When we consider the attributes of God, it's very likely that we favor some over others, at least in their application toward us. For example, we're probably grateful that God is loving and that He actively shows us His love in many ways. We're also probably grateful that God is merciful and that He has made a point to extend His mercy toward us for our eternal benefit.
But are we just as thankful for God's justice as we are for His love and mercy? Truthfully, as we'll demonstrate in a few moments, God's justice, love and mercy go hand in hand. They compliment and work perfectly together. Still, most often, we tend to be more thankful for God's justice when it's applied to someone else than we are when it's applied to us.
How often during the course of your life have you asked God to correct or discipline you? How often have you rejoiced when someone who has hurt or offended you has been on the receiving end of God's just correction?
The Scriptures we're about to look at demonstrate the fact that God is perfectly just, perfectly loving, and perfectly merciful. As we look at these Scriptures, we'll also be shown why our hearts should be prompted to praise God and express thankfulness for the ways in which He has expressed these attributes toward us. In reality, if not for God's justice, love, and mercy, we would have had no hope for the future.
I. God is just
When I was in high school, I played on our school's tennis team. Trips to meets tended to be lengthy and we would often have plenty of time to talk during the drive. During one particular trip, in the midst of conversation with our coach, the coach said to me, "John, you have a strong desire for justice. It seems to be something you highly value." I honestly wasn't sure what I said or did that prompted that comment, but if you or I place a high value on justice, we're showing that to some degree, God's image is reflected in us because He is the perfection of justice.
When God displays His justice, He is giving out punishment or reward to the person who deserves it based on the actions they have taken. When God condemns someone who has rejected Him to an eternity apart from His blessings, He is displaying His justice. When the Lord dispenses crowns or rewards in Heaven to believers who were faithfully obedient to Him during their time on earth, He is also displaying His justice.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” -Romans 12:19
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. -Hebrews 6:10
To a degree, justice intrinsically makes sense to us. Most people would tend to agree that there are both good and bad consequences to our actions. Because we crave order, we also desire someone to enforce that order and serve as the judge or arbiter of what is right and wrong. Again, I believe that this desire within us is an internal testimony that should help convince our hearts that we were created by a just God who enforces justice among us.
God revealed this attribute of His nature to the very first human He created. In Genesis 2 we read, 'And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam was told by our perfectly just God that there were certain parameters placed upon what he could do, and if he stepped outside of those parameters, there would be dire consequences. As we well know, Adam disobeyed God's directions and humanity has been experiencing the consequences ever since.
It would be a violation of our just God's very nature not to punish sin. His justice requires it and it is impossible for Him to be inconsistent with His nature. So, from the time of Adam, mankind has been dealing with the consequences of Adam's act of rebellion. We came from Adam, we inherited his nature, we were born under the just wrath of God, and we experience both physical and spiritual death. This is perfectly fair and just, and we have no right to complain about this mess because we're culpable for it just as Adam was since we were "in" Adam when he sinned. But thankfully, this isn't where the story ends. God's perfect love and mercy compliment His justice to provide life and relational restoration with our Creator.
II. God is loving
Love is a word that isn't particularly difficult to define (even though it is used in various ways in our language), but it is quite difficult to practice. When Scripture describes God as being the perfection of love, it reveals to us through various examples that God, in His love, seeks what is best for us even at great personal cost to Himself. He is patient with us. He actively looks out for our well-being, and He wants us to reflect His sacrificial love toward one another in how we think of each other and treat each other.
The Apostle John directly stated that "God is love." He also made it clear that when we practice sacrificial, unconditional love toward others, we display that God lives within us and furthermore we are finding true life and the power to love through Him.
Since God is the perfection of love, it shouldn't surprise us that He would also supply the ultimate example of love for us to observe, experience, and learn from. In Romans 5 we're told, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). Jesus Christ, God the Son, died in our place. The just penalty for sin was death, so He who had no sin of His own, chose to take our sin upon Himself. In doing so, He satisfied God's justice while also showing us God's love.
Now, as recipients of God's love, we're called to sacrificially love one another in active and tangible ways that put hands and feet to our words and affections. This is a dominant characteristic Christ desires to be present among all believers who are part of His church. In John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
In practical terms, how is this lived out? It's lived out by serving and sacrificing for one another's well-being. The love of Christ is displayed every time we speak the truth to each other, meet each others' needs, and carve out time for one other. When a brother in Christ is having trouble with his water heater and you repair it for him, that's love. When a sister in Christ is exhausted and tired after giving birth and you stock her refrigerator with food, that's love. When a brother is struggling with sin and you pray with him and listen to his confession without gossiping about it, that's love. When a sister is dying and you sit by her side, reading Scripture until she takes her final breath, that's love. When a child is orphaned or abandoned and you adopt him into your family, feed him, shelter him, comfort him, and even give him your family name, that's love. This is what Christ wants His family to be known for because this reflects both His nature and the sacrificial way He chose to bless us.
It's also worth noting that because God is loving, we can have confidence on the day of judgment that we will be welcomed into His presence if we've trusted in Him and He's living within us. His word tells us, "By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world." (1 John 4:17).
III. God is merciful
Mercy is an attribute of God that I regularly pray will become more visible in my life as my faith in Him matures. He has regularly shown me that, by nature, I am not as merciful as I should be, but I'm grateful that He is teaching me more about mercy while surrounding me with merciful people who show me what it's supposed to look like.
God is the perfection of mercy. Showing mercy involves granting pardon or showing compassion to an offending party. When God shows us mercy, He chooses not to punish us in the manner in which we truly deserve.
So how does God's justice, love, and mercy work together? We deserve condemnation and punishment from God because of our sin, yet God who is loving, sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to this earth to take that punishment on Himself. In doing so, His justice and wrath were perfectly satisfied, and now He has made all who trust in Jesus Christ objects of His mercy. We were formerly objects of His wrath, but now our condemnation has been lifted through the work Jesus accomplished on our behalf when He lived on this earth without sin, died on the cross in our place, and rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. Simply stated, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by taking our condemnation upon Himself so that we could become objects of God's mercy and welcomed into His family.
"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
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit," -1 Peter 3:18
Isn't it amazing to consider that we would ever struggle to show mercy once we've come to experience the great mercy of God? This is why we should never minimize or make like of this attribute. When we downgrade His mercy, we forget what He's done for us and we develop a smug, self-righteous attitude that forgets we were once objects of His wrath. As recipients of His divine mercy, we should joyfully dispense His mercy as we interact with those He has placed in our lives.
God's justice, love, and mercy work hand in hand to reveal more to us about His nature while guaranteeing we will be part of His kingdom and family for all time. Let these attributes be reflected in your life. Bless others with a taste of what you've been blessed with.
"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made." -Psalm 145:8-9
© John Stange, 2018