Something strange happens in our minds when we think about justice. On the one hand, everyone has this instinctual understanding that justice is something that exists and must be satisfied. It is the feeling we get when we hear about someone murdered or read about how a child has been mistreated. Unless there is something seriously wrong with your mind you recognize the evil of these situations and your mind screams for justice. We would scoff at someone who suggested that we should just let these things go and pretend they did not happen. At the same time, well-meaning Christians believe this is what God does. They think that God just ignores it, or that he should ignore it and simply let everyone off the hook. This is the idea that God does or at least should forgive everyone. But this ignores justice. Justice means that there is a just penalty, a price, for injustice. That price must be paid for justice to be satisfied. In our understanding of God, we must remember that God is just.
Can We Satisfy God's Justice?
One thing that we have to look at from the outset is that God the merciful and God the just are not at odds. God cannot contradict himself. There are some really important questions in the Heidelberg Catechism that cover this topic. Question 12 reminds us that we deserve justice. It asks, "Since, according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favor?" We deserve both temporal, meaning earthly, and eternal punishment for our sins. This is what justice demands and we see this in the answer. "God demands that His justice be satisfied. Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another." The scary reality is that we as the sinful party are incapable of satisfying the demands of justice. By our sin, we have incurred more debt than we could ever repay, which is why the catechism talks of eternal punishment. As question 13 communicates, we cannot pay our own debts. "Can we ourselves make this payment?" "Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt."Question 14 goes on to point out that there is no created being that is capable of carrying the weight of our sin. "Can any mere creature pay for us?" "No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it."
This is the Starting Place
This is where our understanding of what it means to be a Christian starts. We have to understand the weight of our sins. As Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount, those who are of the kingdom are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). This means that the kingdom citizen recognizes that they have nothing to bring. There is nothing that is within themselves that makes them worthy of the kingdom. Every human being ever born, apart from Christ, is at enmity with God. It is as if we are in a war, where we are the rebels who continually fight against God. We have committed treason of the highest order. Not only that but as Peter preaches to the Jews at Pentecost, it is us, the rebels who have killed the King's beloved son. And yet there are many who believe that if God was truly good he would just ignore all of that. But we must ask, would we think a judge good if he let the murderer go free? Would the judge be good if he let the one who abused children go on without punishment? No that would be a terrible judge. There would be no justice. One of the greatest mysteries of salvation is not why isn't everyone saved, by why is anyone saved? When we start to look at things from this perspective, then we see the true beauty of what God has done in Christ.
It is a joy to me to know that God is just because it means that God is true to who he is. He is the unchanging God who keeps his promises. Because he is faithful in his justice we can trust that he is faithful in his mercy. The Holy One, the Creator of All, does not change and his promises are sure. He that has started a good work in you will bring it to completion. But this only makes sense when we understand where we fit in the plan. We are not the ones deserving mercy, we are not the ones deserving every good gift. We are the ones who deserve wrath and justice. And yet through the grace and mercy of God that justice, for those who through faith trust in the name of the Lord, is paid in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, do you know what you deserve? If not, then you can never understand the depth of the love and grace of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
Ex. 20:5; 23:7; Rom. 2:1-11. Is. 53:11; Rom. 8:3, 4. Ps. 130:3; Matt. 6:12; Rom. 2:4, 5. Ezek. 18:4, 20; Heb. 2:14-18. Ps. 130:3; Nah. 1:6.