It sounds like a good word . . .well, at least it does if you are on the right side of it! That’s how many of us perceive justice when we read the latest scandal in the media. We don’t think of ourselves on the other side of it, waiting for the consequences of justice to come down like a heap on our heads. Like many senior ministers, I’ve had the responsibility of being the decision maker and communicator of justice in church environments. I’ve delivered the verdict to pastors and leaders who have been caught in moral failure, mishandling of finances, attitude problems, or lazy ineffectiveness. It’s never been something I’ve looked forward to and it’s seldom received well. I’ve also been in the supporting cast of many situations that have happened inside families when justice comes down on them only to see it leave a person and their loved ones bewildered and lost, searching for truth to stand on when all of the well-used rationalizations fall apart.
There is a spiritual truth to justice that we might find a bit less palatable. We’re all on the wrong side of it. It’s interesting how judgmental we can be when we hear or see that a guilty person has been found out. But we seem to have little regard for the fact that if there is one thing clear in the New Testament about us, it’s that we are all guilty and have been found out. What Paul described in first person in Romans 7 fits every one of us, and though we might wish to assign the guilt to our past only, Scripture gives us no comfort there. Desperation fills Paul’s present tense cry when he exclaims, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24, ESV). Spiritual justice not only finds guilt, it conveys the well-deserved condemnation that goes along with it. “For the wages of sin is death” (6:23). It pronounces an eternal separation from a holy God and all that God represents. The law and justice do very well together but neither do very well with us. Invariably, they weigh us in the balance and find us wanting.
Wanting what? Mercy? No, we need much more than that! Mercy removes some or maybe even all of the deserved consequences of our violations, but it doesn’t provide a solution for their staining effects. We are still what they say we are, as our actions define our identity. I need something more for the effect that justice has on me, but what could be greater than mercy? I need salvation. Salvation is so much greater than mercy as it not only provides the benefit of mercy but also removes the lingering stain of my sin. It replaces my old identity with a new one and turns my tragedy into a testimony. It takes the present tense of the Romans passages and replaces them with a work that manifests itself in all three. More than once 1 Peter chapter 1 reminds us that those who have trusted in Jesus have been saved. It’s related in past perfect tense as a new birth and a choosing. Our past is consigned to the rubbish pile, replaced with a living hope that can never spoil, perish, or fade. Verse 9 says that salvation is not just a work of the past but my present reality in Jesus Christ and verse 5 encourages me that this salvation will be ready for me on that future day that will be revealed. All of this reminds me that I need salvation every day and in every moment of my life. It overwhelms justice with a love that would take all the condemnation I deserve and pay it in full by the life of someone else. Keep your justice . . . give me Jesus!