God's Justice and Righteousness
God's Moral Universe
When determining right from wrong, people have their own opinions. Without a standard, men and women begin to do what is right in their own eyes. My standard and yours at times are two separate things. And some people seem to have no standards at all, considering the number of people who treat their fellow men with complete inhumanity. There is much inequity that takes place in this world. Further, some people who deserve to be punished for wrongdoing, seem to live good lives, while those who try to live righteously at times seem to get the short end of the stick. Life isn't fair.
But the world wasn't originally intended to be this way. Sin has marred all of life. Our God created a moral universe, characterized by justice and righteousness. As a matter of fact, justice and righteousness are attributes of God. They are not things that are separate from God. Rather, they are fundamental to who He is.
I. Definition of Justice and Righteousness
When the Bible talks about the concepts of justice and righteousness, they are the same Hebrew word in the Old Testament and also the same Greek Word in the New Testament. The Hebrew term "sedeq." is used in the Old Testament. Sedeq comes from a root word meaning stiff or straight. If we are talking in religious terms, it gives the idea of equity, fairness, and impartiality. And when we use the word justice, it is the application of fairness to moral situations. A just judge, for instance, consistently does what is right and fair without partiality when judging an accused person. He doesn't favor the rich and powerful but treats rich and poor alike.
The New Testament term that is used for both righteousness and justice is dikaiosuné (dik-ah-yos-oo'-nay). This word literally means equal. In a moral sense, both of the Old and New Testament words imply that which is right. When talking about God's righteousness and justice we mean that He always does what is right and what should be done without partiality or prejudice.
II. Justice and Righteousness Come From God
As we stated, justice and righteousness are central to God's character. There is no outside standard or criteria to which He conforms. He is infinitely just and righteous within Himself. God's perfect law comes from within His own nature. Richard L. Strauss had this to say about the subject in his book The Joy of Knowing God:
"God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature." (Richard L. Strauss, The Joy of Knowing God, (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1984), p. 140.)
Consequently, anyone who is morally upright is so because he or she conforms to God's standards and His laws. And anyone who doesn't conform to God's standards is, by definition, unrighteous and unjust.
You can look at many Scriptures to see the facts of God's justice and righteousness, for it is extremely well documented. Here are three of them:
In speaking of God, Psalm 89:14 tells us that:
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Loving-kindness and truth go before You."
God governs His universe fairly and justly. He is always doing what is right in His dealings with the creatures that He has created. In Deuteronomy 32;3,4 Moses says of God:
"The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; without injustice. Righteous and upright is He."
Finally, Jeremiah the prophet also tells the people to whom he is speaking that they shouldn't glory in themselves but in the just and righteous Lord. He says:
"This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23,24).
One of several things that we can conclude from all of this is that in the Lord's judgment He can never clear the guilty, nor can He condemn the innocent. He is the only perfect judge, and will one day mete out justice to everyone.
III. God's Justice and Righteousness Versus Man's Injustice and Unrighteousness
Unlike our God, man is unrighteous and unjust. Because of one man, Adam, sin entered the world (Romans 5:12). Now all men are born in sin. None of us has lived up to the righteous standards which flow naturally from God. We learn in Psalm 53:3 that "there is no human being that does good, not even one." A just God cannot tolerate even a hint of unrighteousness. Anyone who stands before Him must be 100% righteous or cannot hope to have a relationship with Him.
That is the dilemma. God who is righteous, cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13). We who are unrighteous cannot ever be anything else on our own but sinful (Romans 3:10-18). Even our best deeds are not adequate to stand before a holy and just God. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all our righteous deeds are like filthy garments. So how can God's righteousness come to man? How can man become righteous before God? The answer is in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ
IV. Jesus Satisfies God's Justice and Brings God's Righteousness to Mankind
Jesus, the righteous Son of God, had to become a man. He took our sins upon Himself as our substitute so that man can become righteous like God (II Corinthians 5:21). We deserved death and eternal separation from a holy and just God. Through our faith in Christ, God's justice is satisfied because Christ took our punishment for sin upon Himself. His death was accepted by God the Father and so we can now be accepted. In the sight of God.
What a wonderful thing to know that we who were enemies of the holy, righteous and just God have now been made right with Him and are, at this moment, just as righteous as His Son whom He loves. Not because of what we have done, but because of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5). And we can now enter freely into God's presence by Christ's blood (Hebrews 10:19).
