What Happens When God Takes Justice to the Next Level?

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus talks about commands given to ancient Israel and then gives new guidelines for how to obey God from a heart level. He wants us to shine as lights in the world so that all “can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, NET).

As preface to taking the commands to a spiritual level, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17, NET). In other words, He has come “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment” (Thayer’s dictionary entry on G4137, pleroo). And lest anyone think that the new covenant Jesus brings will make obedience any less of a priority, he adds, “unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 5:20, NET).

We must have a righteousness that “goes beyond” the letter of the law. It’s no longer enough to not murder; Jesus expects us not to despise or condemn others as well (Matt. 5:21-22). Not cheating on our spouses isn’t enough; we’re not even to lust after someone who doesn’t belong to us (Matt. 5:27-28). God has always cared more about the state of the human heart than what we do, and now that desire for heart and spirit-level obedience is made even more explicit. We might even say that what Jesus reveals demands a higher degree of commitment to God than what He expected under the Old Covenant.

A Life for a Life

One of the commands Jesus talks about is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38, WEB). This alludes to three passages in the Torah (according to the reference list in MySword Bible app): Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21.

The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.

Deuteronomy 19:2-21, NET

The NET footnote on this verse says, “This kind of justice is commonly called lex talionis or ‘measure for measure’… It is likely that it is the principle that is important and not always a strict application. That is, the punishment should fit the crime and it may do so by the payment of fines or other suitable and equitable compensation.” This interpretation may well be true, and perhaps Jesus had this in mind when He mentioned this law in His sermon. Maybe people had begun applying it too strictly and missed the heart of God for fairness and justice.

Jesus does not, however, tell people they need to keep applying this law but in a slightly different way. For the other “you have heard … but I say to you” passages, Jesus reinforces keeping the law and makes it more broadly applicable while taking it to a heart level. For example, “Do not break an oath” becomes “do not take oaths at all” (Matt. 5:33-37). This time, though, the exact connection to a broader spiritual application isn’t so direct.

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Mercy over Judgement

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42, NET, quoting Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20.

In the past, God’s law let you exact equal retribution for a crime. Someone knocks your tooth out, they lose their tooth. God is a God of justice and judgement, and every time there is sin someone has to pay for it. One thing implied by that rule of justice is that when you transgress the law you will also be punished. That’s where we start to realize how much we need God to also be a God of mercy, and indeed He is.

For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a violator of the law. Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:10-13, NET , quoting Exodus 20:13-14

God wants to show us mercy. He delights in seeing it triumph over judgement. But if we want God to show us mercy, we must also show mercy when we have that opportunity. When someone hits you you don’t hit them back; you turn the other cheek, turn vengeance over to God, and live at peace with everyone you can (Rom. 12:17-21).

Mimicking Jesus’s Mercy

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It is worth noting that when Jesus says, “resist not an evil doer,” the Greek word is anthistemi (G436). The only positive case of it being used between people is when Paul stood up to Peter’s hypocrisy in shunning Gentile believers (Gal. 2:11-17). It is also used when we’re told to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9) and to “withstand in the evil day” wearing God’s armor (Eph. 6:13). The command in the Sermon on the Mount does not mean we can’t correct someone in the spirit of love when they’ve made an error or that we do not resist the power behind all evil. We are, however, to commit ourselves to showing mercy and letting go of the option to revenge ourselves on someone else.

When God takes justice and fairness to the next level, it turns into mercy, long-suffering, peace, and love. The principle of “a life for a life” finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ dying to free us from all the things we’ve done that deserve death. He gave His life to redirect the “compensation due sin,” which “is death” (Rom. 6:23, LEB), to Himself even though He did not deserve to suffer and die.

Our human nature might rise up against this “turn the other cheek” passage and say that it isn’t fair to let others get away with these sorts of things. But it also was not “fair” that Jesus died instead of us to pay the penalty for our sin. His mercy triumphed over judgement, and if we follow Him in spirit and in truth our mercy should also triumph over judgement.

