship or services, fall in this category (Galatians 2:21; 1 John 2:29). “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

Second, there is “judicial justice,” which is divided into remunerative and punitive. Remunerative justice is when God rewards the obedient. Punitive justice is when He inflicts punishment upon the disobedient. Righteousness brings reward; wickedness brings misery. This is true because it is the nature of God to reward righteousness and to punish sin (Genesis 18:22-25; Deuteronomy 32:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10). The third kind of justice of which the Bible speaks is “redemptive righteousness,” which is the exhibition or vindication of His righteousness in His redeeming activity for men (Romans 1:16-17; 3:31-28; 1 John 2:1-2).

These concepts are developed in the Old Testament. For example, when a conflict between two people arose, they stood before a judge or a collection of judges to argue their case. A verdict was handed down in each case, which provided victory and “justification” (righteous) for one party and condemnation for the “wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1-2; Exodus 23:6-9). The “righteous” was not just the winner, he was the one who “ought to” win by reason of the “righteousness” of his claim. If a judge in such case condemned the righteous and “justified” the wicked, his act was “an abomination unto the Lord.” Solomon said, “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished” (Proverbs 17:5). The buying and selling of “judgment” was condemned by God (Amos 2:6; 5:12). Some in the days of Amos sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes. The just took bribes and turned aside the poor from their rights. This sounds a great deal like modern day America!

You will recall from your study of the Old Testament regarding Abraham’s question to God (Genesis 18:16-26), Abraham appealed to absolute perfect righteousness. It was inconceivable to him that God would tarnish His divine righteousness by destroying the righteous with the wicked. Yet, not even ten righteous persons were found. God delivered the only righteous ones from the city—Lot and his family.

Often the question is raised whether the Bible teaches “imputed” righteousness in the sense that Christ’s personal righteousness is transferred to the sinner. No, it does not. “Imputed” righteousness is a teaching that grew out of the Protestant Reformation Movement. Its basis comes from the false teaching of hereditary depravity, which teaches that man is born in sin with Adam’s sin imputed to him and that the only way he can be righteous is to have the personal righteousness of Christ “imputed” (meaning “transferred”) to him.

John Calvin said, “For we are said to be justified through faith, not in the sense, however, that we receive within us any righteousness, but because the righteousness of Christ is credited to us, entirely as if it were really ours, while our iniquity is not charged to us.” (Instruction in Faith, Westminster P., 1949, 40-41). Thus, you can see that Calvinism affirms that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner, so that God no longer sees his sin, but only the righteousness of Christ instead. Calvinists offer as evidence for their view passages like Romans 4:3, 6, 8 and Galatians 3:6, but beloved, these passages do not teach such doctrine.

As evidence against Calvinism please consider the following. The word “impute” (logizomai) occurs 41 times in the New Testament and can mean (1) “To think about, consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on” (John 11:50; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 10:11; 1 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:8; Hebrews 11:19); (2) “To think, believe to be of the opinion” (Romans 2:3; 3:28; 8:18; 14:14; 2 Corinthians 10:7; 11:5; Philippians 3:13; 1 Peter 5:12); (3) “To reckon inwardly, count up or weigh the reasons as to deliberate” (Mark 11:31); or, as in our present study, (4) “To reckon, calculate, as a result of a calculation, evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider” (Romans 2:26; 4:3-10; 6:11; 8:36; 9:8; Luke 22:37; Acts 19:27; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 10:2). However, never does it mean “to transfer.”

Look also at the word “righteousness” for a moment. “Righteousness” means “being right” and describes one’s actions that are prompted by inner motives. Righteousness is a quality of God. Paul said, “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)” (Romans 3:5). God’s righteousness is essentially His fidelity or truthfulness to His own nature and promises. The context of Romans 3 says that if men are untrue, God is true; if men are false, God is not; the falseness of men only serves to embellish the righteousness of God. In Romans 3:25-26, God’s righteousness is presented in the declaration that He sent forth His Son as the offering for sin; this is God’s righteousness declared! This is why, beloved, both Jew and Gentile need the Gospel (the theme of Romans). “For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God…” (Romans 1:16-17).

The Bible teaches that righteousness is a personal trait and is non-transferable. Just as actions of God toward man are revealed in the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17), so man’s righteousness is revealed in his actions toward God and his fellow man (Hebrews 1:19). Righteousness is a personal responsibility (Ephesians 6:14; 1 John 3:7-8)! It is not transferable.

Divine justice is the manifestation of the essential character of God. Nothing is more unyielding, and nothing is more fearful to contemplate than the justice of God. God must be just! He was with Sodom and Gomorrah. He will be in every situation (Genesis 18:25). Let me illustrate the point. A young man commits a crime. He is arrested, tried and found guilty. The day is set for sentencing. Parents, the preacher and friends plead for clemency. The judge listens patiently, respectfully and solemnly. Then, with obvious emotion he says, “I appreciate your interest in this young man. I am well aware of the love of the parents, but I have taken a solemn oath to uphold the law of the land. The young man has broken the law, and he must pay the penalty. Twelve years in jail.”

