1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I used to sell artwork for a living, and one day recently I was having a discussion with an artist about depictions of the personification of Justice. We talked about the typical iconography of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice--e.g. the scales and the sword--and our conversation turned to the blindfold that we sometimes see on statues of Justice. "Blind justice" is the common phrase we use to idealize Justice in our courts today, and that is the way Justice is depicted at many a courthouse around the western world. That is not an entirely unbiblical idea.
"You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor."
That does sound a lot like "blind justice," doesn't it? And so it is no surprise that many courthouses use this image of a blindfolded goddess of Justice.
But after talking with that artist, I got to thinking about the justice of God. Is God's sense of justice so blind as that? Does God wear a blindfold as He enacts His judgments? Are all cases weighed equally by Him?
What I found in looking at justice in the Bible is that the idea of justice is intricately connected with mercy. For example:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face.
Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him.
19 "I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
20 "I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD."
And, lest anyone think I am favoring the Old Testament over the Gospels:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
And then we have today's verse from John's first epistle. Here at the beginning of his letter, John is talking about the contrast between light and darkness--the light being our Lord God, and the darkness being our sin. He makes a series of statements to help us discern whether we are walking in the light or walking in darkness. (1 John 1:5-10) If we profess the light and yet walk in darkness and do not confess our sinfulness, then we are deceiving ourselves and God's truth and His Word is not in us. But if we walk in the light and if we confess our sins, then "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." (v.7) And as today's verse tells us, if we confess our sins, then we find that God is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (v.9)
Wouldn't our own sense of justice be better served by judging someone according to what they confess to have done? Even in our modern courts, if someone confesses to a crime, we still sentence them to serve time for it, we do not simply forgive them and set them free. How does forgiveness and cleansing us from unrighteousness demonstrate God's justice?
It has to do with God's faithfulness. You see, God's sense of justice is inseparable from His loving promises to us. Even as He assures us that He will enact judgment for our sins, He still shows His love for us in His mercy and grace. And having made such promises so many times to our forefathers, He is incapable of NOT following through on them. (Hebrews 6:17-18) The Psalmist new that.
7 The works of His hands are verity and justice;
All His precepts are sure.
8 They stand fast forever and ever,
And are done in truth and uprightness.
9 He has sent redemption to His people;
He has commanded His covenant forever:
Holy and awesome is His name.
God's covenant with us is immutable and everlasting. As Jeremiah said:
22 Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
God's faithfulness and love are demonstrated through His unending mercy and compassion. What, then, of God's justice? Will God always forgive? Will He always show compassion and mercy? As is true for all of God's promises, there is a condition that must be met.
"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach):
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
God's justice demands that we actively seek His mercy by confessing our heartfelt belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is through the gospel of Jesus that we receive the blessings of God's justice, the salvation and mercy and faithful fulfillment of God's promises. What mortal court would ever grant you leniency for seeking mercy? What human judge would ever show such compassion as the Lord our God?
There is still that condition that must be met--faith in the Lord Jesus--and those who do not meet that condition are, as Jesus Himself says, "condemned already." (John 3:18) That is not a message that most people want to hear. All many people want to know about is the love and mercy of God, not their own sin and need for repentance and faith in Jesus. That faith in Jesus as the only true way to God is the hard side of the gospel message, and it scared away even some of Jesus' own followers. (John 6:60-66) But those who stayed with Jesus knew that this good news He preached was the very "words of life" (John 6:68), the source of God's mercy.
The great mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that in sending His Son to us, God was demonstrating both justice AND mercy. As Paul put it, it showed "that He might be both just and justifier"--i.e. both the One who is the true measure of justice and righteousness and the One who makes His elect just and righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:21-26)
What is God's sense of justice like? Besides a pure adherence to moral law, God's justice involves mercy, truth, and compassion. God's sense of justice is inevitably bound up with His love and righteousness, and all that He requires of us is that we humble ourselves, confess our sinfulness, and allow His Son Jesus to be our Savior, Lord of our lives. As it says in the Bible, "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31) But we know that God Himself will judge us, and we know that nothing in our behavior will ever justify us before Him, for He will bring EVERYTHING into judgment, whether good or evil. (Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 12:14) God will judge us by one simple rule: faith in the risen Lord Jesus. If we do not love the Lord Jesus, then we will know the hard side of God's justice: absolute judgment for every sin of our lives. But if we love that Light that is Jesus Christ, then God will be faithful to the promises He made to the patriarchs ages ago, and He will forgive us and cleanse us of our sins, so that we may enter into eternal life with Him.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
This day, let us reflect upon the truth of God's justice. Let us remember that He IS faithful, He IS just, and He IS merciful and compassionate. Let us meditate on the justice He desires us to do, the mercy He wants us to love. And most importantly, let us humble ourselves before the one true and righteous Judge, the only One who can wash us clean of all unrighteousness. And let us remember that He does this not simply for our sake but for HIS sake, that His name may be glorified in all the earth as the loving and merciful and faithful and JUST Lord our God.
Holy Lord God, would that all men's justice were as Yours, that mercy and compassion and forgiveness were bound up with truth and righteousness. I pray, Father, that we whom You have forgiven will preach the good news of Your mercy to the far corners of the earth, starting right here in our own homes and communities. Help us, O Lord, to be faithful and just, to forgive and to have mercy, to show compassion and to judge in truth. And especially, dear Lord, help us to live our lives according to YOUR sense of righteousness, justice, and truth, so that we live in Your Spirit and not in our flesh, lest we be judged unfaithful to Your Son, Jesus Christ. It is in His holy name we pray, Amen.