“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Have you every wondered how God can really be just (fair, righteous, faithful) in His choice to forgive a sinner’s sins simply because this sinner confesses his sins?
The word “justice” in the Bible first appears in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:35-36. For example, God commands Israel to have “just” balances and “just” weights. Justice always involves at least two parties. Not parties like birthday parties, but parties like people. If you go to the grocery store to buy a pound of apples, and the apples cost fifty cents, then you have an obligation (a responsibility, a duty) to pay the shopkeeper that fifty cents. There is an understanding, an agreement, between two parties – between you and the shopkeeper. You know you owe him fifty cents, and he knows he owes you a full pound of good apples for your money. If you hand him only thirty-five cents, you are not holding up your end of the bargain. You are not being just. And if the shopkeeper were to give you less than a pound of apples but still charge you fifty cents for less than a pound, then he would be unjust toward you.
“Justice” has a lot to do with “fulfilling one’s obligation.” In other words, a just person is someone who is fair, who does right, who keeps his word, who acts consistently with what he has agreed to do.
So, going back to the original question: How can God, Who is perfectly just, forgive a sinner who is unjust, and declare that sinner to be just? Doesn’t any sin deserve punishment? Doesn’t the book of Hebrews in the New Testament teach that “without shedding of blood is no remission (forgiveness of sin)”? So how can a just God choose not to punish a guilty sinner? How can a just God choose instead to declare that sinner just (as though the sinner had fulfilled all his obligations)?
Maybe this story will help us understand:
There was once an island village whose chief was known for his goodness and justice. One day, a serious theft was reported in the village. Someone had stolen someone else’s pet goat. Immediately, the chief called together his whole village and declared that if the thief was caught, he would be punished. The thief would be beaten twenty times with a stick, and he would have to give back the pet goat.
A few days later, another theft was reported! Someone’s cow had been taken. This time, the chief increased the punishment to fifty beatings. Still, the thefts continued! Finally, the chief declared the maximum penalty would be given to this rebellious thief. The thief would be beaten one hundred times! Such a severe punishment would nearly be enough to kill a very strong man!
The search for the thief continued until the villagers finally found the guilty person: It was the chief’s own elderly mother! All the people of the village loved their chief and took pity upon him and his poor mother. They came to the chief and encouraged him to let her go without punishment. They told him it would be all right to make an exception for his elderly mother in this case. Surely such a harsh punishment would kill the poor old woman. But the chief refused to go back on his word. He had to stay just. He had to stick to his decisions.
On the day set for the old woman’s punishment, all of the villagers gathered to see what would happen. The chief’s feeble old mother was tied up to a pole, and the executioner was waiting for the chief’s signal to start the punishment. The chief nodded his head, but at the moment the executioner lifted up the stick to start beating the woman, the chief grabbed his arm. Then, the chief took off his shirt and and went to his mother and wrapped his body around her tiny frame. Then he told the executioner: “NOW, you may begin the beating!”
The Bible says God’s decision to forgive repentant sinners is just. How can that be? Because Jesus Christ, Who Himself is God, has already taken the full punishment for sinners. Just as this island village chief took his guilty mother’s punishment upon his own body, Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sins upon Himself and died in our place. In that way, God’s justice was fully applied and satisfied. God the Son took the part of the sinner’s party, fulfilling all His obligations, taking all the sinner’s punishment. And God the Father took the part of the righteous Judge, fulfilling all His obligations, and declaring the punishment to be done and the sinner to be righteous, because of Jesus Christ’s righteousness.
God is perfectly just in forgiving sinners whose sins are covered by Jesus Christ.
» Am I trusting in Jesus Christ as the One Who can take the punishment for my sins?
» Do I sometimes have doubts about whether God is really just and fair in all He does?
» What does the Bible teach me about God’s character?