Tag Archives: justice

Security Update

The following is a security update on Cameroon, from our colleagues there:

The situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon remains tense and unpredictable. We continue to pray for our staff serving in these areas, those with family members there, and for staff that have had to relocate to other areas of the country.

Please pray for:

  • Those in positions of power in the government and military, especially President Paul Biya. Pray that they would govern with wisdom and righteousness.
  • Those living in the affected areas whose lives continue to be disrupted by the political situation. Pray that they will know the Lord as their “refuge and strength, and an ever-present help in time of trouble.”
  • Those who have had to leave their homes, that they will know the Lord’s concern for them and that he will provide for their physical needs.
  • Those who are grieving the loss of family and friends- that they will not be given over to anger or a desire for vengeance.
  • Christians in the country- pray that they will be a faithful witness, a comforting presence, and a shining light. Pray that the Lord will give them the right words to speak at the right time, and that they will be equipped by the Holy Spirit to minister to others around them.

We continue to pray for peace and justice to reign in Cameroon.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Faithful and Just

You have probably heard someone quote 1 John 1:9, perhaps in its immediate context:

8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:8-10 ESV)

I’ve often thought of this as a “Jesus forgives” sandwich on “we sin” bread. That is, I saw verses 8 and 10 as saying basically the same thing, with the sole purpose of supporting v9. But I looked at it more closely recently, and I think John is saying something important here, that we don’t want to miss.

I think this point has to do with two basic human desires: to be right, and to be in relationship. Looking at verse 8, we might see the following structure:1John 1:8 mapThat is, we have a basic if/then structure (with an implied then). The if clause contains something we may say about ourselves: we have no sin. This is maybe not something we would say straight out like that, but I think a decent summary would be “I’m right”. Have you never said this? I have. “My condition/position does not contain flaws.” This is a statement about who I am, which is very important in these days of identity wars.

So what is the consequence of saying “I’m right”? In this verse they are twofold. First, we deceive ourselves. This is, I think, the most fundamental flaw with a worldview that states “I decide/declare who I am”; there is no way to handle self-deception (which is visible in the most basic understanding of human psychology).

The second consequence of saying “I’m right” is that the truth is not in us. Or, you could say we are wrong. In this way, a direct consequence of insisting I’m right is proving that I’m wrong. My insisting that my personal status is “correct” or “OK” makes my personal status “incorrect” and “Not OK”. So much for my desire to be right.

Verse 10, on the other hand, deals with actions and relationship:1John 1:10 mapAgain we have an if/then structure, and again the if clause has to do with something we say about ourselves. But this time the statement is not we have no sin, but we have not sinned (or perhaps “I have not done wrong”). While the difference may seem trivial, I think it interesting that the if clause in v10 is talking about what we say about our actions, whereas the if clause in v8 was talking about who we are, or our status. Yes, there is a sense in which if we do right/wrong, we are right/wrong, and vice versa, but they are not exactly the same thing.

So what are the consequences of saying ”I have not done wrong”? Again, they are twofold. First, we make him [out to be] a liar. (The words in brackets are present in other translations, and are correctly implied even in the ESV, I believe; the verse cannot mean we succeed in changing God’s status to “liar”.) Given that this verse is talking about our actions, what are the implications of this action? I cannot think of many people who would bear being called a liar when they are telling the truth. Claiming that you tell the truth, and that God lies, must have repercussions on your relationship with him.

The second consequence of saying “I have not done wrong” is that [God’s] word is not in us. That is, not only am I personally insulting my creator, but I’m also showing that I don’t speak for him when I speak —since his word contradicts mine. I think this point is aimed at people who want to be seen as doing right on their own terms, but also to identify with, speak for, or somehow represent God. But John says you cannot insult God and claim to speak for him in the same breath. When you say “I have not done wrong”, you represent yourself, not God.

So we have two kinds of misrepresentation here. The “I’m right” claim about my status, which shows that my status is in fact wrong, and the “I have not done wrong” claim about my relationship with God, which shows that I am in fact not representing God (but rather in rebellion to him and his word).

