Attributes of God: Lesson 11: God is Just

Exclamation

All His ways are just; A God . . . without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.

(Deut 32:4; cf. Gen 18:25, Ps 7:11, 11:7, 129:4, 145:17, Dan 4:37, 9:14, Rom 9:14, 2 Tim 4:8, Rev 16:5)


Explanation

In Leviticus 19:35-36, God said to the Israelites through Moses: “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (cf. Deut 25:13-16). A “just” unit of measurement was one which was right or fair because it conformed to a standard. To say that God is just is to say that He is right or fair because He conforms to a standard. The standard is God Himself. “Everything in the universe is good to the degree it conforms to the nature of God and evil as it fails to do so” (Tozer, p. 87). There is no standard of righteousness or fairness external to God to which He must conform. If there was, it would be God.[1] Since God is the standard, everything God does is right or fair. God doesn’t do things because they are right; they are right because He does them. God is never unrighteous or unfair in His dealings, though it may sometimes seem so to us. However, our perspective is limited. Asaph realized this truth in Psalm 73. From Asaph’s limited perspective, it seemed like God was being unjust in allowing the wicked to prosper[2] (verses 3-12) and the righteous to suffer (verses 13-14). However, once he understood God’s unlimited perspective, his doubts were dispelled (verses 16-28).

Execution

Because God is just, He deals justly with men, punishing or rewarding them in accordance with what they deserve (unless He decides to act in mercy by not giving them what they deserve or in grace by giving them what they don’t deserve).[3] See Psalm 9:8, 96:13, Acts 17:31, Romans 2:5, Revelation 16:7, and 19:2. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil . . . but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good (Rom 2:9-10).

God executes His justice by punishing disobedience. Theologians call this God’s “retributive justice.” As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice (Dan 9:13-14; cf. Neh 9:33, Gal 6:8a, and Rev 16:4-7). God is the standard; since God is perfect, the standard He demands is perfection (Matt 5:48).[4] Since we fail to meet this standard (Rom 3:23), God is perfectly just in punishing us for our sin to the ultimate degree.[5]

God executes His justice by rewarding obedience. Theologians call this God’s “remunerative justice.” For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints (Heb 6:10; cf. 1 Sam 26:23, Gal 6:8b, and Eph 6:8). When we think of God’s justice, we usually think of it only in negative terms, i.e., God punishing disobedience. However, His justice also has a positive side. Because God is just, He rewards obedience. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be just. Here’s the incredible thing: Though He is the One who works within us to give us the desire and ability to do right (Phil 2:13), we get the blessing that results from doing right (Ps 19:11, 119:1-2, Luke 11:28, Jas 1:25).

When does God execute His justice? Sometimes, God chooses to execute His justice upon men during their earthly lifetimes. This was especially true with the Jews during the theocracy. In the theocracy, there was an immediate cause-and-effect relationship between actions and their consequences. The effects of our actions, however, are often far removed from their causes. Nevertheless, the consequences usually come sometime during our earthly existence. However, God is not obligated to execute His justice upon an individual while that individual is still alive on this earth. He has all eternity to execute His justice. This means that even though all wrongs may not be righted in this life, they will be eventually. God’s justice demands an eventual reconciliation between men’s actions and their consequences. As Erickson (p. 289) states: “The justice of God must not be evaluated on a short-term basis. Within this life it will often be incomplete or imperfect. Earthly life is not all there is, however. There is a life beyond, and in the scope of all eternity, God’s justice will be complete.” For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecc 12:14). “Pay Day–Someday”[6] (2 Thess 1:6-9). For the believer, God’s justice will be meted out at the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (1 Cor 3:10-15, 2 Cor 5:10); for the unbeliever, at the “Great White Throne Judgment” (Rev 20:11-15).

Some Implications of God’s Justice

Because God is just, we should do right. From a negative standpoint, God’s justice should motivate us to forsake sin, as we realize that God will punish every act of disobedience. “If we know that retributive judgment faces us at the end of the road, we shall not live as otherwise we would” (Packer, p. 143). From a positive standpoint, God’s justice should motivate us to pursue righteousness, as we realize that God will also reward every act of obedience (Gal 6:9).

Because God is just, we should not take justice into our own hands. Because God is just, He will eventually right all wrongs (see, for example, 2 Thess 1:6). This is His responsibility, not ours. No matter how tempted to do so, we should never take justice into our own hands. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, AVENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord (Rom 12:19).

[1]“It is sometimes said, ‘Justice requires God to do this,’ referring to some act we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking, for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would be superior to God” (Tozer, p. 87).

[2]“In the past we often heard the slogan ‘crime does not pay.’ But crime frequently does pay, and sometimes quite handsomely!  Leaders in organized crime often accumulate huge amounts of earthly wealth” (Erickson, p. 289).

[3]Because God is just, every sin must be punished. God cannot overlook sin. Either the sinner Himself pays the price (in Hell) or Jesus pays the price for him (on the Cross). See Romans 3:21-26.

[4]Do you have to be perfect to go to heaven? YES! “The righteousness He requires is the righteousness His righteousness requires Him to require.” The only way to Heaven is through Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12), for only Christ met the standard of perfection demanded by God (Matt 3:15). At the moment of salvation, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer (placed on his account), causing God to declare the believer righteous positionally (justification), providing passage into Heaven.

[5]The “ultimate degree” is eternity in Hell. The reason why Hell is such a stumbling block to so many is because so many minimize the severity of sin. The punishment for a crime is proportionate to the value of the victim. For example, killing a human warrants a stiffer penalty than killing an animal. Because sin’s “victim” is God (Gen 39:9, 1 Sam 12:23, 2 Sam 12:13, Ps 51:4, Luke 15:18, Acts 5:4), and God is infinite, sin’s punishment must be infinite. Furthermore, since the unbeliever’s rebellion against God will never end, neither can God’s punishment for it.

[6]The title of a famous sermon preached by Robert G. Lee (a sermon which he preached an incredible 1,275 times).

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