God being a God of justice means that He is righteous, holy, and fair in all His ways and judgments. Though God is loving, merciful, and gracious, He also hates sin and will punish it. God established laws and standards that reflect His righteous character, and He expects all people to live up to those standards. However, no one aside from Jesus has perfectly kept God’s laws. The penalty for breaking God’s law is death, separation from God. But God loved humanity so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, taking the punishment we deserve. When we put our faith in Christ, His righteousness is credited to us. On the day of judgment, those who have trusted in Jesus will be declared righteous in God’s sight. Those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation through Jesus will face God’s just wrath for their sins.
The Bible clearly presents God as a righteous judge who hates wickedness and will not let sin go unpunished. Deuteronomy 32:4 declares of God, “All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Isaiah 30:18 states, “For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” The Psalms repeatedly emphasize God’s justice and hatred of sin (Psalm 7:11; Psalm 11:7; Psalm 33:5; Psalm 37:28). Romans 2:5-6 warns that God’s righteous judgment is coming for all who persist in rebellion against Him. Revelation 19:2 promises that God has “judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” God’s justice is a dominant theme throughout Scripture.
The Old Testament provides many examples of God punishing sin and rebellion among His people Israel as well as other nations. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for their disobedience (Genesis 3). Cain was cursed for murdering his brother Abel (Genesis 4). In Noah’s day, God destroyed the entire world with a flood because of humanity’s wickedness (Genesis 6-8). God rained fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their grievous sexual immorality (Genesis 19). The Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their unbelief and grumbling (Numbers 14). Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised Land because of his anger and disobedience (Deuteronomy 34). When Israel persisted in idolatry and injustice, God allowed them to be conquered by foreign nations. The books of Kings and Chronicles record the repeated cycle of Israel’s rebellion, God’s gracious warnings through the prophets, and finally His punishment of exile. God is unwaveringly committed to judging sin.
At the same time, the Old Testament reveals God’s mercy and forgiveness. Deuteronomy 4:31 assures that “the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” After punishing His people, God would raise up judges and deliverers to rescue them when they cried out to Him (Judges 3:9, 15). First Kings 8:22-53 records Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple, in which he repeatedly asks God to forgive His people when they repent and turn back to Him. Even in the midst of judgment, God’s prophets offered hope of future restoration. God takes no pleasure in bringing judgment, but His justice demands that He deal with sin. Still, for all who turn to Him in repentance, God eagerly grants mercy and forgiveness.
The sacrificial system established by God also powerfully symbolized both the high cost of sin before a holy God as well as the provision of grace through substitutionary atonement. The numerous, bloody sacrifices of bulls, goats, lambs, and doves did not actually take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). Rather, they pointed ahead to the perfect, ultimate sacrifice that would be offered by the Messiah. Isaiah 53 prophesied that the Messiah would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). All the animal sacrifices could not atone for human sin, but Jesus’ sacrifice fully accomplished what the Old Testament sacrifices pictured. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and Christ died in our place to pay that penalty.
This theme continues in the New Testament. John the Baptist introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The sacrificial lambs were killed so the people’s sins could be atoned for. But Christ’s death served as the final, complete sacrifice that fully satisfied God’s wrath against sin once for all (Hebrews 7:27). God’s perfect justice and mercy come together at the cross. As Romans 3:25-26 explains, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” God’s justice was fulfilled in punishing sin through Jesus’ death. Now all who have faith in Christ receive mercy and forgiveness.
At the final judgment, God’s justice will be fully revealed. Those who have rejected Christ will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell because of their sins (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Revelation 20:11-15). Their deeds will be judged according to God’s righteous standards, and they will fall short because all have sinned (Romans 3:23). They will receive justice, not mercy. Believers in Jesus, however, have trusted in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for their sins. So on the day of judgment, God’s justice will already have been satisfied for them through Christ’s death. They will be clothed in His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore, they can stand confidently before God’s throne without guilt or fear of condemnation (1 John 4:17).
God’s law reflects His righteous character – things like the Ten Commandments and other moral laws against murder, adultery, theft, lying, greed, and injustice. Because God is completely holy and just, He cannot overlook sin or excuse wickedness. His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13). He will right every wrong and ensure that justice is served. That’s why His judgment is inescapable for unrepentant sinners who refuse His mercy and grace. But God’s desire is that people would turn to Him and receive redemption through Christ, so that His justice will already have been satisfied for them.
The message that God is a righteous, holy, just God was nearly lost and missing from many churches today. In an attempt to portray God as only loving, gracious, and forgiving, many churches completely ignore or downplay God’s wrath against sin and coming judgment. Being a God of justice who punishes sin may not sound appealing to our modern sensibilities that demand tolerance and affirmation. But a God who simply overlooks injustice, evil, rebellion, and unrighteousness would not be a good and loving God. He would be an enabler of wickedness. He would not be worthy of worship. God’s justice flows directly from His perfect moral character. He cannot act in contradiction to who He is. He must deal justly with sin or He would violate His own nature.
Rather than denying this difficult truth, we must accept it and let it shape our entire lives. Knowing that we will face the judgment of a holy God should produce in us a reverent fear of Him (Hebrews 12:28-29). It should compel us to examine our own hearts and seek God’s mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness in Christ. We dare not presume upon God’s grace and continue shaking our fist in His face through ongoing rebellion and impenitence. Such hard hearts only store up greater wrath in the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). When we downplay the reality of coming wrath and judgment, we turn God’s grace into license to keep sinning.
Being a God of justice also means God will make all wrongs right. No injustice will go unpunished. No wickedness will be ignored. Those who have face persecution, abuse, slavery, discrimination, and cruelty will see God right every wrong done to them. God’s justice brings hope that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice. While we may not receive full justice in this fallen world, we can trust God will settle all accounts – if not in this life, then certainly in the next. God’s justice also means He will reward those who have been faithful to Him. Every act of love, righteousness, endurance through trial, and loyal obedience will be rewarded. God’s justice is not just punitive but also retributive – bringing back to people what they deserve, whether punishment or reward.
How should we then live in light of these truths? We should renounce all sin and pursue godliness, looking forward to the day of Christ’s return when God’s justice will prevail throughout the earth (2 Peter 3:14). We should take comfort that no injustice we currently suffer will ultimately go unpunished. But we must also examine our own hearts, confess our sins, turn from wickedness, and put our faith in Christ alone for salvation from God’s coming judgment. Then, even as we yearn for the fulfillment of justice, we can live at peace, confident that our verdict from the eternal Judge is “not guilty” through faith in the Savior.