“Great and amazing are Your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” – Revelation 15:3-4
So far on my blog, I’ve been going through Philippians 4:8 and doing a post based on each virtue that we find there. I’ve talked about Truth and Honor. Now I’ve come to “whatever is just”. I chose the verse that opens this post from Revelation 15 because it provides a very quick answer to the question, “What is just?”
When Paul tells us to think on things that are just, he uses a Greek word that means: just, righteous, correct. This word is used all over the New Testament, including twice in our verse here in Revelation 15. John says, “Just and true are Your ways” and “Your righteous acts have been revealed.” The words used here for “just” and “righteous” come from the same Greek word. So what is just? The short answer is God’s ways and His actions. Now, if you believe the Bible like me, this is a great answer! We can just search the scriptures and learn about God’s ways, and we’ll learn about justice at the same time. If you stop reading here to go read the Bible, I’ll understand. God’s word will teach you a lot more than my words will. However, I’ve had an amazing time cross referencing a lot of the verses that use the same word for “just”. I’m very excited to show you how I’ve pulled some of them together in a way that’s been helpful for my understanding. I hope it helps you too.
1. God is just
The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He. – Deuteronomy 32:4
Justice exists because of the character of the God who exists. I think we should understand that justice isn’t a virtue that God invented for us to have as part of our human societies. The only reason we, on the human side, have an understanding of justice, is because God exists. God provides the moral absolute necessary to have a 100% sure concept of right and wrong. As I said earlier, the Biblical definition of justice carries with it the idea of righteousness. While God is perfectly righteous all the time, He’s actually more than that. What could be better than perfectly righteous all the time? God doesn’t merely act righteously, rather, who He is sets the bar for what righteousness is.
Let’s expand this just a little more. Many saints in Bible times were referred to favorably, sometimes even as righteous. But for them, righteousness is always granted in connection with their belief and faith in God. The commentary on the life of Abraham in Romans 4 is a prime example here. However, one Man is spoken of differently. Jesus Christ is unique. His righteousness is spoken of as intrinsic. Besides the verses that explicitly state it, this is a convincing validation of the deity of Christ. In Isaiah 42, God says, “My glory I give to no other.” But because Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning, and became flesh, He is rightly praised and worshiped. Peter, speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, said to them:
But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you – Acts 3:14
Stephen, echoing this title in Acts 7, calls Christ the “Just One”. He did not obtain this title for any other reason except the fact that He is the Holy One of God. “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.” He committed no sin, and completely fulfilled the Law of God.
2. We are not just
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13
Did you hear that? The doers of the law will be justified. That’s perfect because now all we need to do is completely follow God’s law and we’re in! But, wait a minute…
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” – Galatians 3:10
That’s a big problem. In fact, I would say that it’s the biggest problem in the world. All other problems in your life, and the lives of those around you are superficial compared to this. If there isn’t a solution to this problem, there are eternal ramifications. Outside of Christ, this is the situation we’re all in. God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil,” and “He cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” And for us, “whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” You see, it’s not about how many laws you break, it’s about Whose law you break. Unfortunately, it appears that Paul’s assessment, quoting from a Psalm, is all too true, “None is righteous, no, not one.” Thankfully, it doesn’t end here. For everyone in the righteous category (and that’s no one), you’re on your own. But, for everyone in the unjust category (and that’s everyone), you are exactly who Jesus came for:
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32
3. But we can be just
In Acts 24, Paul speaks about “a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” Now, Paul is the same one who I recently quoted saying that no one is just. The question is, who are the just at the resurrection? Unless we’re missing something, we’ll all be unjust at the resurrection. Fortunately, the Bible is replete with the answer to this. We are provided with great clarity as to how we can be part of “the just”.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14
Luke tells us specifically that Jesus told this parable to people who were trusting in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus contrasts two men to distinguish two different types of people. In the end, one man is justified and the other is not. So we should note very carefully the difference between the two. The difference is humility. The thing that characterizes the man who is justified is his willingness to humble himself before God, and acknowledge his sinful condition and his need for mercy. It is this man, and all others like him, who God exalts. For the man who prayed to God only to boast of his own merits, he will one day be humbled by God, but he will not be justified.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit – 1 Peter 3:18
This is amazing news! We saw earlier that if we cannot keep the entire law, the only thing left for us is a curse. But what is impossible for man is possible with God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God looks at us and sees that we have fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law, and therefore we are fit to inherit all the promises because Christ became a curse for us. Christ has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and by His wounds we are healed. For those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, all that is left are all the promises of God, and none of the curse of the law. I can think of nothing better to leave you with than this:
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21