"The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He."
“The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love...but He will by no means clear the guilty.”
"But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, but I shall bring their conduct upon their heads."
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
“God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.”
(Indignation – anger aroused by something unjust—namely, us)
From the Justice of God (Session 2 – HeartCry Conference 2005) – Michael Durham:
I. Confusion About God’s Justice and Righteousness
Justice – what is justice? It is important to look these words up in the Bible so we preach the Bible and not out of our own head. Justice means the same as righteousness in the Old Testament. They are from the same root word.
“Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.”
Justice is not something that God has, it is something that God is, like holiness. Justice does not require God to do this or that. Remember, nothing can require God to do anything. God is not weak and He does not bow to pressure from the outside. The principle of justice is not outside of God or greater than God and God does not have to conform to it. There is not something bigger than God that compels Him to do something.
God created everything, and if everything comes from God, then how can we say that God must obey justice? God is justice. All of God’s reasons for doing anything come from within Him, they do not come from outside of Him. If God had to yield to something outside of Him, He would not be God. God is justice and His justice comes from within Him. God will always act justly—not because of pressure from the outside, but because justice is who He is and it comes from within Himself.
Jeremiah was confused about God’s righteousness:
“Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?”
He knew what God stood for and what God demanded, but the problem was that humans were not obeying God, and it seemed that they were even prospering in their disobedience. Jeremiah thought, “If God is righteous, then the wicked should get what they deserve, not prosperity.”
When it comes to God being righteous there is some confusion today, as it was with Jeremiah. The question today is not, “Why do the wicked prosper?” it is “Why do good people suffer?” That’s our preoccupation today. We have a propensity to play the unfair card with God.
I don’t make it a habit to watch Larry King, but someone called me and said I needed to see this. Larry King seems to have developed the question quite well: “If God is good, then why does God let good people suffer?” He asks that question all the time, anytime a tragedy happens.
First of all, the question is erroneously based on a wrong assumption. The question demonstrates an arrogant, narrow-minded view of righteousness. It depends upon thinking that God’s justice is just like ours. This is the height of arrogance to think that we can lecture God on righteousness, thinking that we know more than He does.
Second, the problem with the question is that it wrongly supposes that all of us are good. Third, and probably more important, the question is simply the wrong question. If a question must be asked about God’s justice and equity, then Jeremiah’s question is more in line. The question is not “Why did God let a hurricane destroy
it is “Why did God not let hurricanes, tornados, famines, floods, and invading
armies to destroy the entire
country?” New Orleans
John MacArthur says, “It is literally the grace of God that you and I are not this moment consumed by the fire of His wrath. People say, "Oh, why is it that there's so much trouble in the world? If God is a God of love, why...?" Listen. If He weren't a God of love, only one sin by one individual one time would be the end of everything.” After the sin of Adam and Eve, God could have killed them and ended the human race right then and there, but He was merciful.
“It is literally the grace of God that you and I are not this moment consumed by the fire of His wrath…If He weren't a God of love, only one sin by one individual one time would be the end of everything."
Why in the light of our country’s desire to walk in the moral sewage and sin, does God continue to be merciful? God is merciful, but is His justice held hostage by His mercy? This is what I think Jeremiah’s problem was. If you saw a policeman witness a crime but do nothing about it, would you say that the policeman was a just man? No, you wouldn’t, and this is Jeremiah’s problem. He knows that God is righteous, and he knows that God is merciful. But he wonders, if mercy trumps justice, then how can God be righteous?
Confusion reigns in our country, on this very subject, on the righteousness of God, and as a result, the Gospel has been compromised. This generation has completely turned away from the idea of God being righteous to the idea of God being love and forgiving. Justice has been eliminated from our discussion and in our minds we have created a God who is simply incapable of rendering equity. So, for the Christian culture as well as the secular, mercy has trumped justice.
