Justice for All: Mercy in Light of Justice

Robert F. Kennedy once said that “the glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution, nor by the courts, nor by the officers of the law, nor by the lawyer, but by the men and women who constitute our society; who are the protectors of the law as they themselves are protected by the law.”

My family loves to discuss politics around the dinner table, and despite their different opinions, there is one thing that everyone seems to agree on and that’s the necessity for justice.

While I’m not as quick to debate politics, I do enjoy a good theological discussion, in which justice is rarely mentioned. It wasn’t until I read Jen Wilkin’s book – In His Image – that the concept of justice suddenly became a vital piece of my Biblical understanding.

“Administer true justice” says the Lord Almighty, “showing mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:8-9, NIV).

So what is true justice? Robert F. Kennedy wasn’t too far off. It’s not the Constitution, the court system, or those who defend it, but to show mercy and compassion to one another. It is brothers and sisters in Christ who are themselves protected by justice that administer true justice to others by extending mercy and compassion.

It is brothers and sisters in Christ who are themselves protected by justice that administer true justice to others by extending mercy and compassion.

protected by the law

When we think about the law from an American viewpoint, we know that it is intended to protect U.S. citizens, their rights, and their freedoms.

However, when we consider the Law from a Biblical standpoint, it can be easy to think only of a holy ark carrying two stone tablets and shrouded in a solemn tent. Or perhaps we think of the earliest books of the Bible filled with confusing rules and an angry God ruthlessly raining down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah for not following those rules (Genesis 19, NIV).

If we are not careful, wrong ideas about God’s justice can leave us feeling vulnerable rather than protected by it.

Just as the justice system of the United States is intended to protect those who abide by it, so too is God’s law and justice meant to protect those who are found in Christ; onto whom mercy and justice are imparted daily.

Rarely do we associate mercy and justice, though they are impeccably inseparable. If grace and mercy are sisters, then justice is their big brother (political pun intended 🙂 ).

According to the Bible, true justice would require death as payment for our sins, “for the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23, NIV). Justice according to a holy God is the complete eradication of all sin. Why? Because His “eyes are too pure to look on evil; he cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV).

This leaves us asking the same question as Habakkuk – “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous” (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV)?

Why is evil so rampant? Around us and in us? We know the wickedness of our own hearts and we know what the cost of our sin is. So why mercy? Why not fire and brimstone?

Mercy instead of and justice

“Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws” (Psalm 119:156, NIV).

Justice is getting what you deserve while mercy is not getting what you deserve. It’s not that justice was set aside so that we could receive mercy, for that would tarnish the perfect and holy character of God. And we know by the fact that our hearts are beating that we have indeed received mercy. So what’s the deal?

According to God’s law, death is the just punishment for sin. As believers, we know that there was one Death that bore the weight of all sin; the death of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24, NIV).

Without the just punishment for sin that Christ bore on our behalf we would rightly be held accountable for our sins. However, because Jesus received with perfect humility the just punishment for our sin, mercy extended on a daily basis is now an act of perfect justice.

In being flawlessly just, God righteously extends mercy towards us rather than justice not in an act of disregarding the need for justice, but rather in an act of remembering that justice was served wholly and completely on the cross.

This does not mean that we will never face physical death, but rather that we have been reprieved of a spiritual death and eternal separation from God because Jesus Christ took the punishment for sin in our place, which is good news and something that I’m sure we all think of often and find easy to recall when we are face-to-face with our sin. God’s mercy is a comforting reality in light of sin, as it should be.

We have been reprieved of a spiritual death and eternal separation from God because Jesus Christ took the punishment for sin in our place.

Justice on the other hand can sometimes feel like a prickly cactus; not as comforting to hold onto when faced with our depravity, but just as important.

When I experienced crippling anxiety a couple of years ago, I remember truly believing that I was being punished for my sin. Now yes, anxiety due to loving something or someone more than God was a likely consequence for idolatry, but it was not God justly punishing me for my sin.

We make three very critical mistakes when we believe that something negative in our lives, be it anxiety, depression, a loss, etc. is God’s just punishment for our sin…

  1. We grossly diminish the absolute holiness and righteousness of God by believing that the difficulty we are experiencing is the full weight and extent of His righteousness and justice;
  2. We severely belittle the costliness of our sin and wretchedness; and
  3. We sadly neglect the mercy of Christ and dismiss the justice served in entirety on the cross.

Though the consequences of our sin or simply the depraved and broken nature of this world are difficult and painful to deal with, consider the horror of Sodom and Gomorrah as white hot fire and brimstone rained down from heaven as punishment for their sin (Genesis 19, NIV).

That is what the perfect justice of a holy God looks like in response to sin; the complete destruction of sin and wickedness. So when we believe that the consequences of our sin are the full extent of God’s justice and punishment, we seriously diminish His holiness and purity.

Perfect justice has already been served on the cross in whole and therefore to remain a holy, perfect, and impartial God; unchanging and righteous, He remains faithful and just in that because One died for all, all have died and are therefore found in Christ; protected under His great mercy, which is daily imparted on us as an act of perfect justice.

justice for all

What is true justice then? That we show mercy and compassion to one another. Because we have received that which we do not deserve (the assurance of present grace and future glory in Christ), we are compelled to a) stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves (Matthew 7:12, Matthew 25:35-45, James 1:27) in an act of justice, and b) release the wrong done against us by trusting that it was dealt with rightly on the cross (1 Peter 3:18, NIV). This releases us from the need to avenge ourselves (Romans 12:19, NIV) and instead compels us to extend that which we also received when we did not deserve it (Titus 3:4-6, NIV).

We have the assurance of present grace and future glory in Christ!

And how is this done? By first taking God’s righteous justice seriously and in that, recognizing that it was fully served and wholly satisfied on the cross, against Christ on our behalf, so that we could receive mercy.

We are able to act justly toward others with mercy and compassion by reminding ourselves that “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-6, NIV).

We realize that God’s mercy and justice place us all on the same, even ground at the foot of the cross which bears all justice and mercy in perfect unity; righteously administered now and forevermore, that we may be free from the punishment of our sins to “act justly and love mercy, walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Author: Kristin Holl

I am a jeans and t-shirt wearing, passionate, jump-in-with-both-feet, entirely flawed but wholly loved by God kind of girl who is learning to embrace grace over perfection. I am a brand new wife to an incredible man, daughter to two wonderful parents, and sister to three awesome (but at times ornery) brothers. When I'm not busy writing grants or analyzing data for the local nonprofit that I work for, I like to fill my time with music, writing, reading, long bike rides and fellowship with friends and family. I have a passion for Biblical literacy and deep, personal understanding of Gospel truth. It is my daily desire and prayer to be consumed and compelled by the cross. As C.J. Mahaney says, "we never move on from the cross. We only get a more profound understanding of the cross."

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