Theological Categories of God’s Justice

    God’s JusticeThe Bible reveals God is righteous and just. He is declared to be righteous by nature (Deu 32:4; Psa 119:137, 142; Isa 45:21; John 17:25), and just in all His ways (Psa 145:17; Rev 15:3). Divine righteousness may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as just that which conforms to His righteousness and as sinful that which deviates. One discovers throughout the Bible that righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. Theologically, the justice of God is observed in several categories as follows:

  1. Rectoral justice recognizes God as the absolute legislative moral ruler who judges all mankind for their thoughts and actions. Abraham recognized God as “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25; cf. 94:2), and David writes, “the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (Psa 50:6), and “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!” (Psa 58:11). God righteously judges those to whom He has revealed Himself and who know right and wrong, either through written revelation (Rom 2:12), or the intrinsic moral code written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15; cf. 1:18-20).
  2. Retributive justice means God will administer just punishment to the wicked for their actions. The Lord told Moses, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them” (Deu 32:35). And Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica concerning their suffering, saying, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted” (2 Thess 1:6-7a).
  3. Remunerative justice pertains to the distribution of rewards. Sometimes this is based on righteous behavior, such as when David wrote, “The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” (1 Sam 26:23a; cf. 2 Sam 22:25); and elsewhere, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Psa 18:20). In addition, it can refer to the compensation paid by the Egyptians to the Israelites for their four hundred years of slavery (Ex 3:22).
  4. Redemptive justice refers to God forgiving and justifying helpless sinners because Christ has redeemed them by paying the price for their sin. The price for redemption is the blood of Christ that was shed in our stead (1 Pet 1:18-19). The believer is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom 3:24-25a). God’s redemptive justice saves us from the penalty of sin, guaranteeing “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.
  5. Restorative justice refers to the familial forgiveness God gives to His children who humble themselves and confess their sin to Him. When we sin, we break fellowship with God, and when we confess our sin to Him, He forgives and restores us. David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psa 32:5). In the Old Testament, forgiveness was predicated on confession of sin (Lev 5:5; 16:21; Psa 32:5; 38:18) as well as animal sacrifice (Lev 4:20; 5:6; 6:6-7). In the New Testament, God requires confession alone (1 John 1:9), which rests on the once for all atoning sacrifice of Christ at the cross (Heb 10:10-14). Concerning confession of sin, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

     Understanding these aspects of God’s character help us know who He is and why He holds people accountable with regard to the laws He has revealed to them through general or special revelation. Furthermore, as Christians, we never retaliate against our attackers, but cast our cares upon the Lord and trust that He sees and acts righteously, in His time and way (Lev 19:18; Pro 20:22; Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:8-9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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