By Stephen Green

First Published in Christian Voice November 2013

Psalm 89:14 Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.

There can be a temptation today in some Christian circles to lay too great an emphasis on the grace of God and to downplay his property of judgment.  The idea, of course, is to reassure those young in the faith that they are forgiven, that the blood of Christ has indeed washed their sin away and that nothing can separate them from the love of God.

It is felt perhaps that introducing the theme of God’s judgment might grate with the forgiveness, love and acceptance thesis.  But we need to be as intellectually coherent as the Bible is on this subject.  Right from the third chapter of Genesis we are reading that a blood sacrifice was necessary to cover the sin of Adam and Eve.  In Leviticus we see that the blood makes an atonement for sin.

Our redemption in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is totally informed by God’s sense of justice.  God forgives us not just because of his lovingkindness but because of Christ’s obedience unto death, prophesied as it was in Genesis 3 and in the temple sacrifices.  It is ironic that the circles I am talking about are not part of any anti-atonement movement.  They know full well that God has visited on our Saviour the punishment we deserve, as Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah:

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Any church congregation has people at the start of their Christian walk, and those who have been growing strong in the faith for years.  Of course we want to make sure the starters do not fall prey to any lie of the Devil suggesting that they aren’t forgiven, that they have been too bad, that they are still bound for hell and so on.

But it must be possible to have teaching that maintains a balance between insisting that, as the Psalmist puts it, that we are totally forgiven:

Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

And still to remind us that we should aspire to lives of holiness and righteousness in reverence:

Phil 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Col 1:10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;


Human beings have a strong sense of justice because we are made in the image of God.  Sermons which ridicule God’s justice by portraying the Almighty God ‘of the Old Testament’ as someone with ‘a smite button’ ready to zap us don’t stand a moment’s examination.  Firstly, it doesn’t work like that.  Secondly, when James Bulger was abducted in 1993, at the age of two, to be tortured and murdered by ten‑year‑olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, would it not have been rather good for God to have had a ‘smite button’?

To be brutally honest, people’s intelligence is being insulted by pretending that the Almighty has forgotten judgment these days.  What happens when an encounter with God’s word reveals that, after all, justice is part of God’s character?

Job 37:23 Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: he will not afflict.

Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

And what happens when reading the Bible brings up any of the numerous passages which speak of God’s judgement on individuals:

Eccl 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

1Pet 1:17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

Matt 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

2Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

Is it really beyond us to convey the simple and balanced truth that Christ’s blood has justified us and that we are also responsible to Christ for how we live?  That there is no conflict in the word of God between those scriptures which speak of God’s mercy and those which talk of our duty to him?

Psalm 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

2Tim 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

As a final thought, can we not see that God’s judgment is not just part of his character, but that requiring it of human beings is part of his love for us?  His word tells the leaders of human society to administer justice:

Psalm 82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

King David was commended because of how he dispensed justice:

2Sam 8:15 And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people.

The prophets were appalled at the lack of judgment:

Isaiah 59:9 Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.

Isaiah 59:14 And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.

The justice of God has been put in place to protect society and to give victims and their familes a sense of closure by punishing those who commit crime, by restoring what has been done wrong, and by so doing, to maintain peace and order.  It is a good thing that God is ‘a God of judgment’ and that he wants to see allegiance to him expressed not in empty words and easy ‘sacrifices’ but in a high standard of justice and judgment in any human society:

Prov 1:3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

And that in no way diminishes the Lord’s desire to forgive each one who confesses his sins and comes to the foot of the cross in humility and penitence:

Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.



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