************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 1h ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 28, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 1h
"God is Just"
Have you heard of Diogenes? He was a controversial Greek philosopher who lived in a clay wine jar. He used to stroll about in full daylight with a lit lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am looking for a just man." Instead, all he could find were rascals and scoundrels.We know this: a million Diogenes armed with a million lamps can search the entire world without finding anyone who is just -- or to use another word -- without finding anyone who is righteous. To find pure justice or righteousness we must aim our lamps toward the throne of God in heaven. You see, only God is righteous; only God is just.
I God is Just
A What do we mean when we say "God is just"? In the Bible the idea of God's justice is closely related to His holiness and righteousness. The three are but different facets of the same thing.
1. God is holy. This means God is pure. There is no moral blemish, no defect, no stain of wickedness within Him. He is morally excellent and ethically perfect. As the Holy One God hates all sin and evil. This is the Bible's message in more than one place:
(Job 34:10) "So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong."
(Hab 1:13) "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong."
Being holy and pure God is apart or separate or different from anything else in creation. As the Holy One, God is transcendent and incomparable. This is the Bible's message in more than one place:
(Ex 15:11) "Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?"
(1 Sam 2:2) "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God."
2. Not only is God holy but He is also righteous. The connection between the holiness of God and the righteousness of God is this: holiness is what God is -- God is holy in His being, His essence, His character; righteousness is what God does -- in other words, God is also holy in His actions.
We wouldn't expect less from God. God can only act consistently with Who He is. God does righteous acts because He is holy.
In the Hebrew language the concept of righteousness -- of acting holy -- is rooted in a word that means "straight." We use the same metaphor today. When a criminal reforms his life, he "goes straight." When a person lives an obedient life, he walks the "straight and narrow." Conversely, if someone is a thief or a liar he is "crooked." God is straight. He is righteous. He is holy in what He does.
3. Finally, we have to say that God is not only holy and righteous but He is also just. This refers to the judicial aspect of God. God is a just judge. He is just in judgment, in reward, in punishment. He judges according to standards of righteousness which in turn are measured by the holiness of His being.
B When we talk of the presence or absence of man's holiness, righteousness, and justice we need a measuring stick. The best measuring stick of man's holiness, righteousness, and justice is God's Law and God's Word. Another measuring stick is the patterns and traditions and customs of those who lived before us. These traditions can be good and wonderful if they help us live as obedient children of God. Yet, we all know that traditions can become twisted and distorted over time so they do not match up with God's standards and laws. That is why it is so urgent for every generation of believers to search the Scriptures to see if the rules and traditions they live by do measure up to the law of God.
God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. Now we need to ask, by what standard or measure do we say this? By what rules does God live? How is God's righteousness measured?
God is holy, righteous, and just within Himself. God is His own standard for perfection, the norm for ethics, the measure for goodness. There is nothing higher than God, because there can be nothing higher than God. It is against God that all persons, all laws, and all judgments must be measured and weighed.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at how God is unchangeable, immutable. God can never stop being God. He always acts according to His character. Which means God is always and forever holy, righteous, and just.
C God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. In our Scripture reading Abraham asks, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25). Though this question is not answered the understood answer is "Yes!" Of course the Judge of all the earth will do right. That is the only thing the Judge of all the earth knows how to do. He is incapable of doing anything less than right.
We see this in God's dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah. God is outraged by the grievous sin and great wickedness of the people of these cities. He announces to His friend Abraham that His judgment will soon be executed. Don't forget, God is holy, He is righteous, He is just, so the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is an offense against His very being and character. Abraham, mindful that his nephew Lot and family are living in those cities, asks if God will destroy the righteous along with wicked?
(Gen 18:24-25) What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? (25) Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. Such a God cannot punish the righteous along with the wicked.
D God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. This means that God never makes mistakes in His judgment. He does not falsely accuse or wrongly condemn. The omnipotent, all-knowing, all-seeing God, knows the guilty and their sins; He also knows the innocent and their righteousness.
God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. This also means that no one gets more or less than they deserve. In the Old Testament God holds two paths before His people: the path of covenant obedience and the path of covenant disobedience (cf Deut 30:29). He promises blessings upon those who follow the path of covenant obedience (Deut 28:1-6). But God also promises punishment upon those who follow the paths of covenant disobedience (Deut 28:15-19). When He does this, God is holy, God is righteous, and God is just. He must punish evil, sin, and wickedness. He can no more turn a blind eye to our sin than can He stop being God. Listen to how Ezekiel puts this:
(Ezek 18:25-32) "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? (26) If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. (27) But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. (28) Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. (29) Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? (30) "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. (31) Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? (32) For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!Do you know what Ezekiel is saying? He is saying God is just in His judgments.
