Posted On July 11, 2020

A few years ago, while I was working on my undergraduate degree, I was running late for an 8:30am Hebrew class. So, that morning, I ran out of the house, jumped in my car, and sped off to Dallas. As I was speeding in my little red Chevy Cobalt, I saw him and he saw me. The lights came on and he pulled me over. The police officer got me for 79 mph in a 65 mph zone. I had a few options because it was my first speeding violation so I took the plea deal, “deferred adjudication”. Basically the judge would “defer my sentence” if I fulfilled his requirements. He placed me on probation for a few months, I paid a couple hundred dollars, and finally took defensive driving so that I wouldn’t have a ticket on my record.

This is an example of the human justice system. You break the law and you pay. When speaking about God’s attributes, Scripture reveals that He operates according to His righteous standard when He administers His divine justice. Thus when one thinks about God, one must acknowledge that God is righteous. In our English language we have two different words: “righteousness” and “justice”. However, in both Greek and Hebrew there is only one word group behind these two English words.[1] Speaking then in systematic terms when you read Scripture, righteousness and justice is speaking about one attribute of God.

Defining God’s Justice

It is helpful at this point to provide two categories when speaking about God’s justice. The justice of God is often viewed as a retributive act, meaning God—because He is righteous—must act to punish those who sin against His character, as revealed in the Law. In this case, God exercises His justice. Yet it is also important not to miss the fact that God’s justice is restorative as well. For example, throughout the Psalms, when God acts in His justice, He is acting to save according to His covenant love and faithfulness (Psalm 9:7; 33:5; 146:7). As God acts to exercise His justice, He is doing so to set the wrongs of this world to right. The result of His justice in this world is shalom. The Old Testament reveals that God’s justice is retributive and restorative. He acts in His justice to punish those who transgress Law, but also to restore peace.

The Climax of God’s Justice

In the New Testament we see clearly these two aspects of God’s justice achieved in the cross of Jesus. Paul argues in Romans 3:21-26 that God’s justice is revealed fully in the death of Jesus. Luther called this paragraph, “The chief point, and the very center place of the epistle, and of the whole Bible.”

Paul argues that God’s righteousness/justice is revealed apart from law, but is attested to by the Law and Prophets. This means that God’s righteousness/justice is revealed apart from the Law, but remains consistent with the demands and teaching of the Law. It is important here to understand both the restorative and retributive aspects of God’s righteousness. Paul states that the righteousness/justice of God is climaxed in the death of Jesus, in which sinful humans can be justified (e.g. “set right”). The way God’s faithfulness and salvation is displayed in the world is through the saving act of Jesus Christ, which is received by us through faith. When we trust in the redemptive act of Jesus, God’s faithfulness is displayed. This means that God’s retributive and restorative justice is displayed in the cross of Jesus. Since we have sinned, we deserve God’s justice. Jesus was punished in the place of sinners (retributive), but also through His death sinners are restored back to God.

Here is the dilemma: if God just simply forgave sinners His justice is called into question. If God simply punished sinners His mercy is called into question. Through the Cross, God can remain just by condemning sin, and demonstrates mercy by forgiving sinners who trust in His Son. It is through the cross that God remains just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. The justice of God is now defined by the cross of Jesus; the One who is punished for sinners and restores sinners to God.

Towards an Eschatological View of God’s Justice

The injustice in the world is evidence that something is messed up. The injustices in this world are a result of our individual rebellion. Scripture reveals that this present evil age is moving towards the telos, where God’s retributive and restorative justice is once and for all revealed. At its apex, the book of Revelation presents a vision of the New Creation replacing the Old Creation. This is an eschatological reality, where God’s justice brings about shalom through the marriage of Heaven and Earth. The ungodly, Death, Hades, and the Dragon are cast into the lake of fire, while the resurrected saints enter into God’s peaceable kingdom. The punishment of the ungodly, the resurrection of the dead, and the establishment of the New Jerusalem are God’s final acts of retributive and restorative justice. The revelation of God’s restorative justice is located in the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s final victory for those who have faith in Jesus, whereby He vindicates them by triumphing over death itself. Death is therefore judged and God’s justice is revealed. Michael Bird states, “Those who denied justice and inflicted injustices receive justice at the end. God’s people rejoice, the nations worship God, and the entire universe gives God glory.”[2]

The Church as a Billboard of God’s Justice

The Church, then, as it anticipates this eschatological reality, lives in the present as a signpost of God’s justice. Michael Bird again explains:

“The church is meant to be the billboard for the world to come…The life of the church is to hint at what the world would look like in a redeemed state: righteousness flowing like a river, lions lying down with lambs, swords beaten into plowshares, and grace and mercy mingling together. We can work for justice in this world as part of our preparations for the next world.”[3]

Practically, members of a local church have experienced the justice of God in the person and finished work of Jesus. As a result we are called to live out God’s justice in this world as a preview for the next. The way in which God’s justice impacts our individual lives, through the death of Jesus, ought to now shape the way we live in this world in light of God’s eschatological justice. Whether it is calling those who commit injustice in this world to repent, or treating our neighbors the way we want to be treated, God’s justice (as revealed in the person of Jesus) must be displayed through the Church.

References:

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 204.

[2] Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, 307.

[3] Ibid, 308.

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