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Justice Belongs To God

One of the things we discussed in last week’s post about a Christian’s role in seeing justice done was that there are very few situations where God says it’s okay for us to judge other people. There’s an important reason for that which we only just touched on last week. It’s that justice and the application of judgement belong to God. We are to become like Him, yes, but there are certain roles that He does not share with us, at least not yet.

Paul says that one day the saints will judge the world and even angels. We’re not there yet, though there are certain situations where we can practice such as settling disputes in the church or discerning when there’s a sin being committed (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 11-13; 6:1-3). We’re not entrusted with final judgement, though, nor with the execution of justice or vengeance. In fact, we’re instructed to step aside and let God handle it whenever we’re tempted to take any vengeful action.

Judged by the Word of God

Back in Deuteronomy, Moses told Israel not to show partiality in judgement or be afraid of judging fairly (no matter what other people think) “for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17 all scriptures from the WEB translation). Judgement belongs to God, and He cares a great deal about seeing justice done properly. That’s one of the main reasons “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality. You shall not take a bribe” (Deut. 16:19). Of course, these instructions were given to handle legal disputes in a nation where God’s law was the standard of government. We now live in nations with secular law systems and most of us aren’t involved in that. But the principles still apply. God cares about justice done rightly, and His definition of “rightly” might not always match with our human impulses. Read more

What Is a Christian’s Role in Seeing Justice Done?

Last week, we talked about Jesus’ heart for reconciliation. We studied how He’s strongly motivated to save sinners; to seek out the worst sort of people (us included) and make them clean. This presupposes that we are unclean without Him. That we’ve done something to separate us from God and need to be reconciled in order to have a relationship with Him.

Reconciliation is related to the concept of godly justice. If God were not a just God who will judge every human being for their actions, there would be no need for reconciliation and forgiveness. It is because we do things worthy of judgement that we need to be set right with God. There is such a thing as wrong and right in this world, and we attest to this fact every time our blood boils at seeing an innocent person hurt or our concepts of fairness violated.

Part of being set right with God involves a transformation in how we think. We’re to be like Him, motivated to reconcile with others and also to see justice done. We humans often see judgement and mercy as an either/or dichotomy, but God sees them both as important things which must be exercised in careful balance. Justice and mercy are both among the weightiest matters of His law and they must not be “left undone” (Matt. 23:23). Moreover, once we become part of His people God requires us to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with” Him (Mic. 6:8). But how do we do that? What is our role in seeing justice done?

Be Careful How and Who You Judge

In modern English, we tend to see justice as a good thing — fair and equitable upholding of what is right — and judgement as a bad thing — passing a sentence on someone for something done wrong. They’re much more closely connected in scripture, though. For one thing, they’re both translated from the same words — mishpat in Hebrew and krino or krisis in Greek (note: in addition to this, Greek also has separate words for concepts like condemn, katadikazo, and righteous/just, dikaios). Both these words have to do with forming a personal opinion, making distinctions, and/or deciding the outcome of a court case. Justice involves administering God’s law properly to make a judgement, which can be favorable or unfavorable.

We are very strictly warned to be careful how we form opinions, make judgements, and separate people into groups such as “good” and “bad.” Jesus flat-out says, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” He goes on to say that however we choose to judge is the way that we will be judged. He also points out that when we cannot see ourselves clearly, it would be hypocritical to try and pass judgements on others (Matt. 7:1-5). This goes along with something Paul said in one of his letters.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5, all quotes from WEB translation)

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Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires

Last Sabbath, I was at a young adult weekend centered on the theme “Desire What The Lord Requires.” All the seminars focused on Michah 6:8, which reads:

He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (WEB)

