If we are going to attempt to discover the true nature of judgment (as I hope to do with this series), we must first grasp the reason why there must be judgment in the first place. On top of this we must understand that all judgment is based upon God’s Character; it is an outworking of who He is. His Character, who He is in His being, is namely – Love and Righteousness. To put it another way, God is Love and God is Holy; and everything He does is an extension of BOTH of these qualities.
Righteousness AND Love
Most believers view God’s judgments as an extension of His holiness and righteousness. God is holy therefore He must judge sin. I absolutely agree with this. However, it is also an extension of His Love. Most people are either ignorant (unaware) of this and overlook it, or they deny it. Therefore, if we want to rightly discern the purpose of judgment we must balance any view of His judgments with both righteousness and love. It is not my intention to scope out the vast field of God’s love, I believe that there is already much great literature on this subject already, and therefore any attempt on my part would be unnecessary. On top of this I believe most Christians have at least an elementary grasp of God’s infinite unending unchanging unconditional love. It is probably the most popular concept in Christendom. Although I must admit there is a deficit to our grasp of His love; for if we truly grasped how great and magnificent His love was, we would positively retch at the idea of such a Lover allowing an endless hell.
Anyways, His great love will not be a subject I am going to tackle. But I do want us to remember that everything He does is from a heart of Love: even judgment. The purpose of this blog will be to focus specifically on His Righteousness; while also showing how that righteousness is inseparable from His love.
God’s judgments being an extension of His righteousness is widely accepted; unfortunately most of us do not understand the true nature of His righteousness. So let us take a minute to explore what true righteousness implies.
It is safe to say that all judgment is due to (the consequence of) sin; without sin there would be no need for judgment. And sin is defined by the Law for without Law there is no definition of right or wrong. Scripture says this plainly, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…for apart from the Law sin is dead.” (Romans 7:7,8) And, “sin is a transgression of the Law.” (1 John 3:4)
“The Law is righteous and holy,” (Romans 7:12) b/c it is based upon God’s Righteousness. Righteousness is the standard to which we are all called; and falling short of that standard is sin; which incurs judgment. God is unconditional love and the perfect union we have with Him is broken when there is sin. All sin is a breach of love and trust; and true love cannot turn a blind eye to such a violation. To do so would be to approve the evil and accept the breach, but love seeks union and there can be no union where sin causes separation.
Therefore though God is unconditional love, that love demands righteousness. For God not only loves us despite our wretchedness, but He desires that we would partake of the fullness of His love, which necessarily requires unity (and thus righteousness in order to be in perfect union with Him to enjoy the fulness of His love).
Thus all unrighteousness must be condemned. True love requires such. But such condemnation/ judgment grieves Him as it would any good Father. Our sin grieves Him b/c He loves us and knows the pain that judgment brings and the sorrow that we must endure b/c of it.
I am utterly indebted to Andrew Jukes and his book The Names of God for this thought and I feel he is far more capable of expressing the truth of this matter than myself. So I want to quote him at length to complete this picture. He is sharing about how the Name Jehovah (Yahweh) reveals God’s Righteousness.
And yet with Israel, even as in Eden, and with the world before the Flood, while He most inflexibly inflicts judgment, we are shewn again and again, what so few think of, that sin grieves and wounds “Jehovah,” and that He also suffers, if His people are disobedient. He Himself is pained by the destructions which sin must bring with it. Unless we see this, we do not know “Jehovah.” But here, as throughout the whole record of “Jehovah,” the testimony is most clear. Again and again, when Israel sinned, “the anger of Jehovah was kindled against His people, and Jehovah sold them into the hands of their enemies;” but it is not Israel only that is “sore distressed;” for of “Jehovah” also it is written, “And His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judges 10:6,7,9,16). So, again the Prophet declares, “Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves” (Amos 2:13); that is, He is pressed and burdened, and goes groaning. So again the Psalmist says, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:10). “In all their afflictions He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). Who can measure the anguish of His words:—”How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together” (Hos. 11:8).
We are slow to see all this. And yet if Jesus Christ really reveals “Jehovah:” if He is indeed “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3): if He is, as the Apostle says, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15): then His cross and sufferings shew, not only that sin brings death and sorrow upon men, but (if we may say it) sorrow and trouble also on “Jehovah.” Christ’s cross is the witness of “Jehovah’s” cross, though by His cross He conquers all. “Surely He hath borne our griefs” (Isaiah 53:4). Was it no grief to Him that His people rejected Him? “When He was come near and beheld the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Was He not crossed? He makes a feast, and none will come but those who are compelled. He says, “Come, for all things are now ready; and they all with one consent began to make excuse” (Matthew 22:4,5; Luke 14:16-18). Can we misunderstand His oft repeated words:—”How often would I have gathered you, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)? His complaint is, “All the day long have I stretched forth my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21). For a time at least His will is crossed. Oh wonder of all wonders! “Jehovah” suffers as only righteous Love can suffer.
