Midway through Holy Week we turn to another attribute in our quest to know more fully the character of God. Comparable with seeing wrath as a quality of a perfectly loving God, we must frame God’s justice with both His holiness and His grace. God is a Just God—just being a characteristic, perfect and complete and equal to His love and grace and righteous wrath, that must be satisfied. For God to be good—and oh my, He is so good—God must be a wholly just God:
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.”
—Deuteronomy 32:4, ESV
God’s righteousness demands that all who desire to approach Him must be in right relationship with Him. How does this happen for a fallen people, constantly in a state of rebellion? Only God, perfect in righteous and unlimited in power, could create a righteous relationship that stands for eternity.*
What does it mean to say God is a Just God? What it does NOT mean is that God is fair. If God were to treat us fairly we would receive the condemnation we deserve as the disobedient lot that we are. True justice is equal; every single person past, present, and future, will be judged by the same scales. Since all are guilty because of sin, we would receive the just act of God’s wrath. His wrath must be satisfied for God to be the holy and altogether righteous God that He is. And the only God worth worshipping is one that is perfect in all His attributes!
Knowing this, God made a plan: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23,ESV). From the beginning, His plan was to send God the Son to live a just, obedient life, and to give that perfect life as a ransom for all who call Jesus Lord. God, in an act of perfect justice and irrepressible love, poured out His wrath on His Son. God made a way for us to approach Him, a way we could not accomplish on our own. This is what it means to be a Just God who is also perfect in holiness and unshakable in His love.
We may talk big about unconditional love—big talk because it is impossible, a misnomer. Love always has conditions. The more you love someone, the more you want the best for them. God does want the best for us—and the best IS Himself. What we really mean is love unreserved, unfailing, and given with abandon. God does not limit His love for us. Though He controls His wrath, and measures out His justice, His love is lavished upon us:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ.
—Ephesians 1:7-9, ESV.
Make no mistake, when we see God rightly, see our total unworthiness next to His complete holiness, the only response is to fall on our knees at the mercy of the cross. It is then we finally understand:
What I called confidence is simply arrogance.
What I called self-sufficiency is pride.
When I claimed wisdom or intelligence, it was foolishness.
And when confronted by the truth of my fallen nature, I see clearly the God who knows very well the justice His holy righteousness deserves.
But here’s the thing—He still gives me a way to Him. He placed His just wrath on Another. He poured it out on Jesus, whom Womenary professor Eric Barton calls “God who became man, who is God, the ever-proceeding sendable Son of the Godhead Trinity.” This is our Jesus, always destined to be our Savior.
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.
As we bow down in humble submission, Jesus adorns us with His own pristine robe. God, in His mercy, provided the just response to our unholiness so that we could approach Him.
As we move to the events of Friday and into the darkness of Saturday, let’s do so with our memory intact. God has given us a great gift of knowing Him, deeper and more intimately with each passing year spent in His Word and at the feet of His Son.
So, what do we have to look forward to on Easter weekend? By Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection we receive the unmerited gift of righteousness from Him. As we accept Jesus as Savior, He stands before us now and in our final judgment with God. God sent His Son for this reason: that His wrath would be satisfied, His righteousness intact, His perfect justice served, and intimacy with Him possible. Oh, my perfectly just and gracious LORD!
Reference used in writing:
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, second edition. Zondervan Academic. 2020. pp. 243-244.