The very first thing that Jeremiah says is in verse 1 is, “Righteous are You, O LORD.” Jeremiah is not accusing God of unrighteousness like we do today. He is not in confusion; he declares that God is righteous. His problem was in the delay of God’s justice.
Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil." Man today has little fear of the day in which a holy and righteous God will judge his soul, although the fact that God is holy and righteous should drive him to his knees in repentance. Man has convinced himself that God's mercy will keep him safe from judgment, and this is due to the delay of God's justice and the weak preaching of today that causes man to be ignorant of what the Bible says about a holy, righteous, and just God who hates sin and will punish sin. J.C. Ryle said in his book, Holiness, "The very same chapter which declares, 'God so loved the world,' declares also, that 'the wrath of God abideth' on the unbeliever (John 3:16, 36). The very same Gospel which is launched into the earth with the blessed tidings, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,' proclaims in the same breath, 'He that believeth not shall be damned' (Mark 16:16)."
Finally, man's ignorance leads him to think of himself as religious and pretty good, so he is assured that God will grade him on a curve. This is a problem! Man must know that he is ill-prepared to face the judgment from a righteous God. The righteousness of God needs to be preached in order to reveal the unrighteousness of man.
God acts righteously because the very nature of God is righteousness. Let’s define the word righteous. Obviously, it has something to do with ‘being right.’ It also means to be fair, to be equitable in accordance to law. The question is, “What law is God in accordance to?” The law of God is merely a reflection of his own nature and character; therefore it is inaccurate to say that God conforms to law. It’s like saying that God conforms to Himself—He is Himself. He can’t be anything but what He is, and He can’t be anything that He isn’t. Since God is righteous, He cannot be unrighteous, even if He tried. Righteous is what He is and who He is. It’s morally impossible for God to be unrighteous.
II. The Implications of God’s Righteousness
1. God is the standard of righteousness. Man’s opinion is not the standard of righteousness, it is God’s character that determines what righteousness is. Such kind of preaching flies in the face of people today as demeaning or insulting to man’s goodness.
This corrupt world cannot stand to hear that there is a God who is completely righteous. And why is that? If God is so righteous that a Mother Theresa looks like a filthy scoundrel in comparison, then what hope does any man have? See, that’s how the world and popular Christianity thinks. They are unable to deal with the truth that God is righteous and they are not.
Therefore, man will invent a “god” in their minds that is lesser in righteousness. Man is guilty of idolatry, of creating a god for themselves, because they do not have to change to follow their imaginary god. Michael Durham is a Baptist preacher and he says this: “The biggest temple of idolatry today is in evangelical Baptist churches because we worship a god that is different from the God of Scripture. You may say this God is Jesus, but is not the same Jesus that the apostles preached.”
“The biggest temple of idolatry today is in evangelical Baptist churches because we worship a god that is different from the God of Scripture. You may say this God is Jesus, but is not the same Jesus that the apostles preached.”
John MacArthur reads a letter that a man wrote to illustrate:
“I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul and everyone else’s needs saving...whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost, nor do I feel that I daily wallow in the mire of sin, although the repetitive preaching insists that I do. Give me a practical religion that teaches gentleness and tolerance, that acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches the children of goodness and not sin. If in order to save my soul, I must accept such a philosophy as I have recently heard preached, I prefer to remain forever damned.”
MacArthur says, “That’s the choice that everyone makes. You either invent a nice little religion that fits you or you take the truth of God and accept it…One gives life, the other death.”
The God revealed to us in the Bible is a God whose justice is impeccable, and He is above reproach in all He does. But this god of the post-modern Christianity does not even have a righteousness that is above their own. Why do they create a god who is less righteous than they are? It is easier. They do not want to conform to a righteous God who cannot condone sin. They are free to live how they choose without a righteous God telling them that what they do is sinful.
Most church-goers sit in on Sunday morning in a service they care very little about, singing songs they really don’t understand, and sleep through a sermon until the final benediction is given. Sunday morning church has turned into the little prayer we say before the Sunday lunch.
