“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ.”
The Bible tells us that our God is a just God. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The word “just” is defined as “behaving according to what is right and fair.” This definition is an accurate depiction of God’s character. But, there is more to justice than what first meets the eye.
We look at justice as something that carries out fairness and impartiality. For example, justice is what sets the innocent free. But, there is another side to justice which takes on a much different meaning. If justice exercises fairness, then it not only sets the innocent free but also punishes the guilty. It does not just use fairness in dealing with the incorruptible, but also with the corruptible.
With the full meaning of justice laid out, we now see that to be just, God’s duty is not only to show fairness to the innocent (Isaiah 1:17), but also to the sinners by giving them the punishment they deserve (Colossians 3:25). But, when you look at the Bible, there are some instances which seem to contradict God’s justice. For example, if God is supposed to punish the wicked in order to be just, then every time He shows someone mercy, isn’t that against justice? Think of it this way: If a murderer came before a judge in court and the judge pardoned his sin with no punishment, would he be demonstrating justice? No! Because of his sin, the murderer deserves to be punished, and by failing to give that punishment the judge abandoned justice.
So, the question is, is it the same with God? Is He abandoning justice every time He shows us mercy? How can He be a forgiving and just God at the same time? The answer to these questions is that God has ultimately fulfilled justice…but not by punishing us. This is where justice and the cross meet, each fulfilling the other. You see, the cross was not only to save us from our sins but to fulfill the justice of God. And just as the cross appeased God’s justice, that same justice made the purpose of the cross possible. In other words, without the cross, saving us from our sins would be ignoring justice. But, because God poured out the punishment we deserved on Jesus, His justice was satisfied and forgiveness became possible. It was through the cross that justice was achieved; it was through justice that the purpose of the cross was made possible.
Now, of course, just because Jesus took the just punishment we deserved for our sins, that does not mean that we are not accountable for our actions. Jesus will come back one day and judge each person according to their actions. But what it does mean is that if we bring our sins to the Lord and ask for forgiveness, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) And once our sins are forgiven, they are remembered by God no more. (Hebrews 8:12) So when Jesus comes back to judge our actions, He will not see our sins but His Holy Spirit and His perfect and just forgiveness.
Romans 3:25-26 tells us that Jesus took our sins upon himself to demonstrate His “righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Those who believe in Jesus and have asked for His forgiveness are covered by the justifier of our sins: Jesus Christ. God did not ignore justice each time he showed mercy. Rather, He took the punishment upon Himself so that the justice would be satisfied, and we would be able to be perfectly and freely forgiven by our Savior.