Justice and Grace: God’s Balance

A lot of people would never dream of becoming Christians, and their resistance is understandable. Many people see God as egotistical, manipulative, and power-hungry. To these people, Christianity, at its core, consists of a god who demands to be loved and threatens anyone who refuses with eternal torment. It is easy to see the reason for someone’s rejection of God given such a negative perception. However, the Bible knows nothing of such a god and instead presents a far more attractive alternative.

Justice: God’s Forgotten Attribute

Justice is a universal value throughout history and throughout every culture. Criminal behavior deserves punishment. The man who steals and kills ought to receive punishment for his actions. In the United States, criminal behavior is analyzed in light of United States law. The convicted are put on trial and investigated to see if their actions violate this law. If found guilty, they are punished. Without knowing all of the particulars, it is simple enough to understand that when one’s behavior deviates from the moral standard, justice must be administered. However, it is not American law that we are concerned with in reference to God’s justice, but rather God’s Law itself.

A moment of careful thought reveals even to the unbeliever that some higher moral framework exists above a culture’s national law. Indeed, anyone who accepts the possibility, let alone the reality, of immoral laws recognizes that there is some higher objective moral framework by which to judge the national law. But the recognition of such an objective moral law must also imply the existence of some higher Law-Giver. And so Paul argues by saying,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. . .For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen . . . And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18, 20, 24-32 NASB).

Several words here are significant to understand God’s justice. Of prime importance is the word “wrath.” This word is used in Romans 1:18 to describe God’s attitude toward those who violated God’s moral Laws and were therefore “worthy of death” (v.32). In Romans 2:5-8 Paul describes the “day of wrath” where God will punish all those who do not obey the truth (i.e. God’s Moral Law). Romans 3:5 reiterates that God’s wrath will be inflicted upon all those who are unrighteous, or who act contrary to God’s Law. Just as love and mercy are indisputable attributes of God, so too is His justice and wrath.

Sin: Man’s Forgotten Condition

Discussion about justice and punishment is all well and good, but at first glance, it means very little from a practical standpoint. That is until sin enters the picture. First John 3:4 defines sin as lawlessness, or action contrary to God’s Law. This makes sense when Paul says “where there is no law, there is no transgression”; you cannot break a non-existent law (Romans 4:15). Back to the earlier discussion of justice in general, when one’s behavior deviates from the moral standard, justice must be administered. When a person sins or commits moral crimes against God, he deserves punishment.

As Paul says, “the Law brings about wrath” (Romans 4:15). And so the question becomes, who has sinned? For if sin is the breaking of God’s Law, and if breaking God’s Law incurs God’s wrath, then anyone who sins is deserving of God’s wrath. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” therefore, all are deserving of God’s wrath (Romans 3:23).

At this point, it is useful to step back, collect the pieces and draw some conclusions. Firstly, God has not made any demands. Rather, because God is perfectly just, by nature He must punish lawlessness. Just as a perfect judicial system must punish the thief, so God must punish the sinner. Second, God’s moral standard can only do one thing: condemn. Laws are only good for convicting guilty people, not justifying them. The moment one breaks the law, they have no recourse, so far as the law is concerned, as to avoid the administering of punishment. Third, good works are useless to the criminal. Paul says, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” Once you are guilty of breaking the Law, there is no series of good works that can make you not guilty of breaking that Law. Therefore, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28).

Consider the misunderstanding brought up at the beginning. God is not going to send people to Hell because He gets hurt feelings when people don’t love Him. Rather, people will have placed themselves under His wrath by violating His moral Law. As such, they are storing up God’s wrath in the day of wrath.

Grace: Christianity’s Forgotten Solution

As we have been tracing the word “wrath” through Romans (on the Gentiles in Rom. 1:18, the Jews in Rom. 2:5, and on all people in Rom. 3:5, 23), the culminating point comes in Romans 5. Since God is perfectly just, He must punish those who break His Law. But because He is also perfectly loving, He is not content to simply allow mankind to reside under His wrath without hope. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus was sent into this world to take the punishment that was duly ours and place it on Himself. He endured God’s wrath for us, He shed His blood where ours should have flowed, He was crushed for our sins that we might be saved from God’s wrath through Him: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3-4a).

Jesus was sent into this world to take the punishment that was duly ours and place it on Himself. He endured God’s wrath for us, He shed His blood where ours should have flowed, He was crushed for our sins that we might be saved from God’s wrath through Him: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3-4a).

And so in Romans 5:8-9 Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” God, through the blood of Christ, offers us pardon for our crimes. God offers exemption from punishment on account of the death of His Son.

What if you were convicted of a heinous crime deserving of death? But instead of the judge immediately sentencing you to death, he removes his legal garb, stands next to you and offers to die in your place? Suppose, instead of accepting his offer, you spit in His face and reject the pardon. Will you be executed because you did not accept the judge’s offer? Hardly! Rather, you will die for your crime! Shall anyone go to Hell because they did not love God?

The god who sends people to Hell on an egotistical whim is a myth of tragic proportions. Click To Tweet

Jesus left the splendor of Heaven to give mankind the opportunity to be in Heaven with Him one day. But in order to avoid God’s wrath, we have to accept God’s pardon. Shall the criminal who continues to live lawlessly receive a pardon? Shall the unrepentant sinner receive God’s pardon? “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). The solution of Christianity to man’s problem is not, on the most fundamental level, to be a good person and to love our fellow man. The solution to man’s problem of moral guilt is Divine forgiveness. The god who sends people to Hell on an egotistical whim is a myth of tragic proportions. The God who offers pardon from Hell in the person of His Son is not only real, He draws sinners to Himself by His goodness and love.

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Aaron Johnson

Student at the Bear Valley Bible Institute. A Christian only, ambassador in training, pro-life advocate and a lover of the piano and ultimate Frisbee.