By Javan Rowe
“Liberty and justice for all” is a sentiment shared by nearly all U.S. citizens. We want a justice that makes our transactions and interactions fair. When it comes to God’s justice, though, is it something we should anticipate and desire, or dread?
Holiness and Justice
God’s justice is inseparably linked to his holiness. God is the perfect standard of moral purity, which separates him from anything unholy. His justice aligns with his holiness, as he acts according to his own perfect standards. This means he must also judge others according to that standard; his character dictates this.
God’s holiness separates him from everything that is unholy. This means we deserve death and eternal separation from God because of our sinfulness. God did not randomly decide to punish sin to prove his authority. He must punish sin because his holiness and justice demand it. This makes justice a frightening prospect.
We should not think of God’s justice as bad, though, because without it, people could do whatever they wanted without repercussions. Murder, theft, and oppression would be acceptable. Any heinous offense could be committed freely with no fear of punishment. Justice promotes order and protects the innocent.
God gave the law to the Israelites to teach them holiness and justice, but they found it impossible to obey. God also set up a judicial system to demonstrate his justice, but people made the courts inefficient. Corruption and bribery became commonplace: “You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12, NIV, 1984). Justice was lost and righteousness remained unattainable.
The Intervention of Love
Throughout Israel’s history of frequent idolatry, God sent prophets to act as his voice to the people. It is clear that people desperately needed someone to act on their behalf to make God’s justice accessible. “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him” (Isaiah 59:15, 16). Part of the message given to the prophets included the promise of deliverance through the coming of the Messiah.
God intervened because of love, another of his wonderful attributes. God created us to glorify him and to live with him forever. In his love, he viewed us in a positive light because he created us, even though we were sinners. His love was expressed through actions of mercy and grace.
God’s mercy is revealed in the act of holding back his arm of judgment and offering an escape. This mercy was seen in his provision of a promised Savior. Grace, on the other hand, includes anything good that comes from the hand of God. This is why people say “grace” at mealtime. We give thanks for all of God’s blessings. Daily food, family, health, and financial stability are just a sample of the countless graces our Lord provides. The greatest grace, of course, is Christ himself.
Jesus, the promised Messiah, led a perfect, righteous life that met the impossible standards of the law. He suffered a horrible death he certainly did not deserve, taking our punishment upon himself. He willingly laid down his life so that when we accept Christ as our Savior, the Father sees Jesus’ righteousness rather than our sinfulness. Justice has been served because Jesus became the lightning rod for the Father’s righteous wrath. A payment was made for our sins when God became flesh, living as a man and dying for our sins, fully satisfying the requirements of the law.
We have been given a great gift. God’s justice would certainly have meant our doom had God’s judgment not been redirected toward his Son. This means as saved individuals, we have personal responsibility in the realm of justice.
Thirst for justice. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [or justice], for they will be filled.” As physical activity creates physical thirst, the spiritual activities of prayer and reading Scripture make us thirst for more of God and his justice.
As we communicate with our Creator we must avoid anything that runs contrary to his commands. This leads to an intense thirst that can be filled only by God. He waits for us to release ourselves to him so he can fill us with good things, like his justice.
God reveals justice in his Word and through his Spirit. If we ignore what God tells us, we will most likely fill our lives with unholy things. We should instead thirst for justice and actively pursue it, accepting no substitutes.
Reflect justice. Experiencing justice means we match our actions to our beliefs. We know God acts according to his holy and just nature, so we are to conduct ourselves in a similar way. God has placed an understanding of right and wrong in our consciences. Our conscience dictates how we should treat others. In addition, the Scriptures record some of Jesus’ interactions with people so we can learn how justice is practiced in real-life situations. The Holy Spirit, then, provides us with the voice of reason, helping us discern what is acceptable to the Lord.
As we oppose sin, we are to strive to obey God’s commands. “It is those who obey the law who will be declared just” (Romans 2:13). The Bible is a blueprint for a Christian’s behavior, so being God’s reflection means living in accordance with God’s Word—obeying God and opposing sin. Strong beliefs are great, but if our actions do not match our beliefs, how will others see God reflected through us?
This means we must take a stand for justice when we see injustice. If the “least of these” are being hurt or taken advantage of, we must step in as reflections of God’s justice to make things right.
Practice love, grace, and mercy. Standing for justice does not mean we neglect God’s other attributes such as love, grace, and mercy. In many ways our culture encourages us to seek revenge when we feel wronged. Jesus counters, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9). He goes on to say that the way to remain in his love is to follow his command: “Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12). When God shows us love, we should be motivated to exhibit similar love. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”
(v. 13). When we have true compassion for others and work to meet their needs, we will be exhibiting the same love that prompted the Father to give us his Son.
We should practice God’s love in the forms of grace and mercy. God has blessed us with food, so we are to feed the needy. God has blessed some of us with the grace of financial security, so we should help those who are in need. Mercy should be shown to others for the same reason. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We are to put love into action by practicing grace and mercy, just as God has done with us.
Reading through the psalms, we see David’s pain caused by the deadly pursuits of Saul and Absalom; but we also witness David’s hope that God will someday bring about justice. We too have that great hope of justice. Regardless of our current situation, we can take comfort knowing God’s justice will someday be seen by all. It may not always happen in this life, but God’s justice will be witnessed. God’s justice will set everything right.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.
God’s Justice and Us
“Justice” by Kenneth Boa
“Justice of Jubilee in Luke” by Sang Chang
Restorative Bible Studies including:
• “Where Love and Justice Meet”
• “What Is Restorative Justice?”
• “Philemon: A Case Study in Peacemaking”