Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Where is the Justice?
I have been thinking of late how we hear less and less about God’s justice these days, in certain churches, particularly “Business Model” and “Seeker Friendly” type churches that have proliferated in this century. (The links take you to discussions on the appeal of organizing churches according to these plans but also the downfalls–notably, growing a church based on the number of “nickels and noses,” as the old expression goes, and/or preaching to the “perceived needs” of the people in the neighborhood as opposed to the teachings and doctrines of classic Christianity and the power of the Holy Spirit.)
Although the coffers and the curators in such churches may benefit, the souls of the congregants and the seekers may suffer because the whole truth is: God is loving, yes, but He is also just.
Of course, a church focused on reeling in as many people as possible almost has to go light on the Hell part and heavy on the Heaven part. So such organizational models work better for them than offering the full-meal-Gospel-deal, so to speak, where the Holy Spirit not only saves and heals but also convicts and corrects whomever is present, many or few, by way of the entirety of God’s Word.
Conviction vs Condemnation
It is important to note the difference, here, however, between conviction and condemnation because the two are often confused, and if you think about it, the difference between the two is akin to the difference between spiritual life and spiritual death-by-suicide, figuratively speaking.
Conviction: Life Preserving
According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, conviction means “a sense of guilt and shame leading to repentance.” When we are convicted of sin or error we have the opportunity to repent (turn back) and then to continue to grow and prosper spiritually in order to remain on solid ground. Consider :
So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people [Peter wrote to the people in churches in Asia Minor but “wicked” applies to all who seduce believers away with false doctrines] and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18)
If we continue to reject the “voice” of conviction, we not only run the risk of “(losing) our…secure footing,” it then becomes easier and easier to cease hearing the “voice” altogether and we slide further down and away from our walk with Christ.
Fortunately, because human beings are often repeat offenders, God’s mercies are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3: 22-23) and, here is more good news, He will help us “get back” on track:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Condemnation: Spiritual Suicide
When we are condemned, spiritually, we have rejected God completely, which is to say we have shut ourselves off from His mercy, His love, by rejecting Jesus’ “sacrifice for our sins,” and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct us back to sure footing. (More on this below.)
The justice, then, is on us. We have to pay, in eternity.
And the above is, understandably, a hard message to convey when the nickels and noses are few and far between–especially these days, when it seems it has become easier and easier to offend people. It’s much safer to just talk about God’s love.
But clarification on God’s combined love AND justice is powerful because the message is the Alpha and the Omega, the start and the finish–and every bit of hope in between–of the Good News.
Here’s a true story to shed light on this subject.
There was a pastor of a Christian ministry that employed hundreds of people. One of them was a young, very talented, charismatic preacher. At one point, the young preacher disobeyed one of the organization’s rules, and he got called in to the CEO’s office.
The CEO had labored over what to do. The penalty was either firing the young man or fining him what was a lot money for that time, and the preacher had little money, plus he had a wife and two babies to support.
The CEO explained the consequences of what the preacher had done, which the man knew full well was against company policy. The CEO also expressed how grieved he was that the man had so flagrantly defied company policy, and how grieved he was that he had to follow-through with the consequence as per policy.
The young man apologized and awaited which option the CEO would choose, whether he was to be fined or fired.
He felt the full weight of his remorse as he sat there thinking of his young wife and babies.
What would they do? He dreaded telling his wife whatever the news would be. Besides, he had known for a long time that he really needed to rein in his tendency to be impulsive which had, in part, gotten him into this mess.
Just then the CEO pushed his chair back, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it and counted out the sum of the young preacher’s fine.
“Paid in full,” he told him…
The preacher never forgot that lesson–and that unexpected grace.
..They Meet in Jesus
I have often thought of what a remarkable analogy that action was to what Jesus Christ did for us, for all of us who choose to receive Him as Savior and Lord, by taking upon Himself the price for our violations of spiritual policy, so to speak; violations/sins we very well know we committed and commit still, which cost Him the precious coin of His very life bleeding out on those rough boards at Golgatha that day, two thousand years ago, when He, as the perfect, spotless, Lamb of God, freely chose to lay down His life as a sacrifice for our sins, i.e., to balance the scales for us.
In short, from Jesus’ cache of love for each of us He paid the price of our transgressions for us–if we so choose–so that we might not perish but have eternal life–something He and God the Father worked out in the beginning (see Genesis 3:15 and John 3:16).
(Selah…”pause and think of that”…)
I have also often thought of the power of knowing this, I mean really knowing it to the fullest extent, not through some religious tradition, vain repetition, or flannel board presentation, but from setting aside our maybe vague, pre- and/or ill-conceived notions of why Jesus died on the cross and letting the Holy Spirit reveal for us in sermon, lesson, or meditation, the full meaning of how He exacted justice for us with His own flesh and blood.
And if we’ve never heard the full extent of the truth of His sacrifice before, imagine if THAT were preached in a church, be it big or small, fancy or plain, or even in the company of just a few of the real, “living, breathing church” anywhere at any time. I don’t think, in that case, the church, brick and mortar or flesh and blood, would need any gimmicks or glitz, business or “buddy programs,” to bring us back to Christ, or introduce us to Him for the first time.
Because, saved or unsaved, we all know deep down we don’t measure up, we make mistakes, we willfully do wrong, and we crave redemption, if possible, so that we can be set free mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
St. Paul knew the power of that message–which is the crux of the Good News–and through his ministry God wrought many miracles and thousands came to Christ even in The Church En Plein Air, as it were, out in the open, without the help of any pomp, circumstance, stained glass, or church-growth manuals.
Just by the power of what he preached.
Here is how he described it:
When I came to you, (Paul wrote to the early believers) I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
In sum, Jesus is both justice and love because in His love for us, He (Who did not sin) took on our (sin-deserved) justice and settled OUR score on the cross.
And there is no more powerful pulpit message than this to draw hungry hearts, confused minds, and sorrowing souls, especially when you get to the part where you realize personally–and profoundly–that in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s eyes,
And THAT is the Good News that draws what crowds–or what individuals, one by one–come to Christ. As Jesus Himself put it:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth [on that cross, on that day, payment in full], will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
Which reminds me of this song by Reba Rambo:
Balanced justice scales from Wikimedia commons
Cross image credit: Claire Beveridge Gumbs