One speaker mentioned something that really stuck in my mind. In this passage, God doesn’t tell His people to be just, merciful, and humble. He uses specific verbs instructing us to act, love, and walk in certain ways. This passage is focused on actions that come from developing God’s character. It goes beyond being like God to actively walking with Him. And though it doesn’t say so here, this should be something that we want to do rather than something we do just because it’s a requirement. God has always been concerned with the state of our hearts and the motives behind why we follow Him. We please Him when we do what He requires willingly and desire the same things He does.Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Act Justly

Matthew Henry’s and Adam Clarke’s commentaries says that to do or act justly means “to give to all their due.” Giving everyone what they are “due” from us includes giving God all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated, and also treating ourselves the way God intends.

Basically, acting justly is summed up in the two greatest commands (Matt. 22:36-40). That’s because the concept of justice is tied to God’s law, and the entire law hangs on the commands Jesus shared about how to love God and our neighbors. Read more

God’s Feelings

Two days ago I was asked the question, “Does God have feelings?” I responded, “yes.” Of course God has feelings. But when called upon to back it up with scriptures, I pretty much drew a blank. I hadn’t really studied the subject, and only had generalities to mention like Jesus Christ experiencing human emotions and yet not sinning.

So, I sat down with e-Sword and we started doing word searches and found a huge long list of scriptures. Then I Googled “God’s emotions” to see what other people had written and found even more scriptures. This isn’t even an exhaustive study — it only took a couple hours — and there’s already too many scriptures to use them all in a blog post. I’m going to do my best to condense it into a manageable article.

Jesus Christ’s Emotions

"Jesus Wept" John 13:35When He “was made in the likeness of men,” Jesus Christ experienced being human (Phil. 2:7). As we know — sometimes all too well — being human involves experiencing emotions. For Jesus, this also meant exercising perfect emotional control (1 Pet. 2:23).

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)

Not only did Christ experience what we go through, but He can still be touched by our feelings. And not only sympathize, but help. “God is the strength of my heart,” He gives not just physical aid when we are in need, but emotional help as well (Ps. 73:26).

One of the ways we can see God’s emotions and character most clearly is looking at the example of Christ. There is ample evidence in the scripture to show that Jesus felt deeply. In His time on the earth, Jesus Christ experienced a myriad of emotions. He felt joy (John 15:11; 17:13; Hebrews 12:2). He was moved with compassion (Matt 9:36; Luke 13:34). He was grieved and in agony (Mark 8:12John 11:38; Luke 22:44; Matt. 27:46). He got angry (Mark 3:5). He cried (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). He loved His friends and the people who came to Him (Mark 10:21; John 13:1; John 15:13) [the Greek words are forms of agape — a Godly love that expresses compassion]).

God’s Reaction to Sin

The sin of man is a source of grief for God. It hurts Him when we turn away from Him because He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). We are instructed to pray for all men because God wills that “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4)

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. (Gen. 6:5-6)

For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they stedfast in His covenant. But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert! (Psalm 78:37-40)

Because He is a God of mercy, He is patient and “slow to anger” (Psalm 103:8; 145:8), but He does get angry. The fact that He is just and righteous means that He will not overlook sin. Jealousy and anger is the response described when His people consistently turn away from following Him.

And therefore will the LORD wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him. (Is. 30:18)

God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies.The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet. (Nah. 1:2-3)

Mercy and Joy

For those who turn from evil to obey and love Him, there is a far different response from God. Jesus Christ said, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Long-suffering, mercy, and compassion are key attributes of His personality.

For if ye turn again unto the LORD, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you, if ye return unto Him. (2 Chron. 30:9).

But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. (Ps. 86:15)

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:11)

Those who love and obey Him faithfully are told that Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). Of those who, like Abraham, live by faith it is said that “God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16). God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and He wants to share that love with everyone.

“Does God have feelings?” The answer is a resounding yes. He has feelings, and He can sympathize with what we are feeling. He is not an impersonal God. He is grieved by our sin and joyful when we choose life by following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.