As I read the teachings of Jesus and observe especially his confronting the self-righteous religious establishment of his day, I come to know God as the God of justice and judgment.
The following words of Jesus are such a positive and wonderful teaching. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-16.” Jesus teaches that God’s purpose, God’s goal and desire, are to save, not to condemn. God seeks to save through Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” “Whoever believes,” I wonder, what is the implication for those who do not believe? Jesus continues teaching. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:17-18).” Unbelief is condemned. The unbeliever is condemned.
Jesus stresses the justice and judgment of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:24-26). The Father has given life to the Son to give to all who will believe God through Jesus Christ. The authority to administer justice and judgment has also been given to the Son by the Father. “And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:27-30).
Notice a couple mores texts, and there are a number more, from Jesus. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:28, 32, 33). “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31, 46). Justice and judgment are central to the picture of God Jesus taught and lived.
The justice and judgment of God is found in the teaching of the apostle Paul. “Now (God) commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30b-31). “Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8). A number of other texts could be chosen from Paul, also Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, and John in his epistles and Revelation.
God is just. In his justice God condemns sin. He will bring to judgment those who reject him outright and who reject him by rejecting Jesus Christ. This is God as I know him through Jesus Christ.
I learn from Jesus that God is the God of reconciliation and redemption. In the last post I wrote of God’s creation of humankind in his image, to be his image in his creation. Humankind was to live with a character like that of God, caring for and tending to God’s good creation. God provided what was needed for humankind to so live. Humankind, however, in the persons of Adam and Eve, and ever since, in the persons of us all, made the choice and keep making the choice, to live contrary to the image of God, to live contrary to a character like that of God. The choice is continually made choosing self and selfish pride. Scripture calls our thoughts, words, and behavior contrary to the image and character of God sin. Sin is missing the mark, missing the goal of what God created us to be. Taking a look at history, at the world today, even at ourselves, the results and consequences of the choices of self instead of God are readily seen.
The story of history as told in Scripture, yes, is the story of God’s justice and judgment, of his just and holy response to sinful and fallen humankind. Reading that story we read of God’s response of judgment, condemnation, wrath, and punishment. Examples, especially from the Old Testament, are easily recalled. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The flood in the days of Noah. The plagues against Egypt. There are numerous incidents in the history of Israel.
As we read the interpretation given by Jesus and the New Testament writers to the story we discover the story is more. Yes, God’s justice and judgment are part of the more in the story. The more is the story of God’s desire for his creation, of God working to accomplish a plan he set in motion even before creation. The more is the story of God’s just, holy, and loving work to redeem and reconcile his creation to himself through Jesus Christ. It is the story of God’s work to restore, to recreate, humankind in his image. It is the story of God’s work to free creation from the bondage brought upon it by the rebellion of humankind. Note the following passages.
“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “…the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). “And through (the Son) to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). (The non-italics are my emphasis.)
The apostle Paul tells this story in Romans. He teaches us what we learn in Jesus, God is a God of righteousness and love. Paul tells how humankind chose self against God missing the goal of what God created them to be. The result was and will be God’s just and holy response of judgment. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
“We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2). “On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16). Paul draws a devastating conclusion. I quote just a portion. “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:10-11, from Psalm 14). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No one is or can be good enough to stand before the holy God and be found righteous.
Consider the way we tend to interpret God’s justice, judgment, and holiness. God is quick to unleash his wrath. He is, we often conclude, angry, harsh, and eagerly ready to condemn. If we did not already know the gospel and Paul’s teaching in Romans 3, we would expect the end of the story as told by Paul to be justice, judgment, and condemnation. In the context of humankind’s sin and God’s justice and judgment, Paul’s words are surprising and contrary to our understanding of justice.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What follows in the text is the opposite of what is expected. “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Justified, redeemed, forgiven, new creation–the unrighteous, the ungodly? Created anew with the righteousness of God? Romans 3:23 is surrounded by this unthinkable thought as it is preceded by verse 22. “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
God’s concern and desire are seen in the Law of Moses, in the Psalms, and in the Prophets. Jesus has like concern and desire seen in the Sermon on the Mount, especially Luke’s version, the Sermon on the Plain, and elsewhere in his teachings and treatment of others. Justice, that humankind treat one another justly, the innocent and weak knowing justice, the guilty and oppressor knowing judgment, Scripture is very clear this is God’s concern and desire. Certainly this comes out of his holiness and love. With this in mind how can Paul speak of the unrighteous and the ungodly as new creations, righteous and godly?
