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Article 0128 - God's Justice
God's Justice: How It is Misunderstood
Jon Gary Williams
One of the most interesting and important things to study about God is His justice and how that justice relates to man. Much theological study of both ancient and modern times has been devoted to this theme. Many volumes have been written by the "scholars" of the ages attempting to explain God's justice. In many instances, however, these writings have only contributed a misunderstanding of God's justice.
Biblical teaching on how man relates to God's justice has been greatly distorted. Some of these false views stem all the way back to Biblical times; most, however, are of more recent origin.
What are some of these misconceptions and how do they compare with the scriptures? Here are
some of the better known.
"Man's Ill Fortune is a Sign of Guilt"
During New Testament days there were those who believed that if some ill fortune beset people, it was a sure sign that they had done something wrong and God was punishing them for it. Concerning the blind man who was suspected of being guilty of sin it was asked, "...who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) To some who held such a misconception of God's justice Jesus said, "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things" (Luke 13:2)?
Even today there are those who, because of false teaching, labor under the idea that when they suffer this must be a sign they are being punished by God. However, if this were true then how would one explain the fact that many wicked people live their entire lives with only minimal suffering? The truth is, God does not work in this way. His justice is of a much higher order and is not represented by constant threats in man's everyday living. Although people do suffer the consequences of their sins, the ill fortune that we see is not necessarily a sign of God's displeasure.
"The Guilt of Adam's Sin is Passed on to All Mankind"
Of Adam's sin, the 1907 edition of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith states, "...the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation (natural birth, jgw)." It goes on to state, "From this original corruption... do proceed all actual transgressions." This is just another way of saying that all people are born guilty of Adam's sin, commonly called "original" sin.
On the very surface the idea of man being born guilty of Adam's sin is repulsive to common sense and more importantly, it is an insult to God's system of justice! It means that infants enter the world contaminated and guilty of sin. However, of little children Jesus said, "...for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14)
Furthermore, nowhere do the scriptures teach an "original sin" concept, that is, the sin committed by Adam being passed on to all mankind. Romans 5:12 is a passage often misused to support this false doctrine. However, while pointing out that sin entered the world through Adam, this passage clearly states that it is "death" that was passed on, not the guilt of sin. In addition, Ezekiel 18:20 explains in no uncertain terms that "iniquity" (sin) is not passed from one generation to the next. Therefore, Adam's children could not have inherited his sin. The idea of "Adamic" sin is foreign to God's justice.
"Only Certain People are Selected to Salvation"
Many millions have grown up believing that the Calvinistic doctrine of "special election" is found in the scriptures. Many have been under the illusion that prior to man's birth God individually selects those who will be saved! The Presbyterian Confession states, "...some men and angels are predestinated into everlasting life... these angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished."
Now consider the consequences of this doctrine. If some are selected to be saved, does not this mean that all others are selected to be lost? Thus, God becomes a respecter of persons. However, the Bible teaches He is not (Acts 1:34; Romans 2:11; I Peter 1:17). In addition, the scriptures make it clear that "whosoever will" may be saved (Romans 10:11,13; Revelation 22:17). Hence, the doctrine of "special election" is contrary to God's justice.
"The Justification of Man is Unconditional"
Here again, millions have been influenced to believe the false view that man's salvation is the work of God alone. This means that man plays no role whatsoever in his redemption. It means, very simply, that obedience to God is not essential to one's salvation. However, such a doctrine violates the justice of God, for it also makes God responsible if it turns out that man is not saved. Since, presumably, man has nothing to say about his salvation, this means that only God can be blamed if he is lost!
The Bible is quite emphatic on this matter, explaining that man does have a part to play in his salvation. "Save yourselves..." said Peter (Acts 2:40). The writer of Hebrews said that Christ is the author of salvation to those who "obey" Him (Hebrews 5:9). The Philippian Christians were told to "work out" their salvation (Philippians 2:12). And the Christians of Rome were reminded that they had "obeyed" God and were made free from sin (Romans 6:17,18). Hence, the doctrine of unconditional salvation stands in opposition to the justice of God.
"God's Justice is Demonstrated Only in His Love"
This is a view of God that distorts His true nature. Some, however, have been led to believe that God's justification of man involves only love and forgiveness. It is thought that "A God who is just will not condemn anyone."
It is true that love is a part of God's nature, but this is not all. His justice, like all true justice, includes the concept of condemnation as well as love. To believe that at judgment, justice will mean only love, is to miss the complete meaning of justice. Men need to realize that true justice looks in two directions. Not only does it commend, it also rebukes and condemns. Paul declared, "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22). The Bible also teaches, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Indeed, God's justice involves more than love.
"God's Final Justice Will be Based on the Weighing Out of Good and Evil in Man's Life"
Many feel that God's justice is something like this: At judgment God will weigh man's life, putting his good works on one side and his bad works on the other side, and whichever side tilts the scale will determine one's destiny. Such a concept could not be further from the truth. What people need to understand is that in judgment, it will not be the quantity of good works compared to the quantity of bad works that will determine where man will spend eternity. In other words, a man's good works will not counterbalance his bad works - - there will be no "balancing out" of man's life based on works.
This false teaching makes void God's scheme of redemption, for if the works of man will be the deciding factor there was no need for Jesus to suffer the death of crucifixion. The Bible teaches that all are guilty of sin (Romans 3:23) and sin can only be forgiven through the blood of Christ (Matthew 26:28). The plan of salvation by which man is forgiven through the blood of Christ is found in the inspired scriptures, which will be brought forward into judgment. Jesus said, "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). In Revelation 20:12 we are told that men will be "judged out of those things which are written in the books (i.e., God's word), according to their works." Though man's works, both good and bad, will be considered at judgment, the ultimate determining factor in man's destiny will be the word of God.
How wonderful it is that we have a just God, and that He has clearly revealed His justice to us through the scriptures. This is an important theme encompassing all mankind - - a theme which should draw the attention of not only God's people, but the lost as well.