V. Justice and Righteousness Should Characterize God's People
It stands to reason then that if God is a God of justice and righteousness, then His people should be characterized by these traits as well. Once we are in a real relationship with Jesus Christ, we start to become like Him in the areas of justice and righteousness. A follower of Jesus Christ should see the inequities in this world and then have the desire to have them remedied.
That is not only true today. It has always been God's expectation for His people throughout history. Take the book of Amos, for instance. Amos was prophesying around 750 B.C. at the time of King Jeroboam II of Israel.
The prophet denounces the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated by the Gentile nations around Israel. Then he goes on to tell Israel that they were doing the same things and guilty of the same crimes. After this Amos gives five symbolic visions, all showing the destruction of Israel. A famous verse from this book is found in Amos 5:24. He says:
"But let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Micah, another 8th-century prophet, reproaches unjust leaders, defends the poor against those who are rich and powerful and prophesies of a world of peace, centered around the King who will reign out of Zion from the line of David. He has another famous verse out of his book that says this:
“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Moving into the New Testament, we have the writer James who, though he doesn't use the terms, nonetheless speaks of mercy and justice to those who cannot help themselves. He informs us that:
"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27).
The bottom line is that God's people should be moved by what moves the heart of God. Even if standing for injustice is hard and leads to injustice against you, it is always right to stand up against it.
One person who did this was Elijah Lovejoy. Lovejoy was a great American editor, school teacher, and Presbyterian minister during the pre-Civil War era in the United States who witnessed a lynching of a slave and became committed to fighting the awful sin of slavery. He went back to the press in order to get his message to more people.
Mob action was brought against him but nothing deterred him. Even repeated destruction of his presses didn't stop him, nor threats and attempts on his life. He wrote this about the people threatening him:
"If by compromise is meant that I should cease from my duty, I cannot make it. I fear God more than I fear man. Crush me if you will, but I shall die at my post..."
And he did. Four days later he was murdered by another mob. And not one of those who took his life was ever prosecuted. Yet, sadly, some of Lovejoy's defenders were later prosecuted. And one of his murderers became Mayor of a city.
However, one young man became deeply moved by the martyrdom of Elijah Lovejoy. He later got elected to the Illinois legislature. His name was Abraham Lincoln. Defending justice and righteousness in this world is not always easy. But it is always the proper thing to do. And God uses your efforts for His glory!
There is another story which summarizes the desire that we should possess to become like our just and righteous God.
It was in the summer of 1908-09 that Sir Ernest Shackleford and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter headquarters. They had set out with four ponies to help carry their load of supplies, but weeks later, the ponies were dead and their supplies exhausted. So they had to turn back, and couldn't complete their mission.
Altogether, the men trekked 127 miles. And on the return trip, the only things that the men could think and talk about were great and sumptuous feasts, gourmet menus and food in general. These men had no idea whether they were going to make it back. They all were suffering from dysentery. And all they could think about was food because they were so hungry.
Jesus knew a thing or two about food deprivation, having spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness without eating. And here is what he had to say:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
I wonder how many of us can honestly say that we hunger and thirst after righteousness? Do we long to see the inequities of this world made right and everyone treated fairly? Do we cry over the injustice or unrighteousness still in our own lives and ask God daily to take it away and replace it with his righteous love and care for our fellow men.
The more we get to know our God, the more that we will start to understand the importance of His righteousness and justice. God cannot do anything unrighteous and cannot look upon unrighteousness. And He hates injustice. If we love the Lord, it should make us want to live righteously and to treat one another justly. None of us is capable of doing this on our own, so we need the righteousness that comes through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For those of us who truly develop a hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus' prediction of our filling and satisfaction will indeed come true. In the end, all of the injustice of this life will once and for all be taken care of by the God of the universe, for He cannot allow it to stand. It will happen when Jesus sits on the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
God will have His Day! Justice will triumph! And it is a marvel that on that Day, nothing that the Christian does for the glory of the Lord will ever be forgotten or go unrewarded. For the God of justice and righteousness will reward those who faithfully serve Him. We truly serve a magnificent, merciful and just Lord!
© 2012 Jeff Shirley