In the above context Paul makes a startling, certainly contradictory statement about God in Romans 4:4-5. The brackets are my own commentary. “Now to the one who works [sets up a bunch of rules, counts on keeping rules, being good, worthy], his wages [what he receives for his efforts at being good] are not counted as a gift but as his due [no matter the length of the list of rules, the problem is we are all guilty of sin, of breaking one or more rules]. And to the one who does not work [doesn’t trust in his own goodness, in how well he keeps the rules] but believes [places his faith, trusts] in him [God] who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Without my commentary: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
Did you notice the startling if not contradictory statement concerning God? How can it not be contradictory in the context of God’s justice and his expectation of justice within humankind? Here it is: “him who justifies the ungodly”! How is that possible without God contradicting himself? Does not God justifying the ungodly contradict himself? In justifying the guilty does not God deny his very character and being as the holy God of justice and righteousness? Paul’s answer is Jesus Christ.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a).1 To be justified is to be forgiven and cloaked with the righteousness of Christ, standing before God guilt free, righteous before God, and at peace with God. The ungodly, those who fall short of the glory of God, are justified, not by their own goodness, but by God’s grace as a gift, freely by his grace. Redemption is being set free from the bondage of sin by the purchase of freedom. God and Christ paid the cost to set the ungodly free. The cost was the sacrifice of Christ, the shedding of his blood.
“This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25b-26). When God justifies the ungodly through faith in Christ he does not contradict himself or deny his very character and being as the holy God of justice and righteousness. Rather when God justifies, forgives, reconciles, declares righteous, and creates anew the ungodly coming to him in faith, he is being very true to himself. He is being true to his justice, his righteousness, his holiness, and his love revealed so fully in Jesus Christ on the cross. Christ bore the penalty wrought by the justice, the righteousness, and the holiness of God. When he justified and forgave, for example, David and Abraham in the past and me and you in the present his righteousness is revealed in the sacrifice of Christ.3
Again I quote John Stott concerning God’s giving of his Son. “In giving his son he was giving himself. This being so, it is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of the innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty which he himself inflicted.”4
God as I know him in Jesus Christ is the God of justice and judgment. He is the God of reconciliation and redemption, the God of righteousness and love. There is more for me to see, to understand, more depth, more insight, more to experience. There is more that I will perhaps discuss at a later time. For now, here is God as I know him in Jesus Christ who came in the flesh, died on the cross, was buried, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God.
God himself gives himself so completely for me, loves me so dearly, at such cost to himself. This is the sustaining foundation of my faith. God as I know him in Jesus Christ keeps me believing in the midst of my questions and doubts and my struggles and disappointments.
Jesus Christ, the good news of Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection–through my faith in Jesus Christ God by his grace freely justified me, redeemed me, forgave me, and made me a new creation. Me!, the unrighteous and ungodly, I am created anew with the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. This is the sustaining foundation of my life.
Jesus Christ is the place I stand, committed to the calling of being a new creation in Christ. In Jesus Christ I stand, striving to live life in a manner reflecting the character of God. Upon the solid Rock of my salvation, Jesus Christ, I stand, giving myself to living life in a manner pleasing to my Creator, Redeemer, and Savior.
1The NIV 1984 translates “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”
2The NIV 1984 translates, “He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
3Note Romans 4:6-25 where Paul goes back to David and Abraham to illustrate and support his point that God justifies the ungodly through faith.
4John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 160.