So how does John address these two misrepresentations? This is where we get to v9(a):1John 1:9a mapAgain we have an if/then clause, though here the then clause is not about ourselves, but about God. The if clause is we confess our sins, or we agree about our wrongs. This is incompatible with each of “I’m right” and “I have not done wrong”. What is interesting about confession/agreement here, is that God’s truthful position doesn’t change in these three verses. He knows and declares that we are sinners who sin. The only question is, will we agree with him, or will we insist on our own “truth”?

If we confess our sins, God is two things for us: faithful and just. These two attributes account for our failures as described in verses 8 and 10. That is, while v8 says our insistence on being right shows that we are wrong, God remains right/just. And while v10 says our insistence that we have not done wrong shows our rebellion against God, God remains faithful to us. So if we have two great desires, to be right and to be in relationship, we fail at each of them when we insist on our own terms. But agreeing with God about our sin results in God’s justice/rightness and faithfulness/relationship to be expressed to us.

So how is that justice and faithfulness expressed? Verse 9 continues:1John 1:9b mapThat is, God’s justice is not expressed only in his wrath against us (as Martin Luther thought before his conversion), and his faithfulness to us is not expressed in simply overlooking our sins (as many people seem to think today). The two things he does to express his justice and faithfulness in this verse are to forgive and to cleanse. Each of these is done to us. But again, we see the binary issue of status and relationship addressed. That is, God forgives our sins, addressing the things we have done. But he also cleanses us from all unrighteousness, addressing the question of our status.

So the justice and faithfulness of God come together to make us just and faithful to him, when we confess our sin. I think it is crucial in understanding this, that we accept the following:

  • Sin is real.
  • Sin is a problem.
  • Attaining a desire either to be right or to be in relationship requires solving that problem.
  • We cannot solve the problem by simply asserting that it is solved, nor by denying it.

The value of what God promises in v9, then, is that there is an answer to the problem of sin, which avoids denial and proclamation of self-godhood, and which provides for the desired rightness and relationship. That answer acknowledges sin, and it requires us to acknowledge sin, too (v9a: If we confess our sins). Furthermore, that answer addresses the problem of sin directly, by cleaning us from it, and by removing our “unrighteous” status.

So where do we go from here? Based on the above, the first step to fulfilling your desires is to confess your sin, and trust God to clean you off. See his promise of cleanliness as a good thing, and ask him to make you clean. Stop depending on your own efforts to feel good about yourself; admit your denial, self-worship, and rebellion, and ask God to make you right and in relationship with him, as only he can.

A bit of a post-script: as I think about this passage as applied to my life, I identify with the desire for right standing much more than with the desire for relationship. I find it natural and easy to sacrifice relationship in defense of a just standard. But I know many people who seem to most naturally operate in the opposite manner, sacrificing a just standard for relationship. You may be one of them. But the good news for each of us is that in Christ, we don’t have to pick either justice or relationship; we get both. I get the confidence that God cares about my natural bent, but also the correction that his will for me includes not just my natural bent, but much more.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.

(Matt 6:33 ESV)






Romans 3:1-8

Here is my mindmap of this passage:

Rom 3:1-8 mindmap

Here are the scrolls.

Here are some more questions:

1. What question opens this chapter? How is it rephrased?
2. What is the answer to the question(s)?
3. What other answers could be expected?
4. How does Paul connect advantage/profit with belief in an unexpected way?
5. Whose fault is it when someone doesn’t believe? Why?
6. What does our unrighteousness do (v5)?
7. Why might God be called unjust (v5)?
8. Why is God NOT unjust?
9. How does ‘my lie’ affect God/my judgment?
10. How does Paul connect good and evil?
11. What do others say Paul says about good and evil? How does he respond?

Just and Justifier

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:25-26 ESV)

These have long been favorite verses of mine, but they hit me with fresh power this morning. I’m going through Romans now in BSF, after going through the whole book in a men’s study in church earlier this year. All the while I’ve been listening to Piper’s 225 sermons on Romans, and it has been great to be saturated in this hard-work-but-very-much-worth-it exploration of the Gospel. But until this morning, I hadn’t ever gotten the connection of these verses with what comes before it in Romans. Sure God is just and our justifier. That’s poetic, and cool, and beyond what we could do. But as I seem to find more often than I thought, Paul is not just making this pithy point, he’s putting that pithy point as the pinnacle of his proposal: the propitiation of the wrath of God, while accomplishing his purposes for our pleasure in Jesus.