But there is more even than this in the revelation of “Jehovah,” though the crowning glory of the revelation is only yet dimly seen by many of His people. Not only is He the God who requires righteousness; not only is He Himself affected by the destructions which sin has brought upon His creature; but still more, blessed be His name, His righteousness is not fully declared until He makes His creatures righteous with His own righteousness. What we first see in Him is law, and that, because He is righteous, He must condemn evil. But we should greatly err if we therefore concluded that this could be the end, for the new covenant of grace is His also (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). It is “Jehovah” who says, “This is the covenant that I will make after those days,”—(that is after law has done its work of condemnation,)—”I will put my law into their mind, and will write it in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Righteousness is not complete, if it only judges and condemns; for the devil also can condemn. The highest righteousness, while it judges sin, can never rest until it also makes the sinner righteous. The saints have always felt this, and that God’s righteousness is for them, not against them; saying, “I know, O Jehovah, that thy judgments are right, and that in very faithfulness thou hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75). “Quicken me, O Jehovah, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness sake bring my soul out of trouble” (Psalm 143:11). “In thy name shall thy people rejoice all the day, and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted” (Psalm 89:15,16). Because He is righteous, evil must be judged: the evil-doer must be punished. But the evil being thus judged, and the sinner condemned, the righteous God is no less righteous,—rather He is yet more righteous,—in making the judged creature a “partaker of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)…Therefore he says again, that our “being made righteous freely by His grace” is “to declare God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:24,25)…For “Jehovah” is not content to be righteous Himself. Unlike the Pharisee, who thanks God that “he is not as other men” (Luke 18:11), “Jehovah” will have the creature made like Himself, by coming into its place, and making it sharer in His own righteousness. In a word, “He is just, and (therefore) the justifier” (Romans 3:26). “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). For to sum up all, as the Prophet says, “This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord, that is, Jehovah, our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). This, and nothing less, is “the end of the Lord” (James 5:11). He condemns to justify; He kills to make alive; that is to make the creature righteous as He is righteous. (Pgs. 53-55)
Andrew Jukes continues his thoughts about Yahweh and His Righteousness later on in the book when He shows how Christ and His Church manifest the name of Yahweh.
Some of His elect may think, that, because they are elect, He will not judge them. But because He is the Truth, He must judge all wrong, and judge even more in those who know and are near Him, than in those who know Him not. For He reveals Him who said of old, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2) He is indeed perfect love to those, who by confession shew that, though ruined, they are true; but He is no less unswerving truth and justice to such as would appear what they are not, and cover sin by a cloak of religiousness. Need I give examples from His words to Pharisees and Scribes (Matthew 23:13-33), and still more to the Churches, to whom He says, “I will give to every one of you according to your works”? (Revelation 2:23) To all He is the faithful and true witness, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and out of whose mouth goeth the sharp two edged sword, to smite the nations. (Revelation 2:11,12,18, 3:14, 19:15) And yet, with all this, His people’s sin and judgment pain Him. Like “Jehovah,” He suffers with, and grieves for, them. Again and again “He sighed,” (Mark 7:34, 8:12) and “groaned in spirit,” (John 11:33,38) and “wept over jerusalem, saying If thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace;” (Luke 19:41,42) and again, “How often would I have gathered you, but ye would not.” (Matthew 23:37) Still more did He suffer, when “He himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree,” (1 Peter 2:24) thus making atonement for sinners by giving Himself to be their righteousness. In all such acts, He was revealing “Jehovah,” who, if there is evil, must judge and take it away, even if He Himself is pained and suffers through the judgment. (pgs 203-4)
This is the truest and highest standard of righteous judgment – that it suffers with those being judged and ultimately makes the sinner righteous with His own righteousness. This is b/c true righteousness, God’s Righteous, cannot be separated from His Love. He loves the sinner, and therefore must judge his sin, but His judgment restores the sinner back into full communion with Him and makes him righteous as He is righteous.
I will leave you with that. I know it is not some grand exposition on the heights and depths of God’s Righteousness, but it gives us what we need to know concerning its relationship to Judgment. God’s righteousness does not simply condemn sin (as Andrew Jukes pointed out, even the Devil can do that) it also enters into the condemnation and lifts the sinner up into His own righteousness.
The following blogs in this series will bring great clarity concerning the purpose of Judgment. You will find how every instance and every description by which judgment or future judgment is addressed reveals that God will restore the sinner. Judgment corrects and refines, it does not abandon. The next blog will show how true justice is defined by God’s Law, and that His Laws establish judgments that fit the crime and that no crime deserves a never ending punishment.