Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the character of God is and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

CharacterGod_website-960x350-300x109We all long for it. Rarely are we satisfied for what is passed for it in the news. People (rightfully) march the streets for it. We’ve probably all experienced it to some degree, though admittedly many of us wish there was more of it, depending on the circumstance. What are we talking about? Justice.

Isaiah 30:18 reads, “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

God has declared that the foundations of His throne are righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14). In other words, He is elohei mishpat, the God of Justice.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR GOD TO BE JUST?

 The various names of God in Scripture reflect the various character traits of God. Because God defines truth, it is appropriate for Scripture to say that He is truthful. Because God is a certain thing/attribute (by definition), He always acts accordingly. God’s character is always consistent. He only does that which coincides with who He is.

Consequently, when we talk about God being the God of justice, we must delineate between who He is by His own very nature—apart from creation—and how He acts because of it. To begin, God, in His infinitely Holy self, is the ultimate standard. He determines the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10), and only He sets the standard for that which is right and wrong. “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8). The entire created order owes its origins to the fact that God creates (Gen. 1:1). Justice is not an abstract principle conjured up by the mere conjectures of naturalists. Justice is rooted in God because He is in Himself just. He defines all things, and imputes meaning to all things. This is important to know because without a standard of justice rooted in God’s own character, we’ll never know what justice looks like, and how justice should function. God is just, His statutes are pure, and in Him there is no such thing as a lie. Only God is truly, fully, and meaningfully just.

Which also means that He only does that which is just, pure, and righteous. “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness” (Ps. 33:4). In fact, God takes doing that which is right so seriously, that He would rather have it than sacrifice: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).

EXPLORING IT FURTHER

Because God is Creator and Sustainer, He must be Just. In other words, when we consider justice, we are considering a person’s rights and duties under law as described by God. What is required of man? How does that work with regard to his liberty under God?

To start, God is the righteous Judge (Ps. 7:11). Only He is the lawgiver: “For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Is. 33:22). When the standard of God’s law and justice is given, any deviation from this is deemed “unjust.” Actions that align with said standard are considered “just.” To say that God is the God of Justice, is to say that not only does He set the standard, He also only does that which is in harmony with that standard.

You can never accuse God of acting unjustly. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Because God sets the boundaries for that which is just and those things that are unjust, God acts in accordance to this perfect standard. The reason you can’t tell God he is out of line is because he’s the one that defines what it means to be in line.

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

So how exactly can a sinner (which by definition means, “law breaker”) get right with this Holy God of Justice? The cross of Christ.

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in two different places:

Rom. 1:16-17 ,“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’.”

Rom. 3:21-26, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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. 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.”

The question the Apostle Paul has to help resolve is this: If God is just, why isn’t He faithful to His covenant? Answer? He has been faithful to His covenant, the cross is the answer. God’s righteousness has, in fact, been revealed and it centers on His Son, Jesus.

All sinners have sinned grievously against their Maker. Their souls are tainted with the drippings of vexation. There is no hope in and of themselves, indeed ourselves (lest I be considered something other than a sinner!). In order for God to be just, which is who He is, divine justice must be meted out. Because of this sinful state, man is condemned.

And yet God, in His mercy and love, sent His Son Jesus so that sinners could be saved! But how can a transgressor be counted as a law-keeper? How can a covenant-breaker be identified as a covenant-keeper? The solution is found by the substitutionary atonement of the Son. Jesus Christ dies for His people by taking their sin and suffering for it, while simultaneously crediting to their account His own law-keeping record of obedience. Is God still just in forgiving sinners who have violated His standard? The overwhelming response of the New Testament is, “Yes!”

The justice and mercy of God is seen most vividly in the cross of Christ. It is there the justice of God is poured out on His Son, and the heavenly irony is that in that very same act, God is able to remain just and merciful—the two things He cares about more than the sacrifice of animals. The Son has paid the debt. Justice has been satisfied. Atonement has been made. And forgiveness is apprehended by faith in Jesus alone.