To set up more fully why it doesn’t normally work to be both just and a justifier, it may help to remind ourselves of what Paul has said so far. Almost everything up to 3:20 could be summarized as “we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin” (3:9). In consequence, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” (1:8). So on the one hand, we are all under sin. On the other, God’s wrath is being revealed against that sin. Put those together, and God’s wrath would seem to be revealed against all of us.

Looking at God’s justice, I hope most of us would agree that not punishing sin would not be just. A judge who throws out a charge against a criminal without good reason is not a good judge. Even if he really likes him. Even if the criminal knows his son, and has eaten at his house — and perhaps especially so, as that perversion of justice would result from a conflict of interests.

Considering God’s power to justify, we wouldn’t normally see executing wrath as a corrective measure. I guess some people look at prisons as institutes of reform, not punishment, but I’m not sure there’s evidence of that actually working. And given God’s power, and the extent to which his justice and holiness have been violated, he isn’t going to rain brimstone down on you (or turn you to a pillar of salt), then say, “would you please do better next time?”

So as we see the sinfulness of humanity laid bare in the first three chapters of Romans, it becomes clear that God’s wrath is not only justified, but necessary to satisfy any kind of real justice. But that very wrath puts at jeopardy any possibility of reconciliation, so how could God do anything to help us?

On the other hand, if God chooses to forebear his wrath (despite the sin as Paul has laid it out in such painstaking detail), that puts in jeopardy any claim that God is just.

I’ve heard a number of variations of this “Problem of sin” or “Problem of evil” in the world. If God is all powerful, how come he doesn’t remove evil from the world? Others would say why doesn’t he punish evil? Some would say where was he during that last hurricane? Others would say why did he bring that hurricane? It’s like we can’t decide which is worse: believing that God is all-powerful and causes things we don’t like, or that he’s not all-powerful, and is up there wringing his hands at all these horrible things going on (either by accident, or by some competing and/or greater power). Either God really is the Just Judge of all creation, or he is our Faithful Friend; he can’t be both.

 This is, I think, the problem set up by Paul in Romans up to this point. But in these verses he shows us the beauty and elegance of God’s plan in Jesus. When he talks about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in vv24-25, he says God “did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” Paul recognizes that God’s not punishing sin is a problem, so he clarifies that God was only postponing punishment, he wasn’t absolving sin willy-nilly. Rather than leave himself open to a charge of injustice, he does punish sin, though he does it at the right time, after much patience and endurance (9:22), and in the right way.

And this is where “to demonstrate his righteousness” can have a double meaning. On the one hand, God is showing that his judgment is right; he is a just judge, punishing sin. On the other hand, he is making his righteousness clear, plain, and available to us in Jesus. This is the sense of “the righteousness of God” that the Holy Spirit used to open Martin Luther’s eyes. It is not (only) that God is showing how right he is by punishing us, but it is (also) that he shows us Jesus, the right one, who calls to be reconciled to God, and who provides his righteousness to us – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21)

So “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement… to demonstrate his righteousness” in these two senses. The one allows God to show that he is just in punishing sin. The other allows God to show that he is faithful to us calling us to be right, by showing us the only one who ever was, and by providing that righteousness for us. This is how God can be “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.

In the end, it becomes clear that this is our only hope. One resolution to the problem of God not punishing all sin now above is to point out that if he did, we would all be condemned. We must understand that Romans 1:18-3:20 applies to us as individuals. If you don’t have that yet, I encourage you to read it again. You can’t complain that God didn’t strike Hitler down (sooner), without also complaining why you are still alive yourself –unless you’re willing to maintain an inconsistent standard yourself.

The only way for God to be just is to punish sin. And the only way to reconcile us to himself is to not punish us (or not as much as we deserve, anyway). Which is where Jesus comes in. At one point he basically asked the Father to find another way, but there apparently wasn’t one, and so Jesus went through with it (Matt 26:37-46). He showed us a perfect life, then took our punishment, so we wouldn’t have to. This allowed for justice to be satisfied, since sin was punished, but it also allows for us to see true righteousness face to face in Jesus, to fall in love with him, and to thereby be reconciled to God.

This is how “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” (1:18) and “the righteousness of God has been made known” (3:21), allowing God “to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (3:26). God is just, and I am saved, in Jesus.