And these people think that all of this sufficient enough to merit them eternal life. That is idolatry! If God was to accept man’s righteousness as His own, He would no longer be God. Therefore, God cannot ever accept our standard of righteousness.
2. If God is the standard of righteousness, then that’s the standard by which we will be judged. Man is not the ultimate judge of goodness. God’s standard is His own righteousness and that’s what we will be compared to. When we get to Heaven, we will not be judged by the law or by the 10 Commandments. These things are but a reflection of God’s own character. We’re going to be compared to Christ. Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the standard by which we will be measured. We must be as separated from sin as much as God in order to escape condemnation.
I’m not preaching heresy. If that seems strange to you, that’s how much we have drifted from the Gospel. Many times, we think that God in His graciousness has lessened the standard. Grace never lessens the standard, it upholds it. So here’s the question: Why is the standard of judgment so impossible? Why is it so high?
If God would lessen the standard of righteousness, He is no longer righteous. God must act out of His own holy nature. He loves all that is good and perfect and hates all that is not good and perfect.
3. To have eternal life, you must be as righteous as God. The righteousness of God is a huge problem for man. The gospel reveals God’s perfect standard of righteousness that man must somehow meet. If you want to escape God’s condemnation, you must be just like God. Modern preaching has failed to teach this. Not only does the majority of today’s teaching on the gospel eliminate or avoid the discussion of God’s righteousness, but it also fails to explain what God requires in order that we may be justified.
Today we tell people if you just confess Him as Lord or pray this little prayer then you are saved. That falls so terribly short of what God’s Word says. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that what is required of salvation is just a meaningful and sincere prayer. Rather, it clearly and repeatedly states that what is required for salvation is righteousness, God-like righteousness—nothing less. Human righteousness will not be enough. The sinner must somehow be as righteous as God.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that what is required of salvation is just a meaningful and sincere prayer. Rather, it clearly and repeatedly states that what is required for salvation is righteousness, God-like righteousness—nothing less.
Salvation is not in asking God to forgive you or confessing your sins, although it certainly includes that, but salvation exceeds these as well.
“For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”
Paul says that salvation is not hearing but doing the law. To do the law is to be as perfect and as righteous as God is. In Romans 3, Paul is going to say that salvation is justification by faith; that’s right, but you are getting ahead of yourself. You cannot forget that God had established righteousness as the standard to eternal life. Paul is saying here that if you want eternal life, you must do all of the law. If you don’t possess that kind of righteousness, you’re damned.
This has always been the standard of grace, and grace doesn’t remove that standard of righteousness. If we believe that grace lowers the standard of righteousness, then we hate the law and we do not abide by it.
The Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:20: "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were the most devout religious men of their day. How righteous was the Pharisee? Jesus tells of the external righteousness of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
9 “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee prayed much, he fasted twice a week, and he paid tithes on everything he owned. He also said he was not guilty of immorality or extortion. How does your righteousness compare to his? Yet, Jesus said that this type of righteousness was not enough to merit eternal life. It must exceed that. Grace does not remove righteousness. Salvation is to be as righteous as God is.
4. Eternal life is impossible to us. If the Bible says that eternal life is being as righteous as God is, then the only conclusion is that we are all sunk! We’re all in trouble! Our righteousness may be commendable compared to other men, and others may applaud our righteousness, but we fail miserably when we compare our righteousness to God. Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteousness is “like a filthy rag.”
If the Bible says that eternal life is being as righteous as God is, then the only conclusion is that we are all sunk! We’re all in trouble! Our righteousness may be commendable compared to other men, and others may applaud our righteousness, but we fail miserably when we compare our righteousness to God.
5. God will execute justice. Justice will not forever be delayed. God responded to Jeremiah and declares He will bring justice on Judah along with her wicked and idolatrous neighbors. Yet, even in His justice, He displays mercy!
14 “…Behold I am about to uproot them from their land and will uproot the house of Judah from among them. 15 “And it will come about that after I have uprooted them, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land.”