We see and hear of the principle of justice in action all of the time, but what is the significance of the principle of divine justice in relation to the salvation of man? Before we answer this question, let us summarize what we have learned to this point: (1) God is just. (2) God’s justice is unyielding. (3) God’s justice moves Him to condemn the wicked. (4) Sinners can be saved. (5) God can justify the ungodly. (6) The divine sentence against sinners must be satisfied. (7) God’s justice must be satisfied in a way that is consistent with His other attributes. In fact, the attributes of love and wisdom find the way. Hence, God provides the way—the atonement, Jesus Christ. It is by justice and mercy that all men will be judged (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:4-6, 12; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7).

Note what Paul says in Romans 3:24-26. “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Here Paul stated seven things: (1) that we are justified, (2) that we are justified by His grace, (3) that it is made possible through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (4) that Christ redeems because God sent Him forth to be a propitiation, (5) that He is a propitiation because He shed His blood for us, (6) that Christ as a propitiation is to be received by faith, (7) that all of this shows or proves that God can “be just and the justifier of him that hath [obedient] faith in Jesus.”

In speaking of the righteousness of God’s plan being by grace, Roy C. Deaver says:

Paul says we are saved by grace “through faith.” By the grace of God provisions have been made. By faith upon our part we lay hold upon—we appropriate to ourselves—the divine provisions. Men are not saved by provisions only. God has provided food, but man must appropriate the food to himself. God has provided water, but man must appropriate to himself the water. God has provided salvation, but man must act to appropriate to himself the salvation thus provided. This he does which compels obedience to God’s word. It is clear that the Bible teaching regarding salvation by grace does not dispense with the necessity of man’s obedience.” (Romans, God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness 111).

The question is raised, “What is the significance of the principle of divine justice in relation to the salvation of man?” The answer is clear. There could be no salvation without the justice and mercy of God based on the sacrifice of Christ for us all. This is the significance of the principle of divine justice!

Let us note some Scriptures concerning the fact that God is just and righteous. “O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous” (Ezekiel 9:15). “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (Psalm 116:5). “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psalm 145:17). “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee” (Jeremiah 12:1). “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee, but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me” (John 17:25). The Bible teaches the justice and righteousness of God.

What is it to be just and righteous? In discussing individual responsibility for one’s own action, Ezekiel says, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he shall surely live, saith the Lord” (Ezekiel 18:5-9). The courts in our land are dedicated to the establishment of justice for our people. One symbol we use for justice is a blindfolded woman holding up the balance of scales of justice. God does not need to be blindfolded to administer justice. His very nature is such that He is just and righteous, or to put it another way, God is always fair. Justice involves the establishment of equal rights for all.

Zephaniah says, “The just Lord is in the midst thereof; He will not do iniquity; every morning doth He bring His judgment to light, He faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame” (Zephaniah  3:5). To be just or righteous is to have that character that leads one to always do that which is right. The justice of God is that attribute that leads Him always to do right.

Justice is giving to every being that to which he is entitled—without partiality or favor. God is righteousness and justice. He knows no partiality towards any being in the universe. His nature is such that He loves justice and righteousness. He hates unfairness and injustice in all forms and in all beings. He cannot deal with partiality or favor. Partiality to God would do violence to His nature. Peter said, “…of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons” (Acts l0:34).

How is the justice of God manifested? “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth. Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright” (Psalm 11:4-7). The justice of God is manifested in His loving righteousness and hating iniquity. The following are examples of this great principle.

And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail. And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. (Exodus 9:23-27)

Then came Shemaiah the prophet of Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the Lord, ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak. Whereupon the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves; and they said, the Lord is righteous. (2 Chronicles 12:5-6)

And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou are righteous, O Lord, which art and wast, and shall be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. (Revelation 16:5-6)

The justice of God is manifested in His dealing with the disobedient. (1) The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). (2) God will turn His face from the wicked (Deuteronomy 31:17-18). (3) Iniquities separate men from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). (4) Some will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:9). (5) Workers of iniquity will depart from the presence of the Lord (Luke 13:27).

God administered justice in Noah’s day (Genesis 6). He administered justice in the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2); Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-25); the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). He will administer justice in the judgment to come (Matthew 25:31-46).

With reference to the judgment to come, a person cannot deny the reality of it without denying the Bible. Hugh Benson is correct when he observes, “To deny the possibility of an eternal exclusion from God’s presence is to deny implicitly the reality of man’s free will. If everyone is to go to heaven finally, whether they choose it or not, then life is only a kind of game and men mere pawns that are all put back into the box at the end.”

God, in order to be faithful to His promise to the faithful, must keep sin out of Heaven. We can get some idea of what this will mean for those who are eternally separated from God when we think of what this world would be like if all of the good people were taken from it and if all the influence for good exercised by good people were suddenly removed.