II God's Justice and Us
A God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. Next to Him we are impure, sinful, and unclean. He is clothed in pure, white brilliance while we are clothed in dirty, filthy rags of sin. When we measure ourselves against Him we ought to fall down on our knees in repentance, begging for the forgiveness of sins.
God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. Next to Him we are filled with injustice.
I remember an incident in grade 4. We couldn't go outside for recess so we were playing a game inside. The teacher told us we must play quietly and orderly. One of the children got carried away and let loose with a loud whoop. When the guilty party refused to confess the teacher decided to punish the entire class. What an injustice: all of us being punished because of one person.
We see this sort of injustice all around us in this world. What a gross miscarriage of justice that many of the scoundrels responsible for the Housing Bubble of ten years ago have somehow managed to keep their yachts, mansions, sports cars, and Swiss bank accounts while costing us taxpayers billions of dollars. What a gross miscarriage of justice that many murderers, rapists, thieves, and drug dealers are set loose on technicalities or can plea-bargain their way into little more than a slap on the wrist. It is a miscarriage of justice that those who protest Planned Parenthood get arrested while the organization gets away with murder. It is a miscarriage of justice that a Christian baker is prosecuted because he refuses to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.
B These two facts -- that God is righteous and man is not -- hits at the very heart of the Gospel. Because God is just sin must be punished. Because sin must be punished we need a Savior. Because we need a Savior God sent Christ.
Notice, we need a Savior only because God is holy, God is righteous, God is just. If God were not this way, there would be no sin, no sinners, and no need for a Savior. But because God is holy, God is righteous, God is just and we are not, we have a desperate need for a Savior.
How can unjust people stand before the judgment throne of a holy, righteous, and just God? They cannot except for Christ. It is Christ Who takes our place. He takes our place in two ways. First of all, He takes our place by fulfilling for us God’s demands for holiness, righteousness, and justice. Secondly, Christ takes our place by suffering the judgment and wrath of God we should suffer. God's justice demands that sin be punished and for those who believe it is punished in and through Christ. Yes, we are still guilty. Yes, we deserve the full wrath of the holy, righteous, and just God. But no, we don't have to suffer if we only believe in Christ. In other words, God accepts us sinners because of Christ His Son. The other side of the coin is that God punishes those who don't repent and believe.
C Have you noticed that the sinner never quarrels with the mercy, kindness, compassion, pity, and love of God? But all sorts of men quarrel with God's justice. We can't forget these are all attributes of a simple God -- which means we can't split and divide God or His attributes into different parts. The attributes of God don't quarrel with each other and can't quarrel with each other. All the attributes of God concur in a man’s death sentence. That's why the believing dead in heaven cry out,
(Rev 15:3) Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
D God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. What comfort this gives to those who believe in Christ. We know there will come a time when God will set all things right. All the injustices of our world will be set right. No injustice will linger for eternity. All the wicked unbelieving will be condemned and punished. All the righteous believers will, by grace, receive their just reward.
God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. Whereas this gives great comfort and peace to those who believe in Christ it strikes only fear and despair into the hearts of the unbelieving. For it means that sin is punished, that evil is condemned, that wickedness is not tolerated. If God did not punish sin, He would not be just. If He were not just, He would not be God.
I'm not sure who said this or even when but I remember someone famous saying, "I'm looking forward to dying and going to hell because that's where I'm headed." I will tell you this much: if this person knew what judgment and hell were really like, he wouldn't dare to talk that way. The Bible doesn't tell us much about judgment and hell but what it does say is terrifying: a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a second death, an eternal dying, a fire that never goes out, a place of great pain. Every person should be rightly scared of such a place. Every person should fear the judgment of a God Who is holy, righteous, and just in all His ways.
God is holy. He is righteous. He is just. In all His ways. To every sinner for whose sin there is no atonement, no cleansing, no forgiving God says, "Death and hell." But to every sinner who prays, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk 18:13) and claims the benefits of Jesus on the cross, God says, "Life." And all of hell can’t drag that sinner down.
Oh, the wonder and the mystery and the glory of the just being we call God!
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