The Lord dispenses justice, and yet He can’t do it without showing mercy. His justice and mercy go hand-in-hand.
"For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live."
God delights in showing mercy, but it requires of us to repent.
“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”
Psalm 86:5 - NKJV
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.”
Psalm 103:8 - NKJV
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”
Jeremiah’s question is very relevant and very close to the heart of God.
“Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?”
He is saying, “Lord, I know you are righteous, but when You dispense judgment, You show mercy. That was the same problem with the prophet Jonah. He had a message of righteousness, “Repent!” He didn’t say, “Repent or perish,” he just told them that they would perish. But even Jonah knew that God was merciful.
Jeremiah wants to know, “When there will be full and complete justice? I know You are righteous, but when will Your justice be displayed?”
The truth is, God’s justice was never fully and completely displayed in the Old Testament. You have to go to the New Testament…just outside the city of Jerusalem, to a small hill called Calvary, and on the top of that hill, there was the greatest display of the justice of God seen by men or angels. God the Father pierced His own Son for sin!
The truth is, God’s justice was never fully and completely displayed in the Old Testament. You have to go to the New Testament…God the Father pierced His own Son for sin!
“21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
(Forbearance – patience)
God’s righteousness is mentioned four times. That’s not by accident. Paul says that the death of God’s Son is the full demonstration of God’s righteousness. This is considered by many to be the greatest passage in all of Scripture and it is the heartbeat of the heart of the Gospel. This passage makes it possible for us to be considered righteous just like God…and it’s through Jesus our Lord.
Verse 21 says that the righteousness of God has been shown to us. What is this righteousness of God? It is faith in Jesus Christ. The only hope of salvation is to have a righteousness the same as God’s, and it’s been given to us who believe.
What is this righteousness of God? It is faith in Jesus Christ. The only hope of salvation is to have a righteousness the same as God’s, and it’s been given to us who believe.
God had to redeem man in a way consistent with His justice. But, how does God do this? Does He simply look the other way at our sin? No, God is holy and hates sin. Sin is a big deal to God. Do you think Jesus Christ, God Himself, would have came and died if sin wasn't that big of a deal? No! God wants us to know how serious sin is. The wages of sin is death. A righteous and just God must punish sin. Someone has to pay the price of death for our sin, and God demonstrates His justice and righteousness by punishing Jesus for our sin. Justice was fulfilled when Jesus paid the price for sin—that is how God can give us His righteousness as a gift by His grace and mercy.
Someone has to pay the price of death for our sin, and God demonstrates His justice and righteousness by punishing Jesus for our sin.
A.R. Faussett said, "God regards sin in such a fearful light that He spared not His own co-equal Son in the one Godhead, when that Son bore the sinner's guilt." If God the Father would punish His own Son, what chance do any of us have to escape the wrath of God apart from the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ?
If God freely forgave sinners without His perfect justice being met, then that would be inexcusable unrighteousness, but God doesn't just freely forgive sinners—forgiveness comes at a price! Romans 3:24 says that it is “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” What does the word redemption tell us about God’s righteousness? It tells us a great deal. Jesus paid a great price for the sins of every believer who ever lived. These words tip the scale from God being viewed as unrighteous to be seen as righteous as He is truly is.
In other words, our redemption was a just thing for God to do. Paul repeatedly emphasizes the righteousness of God that is amazingly seen in our redemption and justification. The Cross is a declaration of God’s righteousness. For the majority of Christians, the Cross is a demonstration of God’s love for sinful man—nothing more. Now, it is true that the Lord’s death is the epitome of God's love for us, but it’s so much more! It is true that Christ died for us, but ultimately Christ died for the God the Father. Romans 3:25 reminds us no less than four times that He died "to demonstrate His righteousness." The death of Christ is the ultimate demonstration of God’s righteousness as well as being a demonstration of His amazing love. God the Father made sure the price for sin was paid, even at the expense of His own Son.