Question: Would you rather receive justice or grace from God?

17 Jan

Most common answer: Grace.

My answer: Both. Why? I’ll tell you.

This question was posed recently in our BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) study questions, and it bothered me. First of all, at it’s core, this question is an indication of a fundamental misunderstanding of Divine justice. Secondly to set justice and grace at opposition to each other is to undermine the integrity of God’s character. God’s justice and grace are neither mutually exclusive concepts nor are they polar opposites.

For an expanded study of Divine justice and it’s implications, please read A.W. Pink’s treatise “The Justice of God”, which can be found here: http://www.eternallifeministries.org/awp_justice.htm .

I will simply provide a short overview from what the Lord has been teaching me lately in His Word.

Common myth: Unbelievers get justice, believers get grace. Let me emphasize this is NOT a Biblical concept, despite how prevalent it seems to be!

The opposite of grace is not justice. Unbelievers get justice. Believers get justice. Unbelievers get condemnation. Believers get grace. Romans 8:1-4 says, “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for this in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirements would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” And John 3:18 says, “Anyone who believes in Him [the Son] is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.”

GOD –>

offended by sin –>

Justice–>              Justice–>

Wrath–>                  Wrath–>

            No mediator (for unrepentant)          Christ (mediator for those who repent)

 ( Unrepentant) Sinner–>                   (Repentant) Sinner–>

                                    Destroyed.                   Saved/Redeemed.

[Demonstration of Condemnation]                 [Demonstration of Grace]

As the diagram above illustrates, both the unbeliever AND the believer receive justice. One one hand, the believer’s justice is mediated by Christ, so that the wrath of God is absorbed by Christ and the believer is saved, which is a demonstration of grace in action. On the other hand the unbeliever’s justice is unmediated, which results in the full cup of God’s wrath descending upon him to his ultimate destruction. If God did not accomplish justice on both accounts of the believer and unbeliever, He would compromise His character of holiness, which demands that justice be done. God would be unjust (not accomplishing justice) as well as injust (devoid of justice). He is neither, but fully just and fully accomplishing justice.

Christ came to accomplish justice: BOTH now as Savior for those who believe in His work on the cross, AND ultimately, as Judge for those who refuse to believe. But here’s another twist to understanding the justice of God in Christ: He (Christ) accomplished justice on the cross for those who believe – both for us who have believed AFTER His historical atonement, and for those who believed BEFORE His historical work. Jesus isn’t only “the Way, the Truth and the Life” for New Testament believers and us, He is that for all those who believed God before He came. Think on that for a while and see if it doesn’t blow your mind, like it does mine!

Romans 3:23-26 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They [those who believe] are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.”

In otherwords, in light of God’s forbearance with saints in the Old Testament, Christ MUST come, in order to not only justify those of us who believe with a historical Jesus in mind, but also those who by faith believed the Word of God, as much as it was revealed to them in their day (i.e., Abraham, David, etc. Paul in the next chapter of Romans talks about Abraham being justified by faith), though they could not yet point to a place in time where the Messiah was. God PASSED OVER the sins previously committed, like the sins of Abraham who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness — not just because Abraham believed God, but because God looked past Abraham’s day to JESUS! What Romans is saying here, is that unless Jesus had come, God would not have been righteous in declaring Abraham’s (and other Old Testament saints) faith justifying! God presented Jesus at a certain time and place in history, so that He could show Himself truly righteous in dealing with sin, and be able to remain righteous in justifying sinners who believe God, put their faith in Christ and repent from their sins. Apart from Christ, God has no grounds to justify any of us – we would have no hope of redemption or salvation, because justice demands the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. Allow me to “split” a few theological “hairs” here: Our faith in God does not purchase for us salvation from wrath – Christ’s work purchases that for us. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2 says so), but that faith only justifies us not because of it’s merit as faith, but because of the grace that undergirds that faith: essentially, the grace demonstrated through Christ’s atonement. The order of salvation, if you think of it in linear terms, is not “faith” + “grace” = “salvation”. It is “grace” + “salvation” = “faith”. By this I mean, faith in God does not procure for us His grace to give us salvation. He had already purposed to demonstrate His heart of grace by providing a means of salvation, and this provision is what makes faith even possible. Without something in which to place our faith, there would be no such thing as faith. God’s salvation came first, even in the case of Old Testament saints who lived before the time of Christ – in God’s eyes, it was already planned, determined, a done deal. That’s what made it possible for them to have faith. God had a plan to save, and therefore they believed Him for it, as much as He revealed to them, which was a great deal, though certainly not the full picture we have post-cross.

