God is just. God is forgiving. How does that all work together? Does God’s forgiveness negate His justness? Does God simply forget His just nature in order to exercise His forgiving nature?
God is indeed a just God. If we want to understand God’s just nature, we begin with His holiness. In both Isaiah and Revelation we hear the angels declare a three-fold declaration of God’s holiness, “…holy, holy, holy is the Lord…” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). The word “holy” means “separated.” Holy is not merely a reference to God’s perfection or to His sinlessness, but to His transcendence. He is infinitely higher and greater and purer than anything of which we can conceive.
Because God is holy, sin cannot enter into His presence. Sin is rebellion against will of God. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Because sin is contrary to the perfect will of God for us, it is offensive – far more than we might like to think. Our sin is not a minor infraction, a misdemeanor, but is instead a heinous crime against the God and His created order. It is a crime for which a price must be paid. The Bible reminds us, “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). The price of sin was the shedding of blood. “… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22).
After Adam and Eve had sinned and fallen from the lofty state for which God had created them, the Lord Himself came and provided covering for their shame. He did so by clothing them with animal skins to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Although we are not explicitly told that animals were killed for these skins, the act is implied. The shedding of innocent blood for the covering of man’s sin first took place in the Garden and became the means by which the Jewish people sought atonement before God.
Here is our first glimpse into how God’s justice and God’s forgiveness are accomplished. Sin was not something God would simply ignore for the sake of His love. Sin was completely offensive to God and intolerable, therefore God set up a system through which a price would be paid to satisfy God’s justice so that man might receive the blessing of God’s forgiveness. This is the concept of “just forgiveness.”
We now fast forward to the coming of Jesus into our world. Jesus, God’s Son, perfect in every way, came to us in the form of a little baby born in Bethlehem. He grew up and was tempted in every way we are and yet He committed no sin (Hebrews 4:15). He came to us not merely to teach us how to be good to each other; He came to pay the price for our sin. He was God’s Passover Lamb (John 1:29, 36; 1 Peter 1:18-21). God’s justice was satisfied in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus so that His forgiveness might be poured out on all who believe. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The cross remains a symbol of the price paid and forgiveness secured.
Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live
(In Christ Alone, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)
Jesus took upon Himself our sin debt and paid it in full. The debt had to be paid in order for our forgiveness to be secured. God did for us in Christ what we could not do for ourselves. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus took our sin so that we might be forgiven and purified from our sin and stand righteous before God – not in our own righteousness (which would be impossible) but in Jesus righteousness imputed to us.
Forgiveness is not God overlooking sin. A price had to be paid. Consider the example of two brothers tossing a football in the backyard. One of the brothers makes an errant throw and it crashes through a window. The deed has been done. The window is broken. The party at fault (though I’m sure both brothers blame the other!) has a debt to pay for the broken window. Now, suppose the father walks over to his sons, hands them the ball, and says, “All is forgiven.” Does that fix the window? No.
For the window to be fixed, someone has to pay for it. If it is not one or both of the brothers, then their father will pay for it. Forgiveness does not cancel justice, it shifts the penalty from the guilty party to one who is innocent. Someone will take responsibility to pay for what is broken. That is the case with sin. It must be paid for to satisfy God’s justness. God paid the price for us and that price was high – the life of His Son. With the price for sin paid, however, the offer of forgiveness was made to all who would receive Jesus as Savior and follow Him as Lord. That is just forgiveness.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)