We Americans are quite familiar with the "responsibility" concept in the sense of "someone has to pay!" In America, most people are profoundly impressed with the concept of responsibility as applied to the concept of others should be held accountable for their mistakes. The illustrations are numerous. If divorce occurs, a specific person should be found guilty of causing that marriage to fail and pay! Someone is at fault! If child neglect or abuse occurs, a specific person should be found guilty of that neglect or abuse! The guilty person is at fault! If any crime occurs, a specific person should be found guilty of causing the crime! The guilty person who is at fault should pay!
We sue. We try. We place in prison. We form registers for offenders. We change laws. We form local watch groups and organizations devoted to reporting the guilty. We form national watch groups and organizations devoted to creating awareness of guilt. We have lobbyists who plead with law makers to champion causes. While perspectives on moral situations are varied [and often contradictory], the cry from each group is the same, "Justice! Make those we declare to be guilty pay!"
A part of God's nature is justice. God must be true to His nature just as we must be true to ours. Just as human nature often places us in conflict, God's divine nature often places Him in conflict. For example, love for our children often conflicts with our sense of justice when our children violate laws or moral standards. The same is true for God. Love [part of the divine nature] conflicted with justice [part of the divine nature] regarding human rebellion. The loving part of God's nature said, "Yield to mercy; forgive them." The just part of God's nature said, "Yield to accountability; eternally punish them." The problem confronting God confronts every parent. The problem: how do you be true to your nature in your actions? God could not cease to be "Who He is." At issue: how could divine justice be satisfied in a manner that freed divine love to function through divine mercy?
The issue was not, "can divine justice be satisfied?" If each person is held accountable for his or her own failures, if in true accountability each person is eternally punished for his or her failures, justice is met. The issue was [and is] this: "how can divine justice be satisfied in a manner that frees divine love to express itself in mercy?" Forgiveness is an expression of mercy, not justice. Forgiveness is releasing the forgiven from accountability for his or her failures.
For us, God's resolution of this conflict within His divine nature was enormous! How could divine grace within divine mercy show divine love through divine forgiveness without violating divine justice? If, as a human, you wish to relate to God's dilemma, consider this human issue: "if my child allows addiction [to anything from sex to drugs] to control his or her behavior, how do I love him or her in a manner that does not encourage/support his or her addictive behavior?
The divine nature making human forgiveness possible was through justification. In the act of justification, God yielded to justice and to love. A Christian is righteous before the righteous God because God justifies him or her.
Justification Makes Our Forgiveness Possible
The following thoughts are challenging. Do not let the concepts intimidate you. Think from God's perspective.
A human can do nothing to make himself or herself righteous before God. No human deed or set of human deeds has the power to make a person righteous. One cannot "go to church" enough, help the needy enough, do enough good deeds, sacrifice enough, pray enough, privately worship enough, or be such an ethical person who lives by biblical morality to become righteous before God. Human thoughts cannot make us righteous! Human feelings cannot make us righteous! Human deeds cannot make us righteous!
Why? Human acts cannot address a person's past evils. Even if a man or woman could be 100% godly in his or her "now" [which is impossible!], that godliness only would declare the person's "now" condition with no affect on past failures. However, our situation is worse. Even with best behavior and efforts, no one is 100% godly "now"! None even come close! None is even aware of how much evil exists in thoughts, emotions, and behavior! On any day, divine justice could eternally condemn any of us for that day's mistakes!
When a person realizes what God did and does for him or her in Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a changed person. He or she wants to move closer to God. A basic understanding: the closer a human moves toward God, the more righteous his or her thoughts, emotions, and behavior become. Conversely, the further from God a person moves, the more unrighteous his or her thoughts, emotions, and behavior become.
Yet, God does not regard a person as righteous because he or she has exceptional behavior. While the person ruled by God becomes a man or woman of exceptional behavior, good deeds [or good thoughts or good emotions] are not the basis of his or her righteousness. Paul was specific about this matter. The means of being righteous before God is now known. It is not based on deeds [law keeping whether prophet guided or scripture guided]. It is based on faith. Trust in what? Confidence in what? Human deeds? It is based on trust or confidence in what God did in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26).
Is this faith actionless? No. It is actively obedient. This obedient existence is in response to God making the person righteous. Faith in what God did for him or her in Jesus' death forever changes him or her. Confidence in what God did for him or her in Jesus' death motivates his or her commitment to obedience. So that God can recognize him or her as being righteous? No! So that he or she can seek to think, feel, and behave consistently with the righteousness God gave him or her in Christ Jesus. The trust is not in what he or she does, but in God's justification for him or her in Jesus' death.
How is this possible? God did not ignore divine justice when He gave forgiveness to humans. By allowing Jesus to substitute his pure life for our sinful life, God paid the penalty for the injustice of every human evil. By that means God is the justifier of all men and women who come to Him by placing their trust/confidence in Jesus.
By that means, a just God can extend the mercy of forgiveness universally to all who place trusting, confident faith in Jesus Christ. Universally, all are not capable of knowing the deeds produced by Jewish law and Jewish prophecy. Universally [regardless of culture and circumstances] all can place trust in what God did in Jesus' death.
Discussion question: why do people prefer to trust their deeds instead of Jesus' death?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 9
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