It’s not fair!” is the plaintive cry of frustrated siblings the world over. If little Susie gets punished for little Johnnie’s transgression: “It’s not fair!” Put ten kids in a schoolyard during a break and they will spend ten of the twenty minutes available for play deciding who’s in charge and organizing the rules and picking teams. If one of their number breaks the rules, there’s outrage: “It’s not fair!” A sense of fairness, it seems, is built into our constitution as human beings made in God’s image.
Of course, we want justice when we are injured or when a cause we believe in is undermined. We want justice in the abstract. We want justice as a rule of thumb. But when we are guilty, or when we have a stake in defending the guilty party, we don’t really want justice anymore: “I know Johnnie killed that man, but he’s a good guy really. He has a good heart. Can’t we give him a second chance?” All it takes for our commitment to justice to crumble is for us, or those we love, to be weighed in the scales of justice and found wanting.
But God is not like us. When we confess that God is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably just, we are saying that He never looks the other way. He never winks at sin. He never excuses wickedness. In Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses sang: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” At the other end of redemptive history, John saw the church triumphant in Revelation 15, singing “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’ ” (v. 3).
The justice of God is fundamental to the character of God and provides the fuel for the praises of His people in every age. He must be just because He is unchangeably and necessarily righteous and good in all He does.
But this presents us with an enormous problem. At the bar of heaven’s justice, the truth is that we are all guilty: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The burning question we must all answer then becomes, “How can justice be satisfied, and a sinner like me saved, at the same time?” The glorious answer of Paul is that God put forth Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith . . . so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (vv. 25–26). At the cross, wrath and mercy meet: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10).
A propitiation means a sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s holy wrath. That is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He Himself, the just One, bore the just penalty of our transgressions. Praise God that He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.