SO. God’s justice is demonstrated to us in Christ – where He not only preserves His integrity and Holiness, but also demonstrates His Grace. As believers, we are to desire God’s justice as well love His grace, because without His justice, His is not only NOT God (He would compromise His character), but we would have no hope of salvation. An unjust and injust God is not a good God, and therefore is not a God who would give us any hope of salvation nor any assurance of the possibility of salvation.

Here are some of my favorite scriptures that show we are to love God’s justice, even as believers, and that help us to see just how tied up with justice His love and salvation are:

Ps. 101:1 – I will sing of faithful love and justice; I will sing praise to You, LORD. –Here the Psalmist shows us that we are to love God’s justice so much, we should sing of it as praise to Him.

Is. 1:27 – Zion will be redeemed by justice, her repentant ones by righteousness. –Zion is used in Isaiah not just as a reference to the idyllic state of the nation of Israel, but to the gathering of true believers from all nations and all ages, the Church Invisible. Justice here is shown to be the means of our redemption.

Is. 51:4-5 – Pay attention to Me, My people, and listen to Me, My nation; for instruction will come from Me, and My justice for a light to the nations. I will bring it about quickly. My righteousness is near, My salvation appears, and My arms will bring justice to the nations. The coastlands will put their hope in Me, and they will look to My strength. — Again, in context, this is a future Messianic prophecy both refering to the work of Christ as well as the culmination of all things at the end of time. Here, justice is the light to the nations, and closely associated with righteousness and salvation. Salvation appearing is linked with God bringing justice to the nations, and they will hope in Him.

Is. 46: 12-13 – Listen to me, you hardhearted, far removed from justice: I am bringing My justice near; it is not far away, and My salvation will not delay. I will put salvation in Zion, My splendor in Israel. — Here again, justice and salvation are closely linked.

Jer. 9:24 – But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understand and knows Me — that I am the LORD, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the LORD’s declaration. — Love, justice and righteousness go hand in hand here. The LORD Himself tells us He delights in these things. If He delights in them, should we as His people not also delight in them? We must LOVE His justice.

Hosea 2:19-20 – I will take you to be My wife forever. I will take you to be My wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion. I will take you to be My wife in faithfulness, and you will know the LORD. — Here God declares His sovereign will and purpose to make His people completely His, and in doing so, He declares it will be done in righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness. Justice is here demonstrated to be essential to this being accomplished.

Micah 7:9 – Because I have sinned against Him, I must endure the LORD’s rage until He argues my case and establishes justice for me. He will bring me into the light; I will see His salvation. — I really love this verse, because it deals with sin, and instead of throwing up the typical concepts of grace and mercy as grounds to hope in God’s salvation, justice is used here. The prophet hopes in God because God will argue his case, establish justice for him, and bring him into the light and he will see His salvation. Justice, light, salvation. This is a beautiful description of exactly what Christ does for us.

With all this talk of God’s justice demonstrated in Christ, let me dispell a possible problem that may arise in the minds of some. Was God unjust, or did He demonstrate injustice, in laying all of the wrath and punishment for our sins upon Christ? You hear a lot of talk in the evangelical world of the perfection of Jesus, the innocence of Christ, the flawlessness of the Lamb of God. Would it not then seem unjust to punish someone who didn’t sin for the sins of those who committed them? Isn’t that like sending Mother Teresa to death row for the attrocities committed by Adolf Hitler before and during WWII? Wouldn’t that have been unjust? Well, yes. IF. IF, IF, if… If it had been involuntary. If Jesus had been strong-armed into dying on the cross, or if he had just been unwittingly thrown upon it by the Father’s decision, then YES. Absolutely, unquestionable UNJUST! But. Jesus died WILLINGLY on our behalf. That’s the difference. If your child breaks a jar at the grocery store, and you pay for it, justice has been served, just as much as if your child had to pay for it himself somehow (now if you or your child didn’t pay for it, then the company or other consumers absorb the cost and this penalizes the unwitting or unwilling innocent). Your child didn’t pay for his transgression. You did. But you did it (hopefully) willingly. On his behalf, you absorbed the cost. JUSTICE at work. Jesus said of Himself, in John 10:15 and 17-18, “I lay down My life for the sheep…This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” There is no injustice in Christ WILLINGLY absorbing God’s wrath for our sins – rather, justice is fully served, so righteous grace can be fully demonstrated.

Beautiful. God’s justice is beautiful.

©2011 Reformation Lady and Chandra E. Wellman. All rights reserved.

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