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Posts Tagged ‘God’s Justice’

Have you ever considered how the idea of reformation is actually a very popular part of everyday life? Think about it. On the news, in the papers, and at school, we’re alway hearing about reforming this or reforming that.  Whether it’s education reform, tax reform, tort reform, healthcare reform, you name it. Reformation is a big deal. And it was the same way during the Protestant Reformation as well.

Toward the end of the middle ages, there was huge a push toward what can best be described as ‘moral reform.’ The fact is, people in those days (not so different from our own) were in the habit of misbehaving. And so Renaissance humanist leaders like Erasmus (d. 1536) led the cause for shaping people up. It was broadly understood that people’s main problem was that they were immoral and thus needed to be taught better manners. And although many of these humanist leaders were themselves part of the Catholic church, they didn’t want to focus on doctrine so much. Their great concern was to make sure people lived better, more upstanding, lives in society.

Cutting a sharply contrary line in the sand, the Protestant Reformation offered a radically different message.  The Reformers recognized that no matter how big man’s problems might be, no matter how messed up his social ills, no matter how bad his manners, indeed no matter how much social reformation may indeed have to be done, the greatest, most primary and acute problem for man in all the world is his sin before God.

This was as classic case of ‘cutting to the chase.’ Yes, man is a mess! But any and all attempts at fixing him are like putting a bandaid on a mortal wound. Before man can make any progress before God and with his neighbor, he must first deal with his guilt. His sin is a big deal — no, it is the big deal. And this was the storm center of the Protestant Reformation, the eye of the hurricane that would rock history. And it was forensic in character. Man needed righteousness before God his maker, and all he had was guilt.

Standing himself, with this question, too, before the face of God, the Calvinist was so impressed with the holiness of God that the consciousness of guilt immediately lacerated his soul, and the terrible nature of sin pressed on his heart as with an intolerable weight….

To the de profundis (Latin “out of the depths” from Ps. 130) with which, thirty centuries ago, the soul of David cried unto God, the troubled soul of every child of God in the sixteenth century still sounded a response with undiminished power. The conception of the corruption of sin as the source of all human misery was nowhere more profound than in Calvin’s environment. – Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, p. 55.

Guilt before man is bad enough. But guilt before God leaves no way of progress anywhere else. It is the cause of every evil and sinful thing. It is even the cause of our relative guilt before other men.  For, if we remember in the beginning (Gen. 3), after incurring guilt before God, Adam and Eve also felt shame between themselves.  Forensic, judicial, legal, guilt, therefore, is at the root of all other sin and the cause of every subsequent relational and social evil. If we have guilt before God, we cannot love our neighbor. And most importantly, if we have guilt before God, we cannot love and worship our Maker, who is to be forever praised. Amen!

And this, we see, is where the Protestant Reformation entered upon the scene proclaiming (with Paul and all those other faithful witnesses who had gone before) a righteousness that is from faith onto faith (cf. Rom. 1:17). A righteousness that is entirely a gift of God (Rom 5:16-18) by grace alone (Eph. 2:8), to be received through faith alone (Rom. 4:6), in Christ alone.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).

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How important is the concept of the justice of God? Is it possible we emphasize it too much in Reformed circles? What about the relational of filial aspects of God’s character?  Don’t those come to bare against a strict legal/justice understanding of the way God relates to his children?

Of course, all these questions operate under the assumption that God’s justice is somehow at odds with his relational dealings with man. It construct a false dichotomy which is neither right nor safe.  But perhaps one of the most powerful ways to avoid this false-dicotomy is to realize the beauty in Christ’s fulfillment of God’s justice.  Charles Hodge, that great Princeton Theologian, speaks of this glorious truth:

This is the corner-stone, and the whole fabric falls into ruin if that stone be removed. That God cannot pardon sin without a satisfaction to justice, and that He cannot have fellowship with the unholy, are the two great truths which are revealed in the constitution of our nature as well as in the Scriptures, and which are recognized in all forms of religion, human or divine. It is because the demands of justice are met by the work of Christ, that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that it is so unspeakably precious to whose whom the Spirit of God have convinced of sin. – Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:492, cited in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

That this justice is “revealed in the constitution of our nature” is an outstanding statement and a most penetrating observation. It is only then, when the law of God (written on our consciences and in Scripture) comes to bear with its mighty weight upon our souls through the convicting power of the Holy Sprit, that the beauty of God’s justice fulfilled on our behalf breaks upon us. It is only then that the concept of justification begins to mean something to us. It is only then that we are awakened to the beauty of Christ’s suffering upon the cross and no longer want to put confidence in the flesh. It is only then that we can truly worship and glory in Christ.

Accordingly, the chief design of Christ’s satisfaction “is neither to make a moral impression upon the offenders themselves, nor to operate didactically on other intelligent creatures, but to satisfy the demands of justice; so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly.” – D.G. Hart, quoting Charles Hodge, in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

Do we need the concept of God’s justice? Why yes we do. It is absolutely good, true, and beautiful.

And this is why we must boldly preach both the law and the gospel.

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