The justice of God is manifested in His bestowing upon the righteous the reward due their faithfulness. Note a few examples from your Bible. (1) “Then hear thou in heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, condemning the wicked, to living his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness” (1 Kings 8:32). The context here teaches that under certain circumstances disputes between two persons were settled with finality before the altar, the accused party being required to take a solemn oath that he was innocent (verse 31). Solomon prayed that God would hear every such oath taken before His altar and actively intervene to punish the guilty and to justify the innocent (v. 32). The phrase “bring his way on his head” means to cause the merited punishment to fall upon him. A false oath taken in God’s name dishonored that name and polluted the sanctuary dedicated to that name. Consequently, the false swearer had to be punished.

“O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. My defense is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:9-11). This is a prayer uttered by David when King Saul pursued him. Apparently, Cush the Benjamite was close to Saul and had told him evil things about David. This was possibly written by David in the wilderness when the king was seeking to take David’s life.

There are great lessons here for the upright in heart. The fact that charges are made against us does not prove that the charges are true. We must live so as to be completely confident of being right with God, regardless of the charges which may be made against us. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10). “God cannot do wrong. He will not forget or fail to reward the endeavors of His people to promote His glory and to do good. If God should forget, it would be unrighteous because (1) there was a propriety that it should be remembered and (2) because it is expressly promised that such acts shall not fail of reward.” (Barnes.) “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). The activity of these Hebrew Christians is serving the saints is mentioned in greater detail in 10:32-34. Their service was for His sake (literally, ‘in His name’). Acts of service are reckoned as deeds done to God Himself (Matthew 25:45).

The justice of God is manifested in His protecting and delivering His people from their adversaries. In modern theological discussions, we hear of the justice or righteousness of God in its relation to the punishment of sinners, but in the Bible, we read of it more in relation to the protection of His people. In modern usage, it is more frequently held up as an attribute of God at which sinners should tremble; in the Word of God, it is constantly dwelt upon as an attribute of God at which His people should rejoice and be confident. For example: “O, sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory. The Lord hath made known His salvation: His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered His mercy and His truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 98:1-3). “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). The Psalmist gives a self-exhortation to bless the Lord, then explains why; it is because of His justice, revelation, mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness, pity and understanding.

“Many times have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows. The Lord is righteous: He hath cut asunder the cards of the wicked” (Psalm 129:1-4). Here is a psalm of confidence. The Psalmist speaks of Israel’s affliction in times past and how she had been delivered. G. Campbell Morgan suggests, “In times of peril it is a good thing for the pilgrim to strengthen the heart by looking back and remembering past deliverances.” Consideration of past deliverances leads to confidence with regard to the future. This great lesson is vividly taught in the book of Numbers. Old Testament Israel was slow to learn that blessings of the past were intended by God to be assurances with regard to the future. Seeing what God has done in the past, why should we be afraid of the present or the future? Let us remember that God’s people are not exempt from persecution, hatred, and suffering, but that God will be with us through it all (John 15:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:12; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 2:20; 4:4-16; Matthew 5:10-12). “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you. And to you who are troubled rest [relax] with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7).

The justice of God is manifested in His keeping His promises. “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord perserveth the simple: I was brought low, and He helped me” (Psalm 116:5-6). It is God who delivers from distress and who prospers our way as we walk before Him. We can never repay Him for what He has done and continues to do for us, but we can keep on trying by walking before Him and keeping the faith.

The justice of God can be seen in the characteristics of God’s promises. (1) They are unfailing. “Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto His people Israel, according to all that He promised: there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised by the hand of Moses His servant” (1 Kings 8:56). (2) They are assured by Divine ability. “And being fully persuaded, that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21). (3) They are grounded in Christ. “For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). (4) They are of infinite value. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). (5) They culminate in everlasting life. “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life” (1 John 2:25).

The justice of God is manifested in His providing a propitiation when sin is forgiven and in His justifying man that professes faith in the substitute (Christ). Is God just if He intends to forgive those who are really guilty of sin (and that would mean all)? Paul told us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The state would not permit an earthly judge to let the guilty go. We would expect the full force of the law to be applied. Should we not insist that God be consistent in order to be fair and just? Is that not what true justice is about? Although we cannot fully understand it, we can fully believe that in some way Christ died in our stead and that the justice demanded by the Law was accomplished in Him. Therefore, God can be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus.

Paul said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26). To “justify” in verse 26 means to pronounce them “not guilty.” Sinners can be treated this way only because Jesus has accepted the penalty of their guilt upon Himself. Therefore, God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered on the cross, but He did not suffer for Himself. He had no sin. “…but He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15ff). Christ was a substitute, “the just for the unjust.” “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul tells us, “…And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

If we have faith, having obeyed the Gospel, and continue to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9), God’s just nature allows us to stand in a state of justification before Him (Acts 13:39). However, if we stand before God without the applied blood of Christ, we have no hope. The justice of God is manifested in the forgiveness of the sins of Christians when they are confessed. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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