The Bible teaches that God has prepared a day when the “righteous judgment” of the Lord will be revealed (Rom 2:5). But it is important for us to understand what “righteous judgment” means. Some who misunderstand the Word of God teach that God judges some men with mercy and judges others with justice. Calvinism brings the righteous nature of God’s judgment into question. They seem to misunderstand the fact that God must always act justly and graciously. He can’t decide to forget about his compassion anymore than he can forget his justice. He is always guided by a sweet mixture of the two. All men will stand before the same compassionate and just judge. Each will be judged by the perfect mixture of those righteous attributes of our God. This is why the judgment we will all face is a “righteous judgment.”
But doesn’t the Bible make it clear that some people will suffer eternal wrath and others be given the gift of eternal life? This is unquestionable! Every person will either be cast away from God forever or dwell in the presence of his glory forever. So how can we say that those who are given eternal life received justice and those that perish were judged by mercy? That is the question! It is easy to see why our Calvinist brethren assume that those that receive forgiveness are the only ones that are judged by the law of mercy, and all others only stand before a just judge. But Jesus said, “What God joins together let no man separate.” How much more should we consider it strange to separate the character of God apart which has been joined in perfection from all eternity?
Justice requires that sin must be punished and never overlooked. But the Bible clearly reveals that those that come to Christ are forgiven of their sin and will not suffer the wrath of God. We even read the bold statement from the tenth verse of the 103rd Psalm, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquity.” The Psalmist might as well had said, “God is unjust!”
The Old Testament is filled with history that raises a lot of questions. When unbelievers read the Old Testament they always come away with the question, “Why is the God of the Bible so vengeful?” When they read about the flood of Noah they don’t understand how a good God could kill everyone in the world except eight people. But it is actually not a mystery why God destroyed the world in the great flood. God is a holy God and man was exceedingly sinful. His wrath was kindled by his holy justice. His wrath was never a mystery.
When we read the history of a holy God interacting with sinful men it should not surprise us that God judges them. But there is something that should shock our sense of justice to the core, namely, that God forgives sinners! If God does not deal justly with all, the integrity of his kingdom could be called into question! We understand why God judged the violent world, but why did he save Noah whose moral weakness was revealed when he got drunk and cursed his son? We understand why God cursed the rebellious king Saul, but why did he forgive the adulterous and murdering king David? The mystery we face in the Old Testament is, “How can God be just if he forgives sinners and doesn’t punish them for their sins?”
Until Christ appeared, there was no discernable reason how God could defend “passing over former sins” (Rom. 3:25). But God revealed the answer in the cross of Jesus Christ.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
God didn’t forget to judge Noah’s sin. Nor did he allow David’s sin to go unpunished forever. Neither does he overlook the sins of those he receives as his children through Jesus Christ. God has proved that his judgment is “righteous” by punishing the sins of the world on the cross. All of those who embrace the redeeming blood of Jesus through faith are justly and righteously forgiven.
A believer in Christ will not be judged by mercy alone on the Day of Judgment; justice will thoroughly examine him as well. Anyone who does not arrive at that day holding firmly to the atoning cross of Jesus will suffer God’s just wrath for their sins. God will not overlook the sins committed by the former “children of the devil” just because “he decided by his sovereign will” to give them mercy and withhold justice. He will only give them eternal life because it is their just due! Of course, it is not their by their own work, but because Christ purchased it and offered it to them through the Gospel. Since by faith they received it as a gift, it belongs to them as much as if they had paid the full price themselves. And for that reason it is theirs!
Let it be known, God judges his children with justice as well as mercy!
Ok, so we can now see that God justly forgives the sins of his people. But what about those who don’t receive the gift of life in Christ, what will become of them? They will pay the penalty for their sins by being eternally banished from God’s kingdom and presence. So how on earth can we say that their judgment has anything to do with mercy? We can understand that God is completely just in punishing sinners to hell. But where is the mercy? If God does not judge all with mercy, the character of his person could be called into question!
Can judgment be righteous if is only based on justice? My Calvinist brethren would argue that it is. But God does not agree. In Jonah 4:11 God argued that he “should” pity those lost in their sins. A judgment that has no mercy in it would be completely contrary to his righteous character.
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”
“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.”
God cannot forget to be gracious! He cannot even decide to be unmerciful! In the same way his mercy is always mixed with justice, his justice is always tempered by mercy. So then, how do souls whom God pities and loves end up in hell? Where is the mercy of God in the eternal banishment of sinners from his presence?
To answer these questions we must first note the situation of those lost in sin. Ephesians 2:1-3 paints us a picture. All men are “dead” in sin, “sons of disobedience” who follow the devil, and are “by nature children of wrath.” They are unspiritual, and “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). Their minds are “set on the flesh” and “hostile to God,” they “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). They are lost! No one could accuse God of injustice if he sent every unbelieving soul to hell today. I say, unbelieving soul, because we already learned that God would be unjust if he sent those who cling to Christ to hell. But those who don’t believe are “condemned already” (John 3:18).
But again, where is the mercy?! It is found in an obscure verse in Second Samuel. God “devises means so that the banished one will not remain and outcast” (2 Sam. 14:14). God’s mercy causes him pity those “living in spiritual darkness,” so he was moved to devise a plan (Jonah 4:11 – NLT). Since he knew creating a world that was free to rebel would eventually be plunged into darkness, in his wisdom he prepared a redeeming sacrifice from the “foundation of the world” for the “sins of the whole world (1 Pet. 1:19-20, 1 John 2:2).
The gracious God swears, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). But he does not love in word only, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God was more willing to abandon his Son over to a violent death than he was to destroy the wicked. What a merciful God!
After Christ purchased life for “all men,” God send his Church into the world to proclaim his command that “all men everywhere repent” (Rom. 5:18, Acts 17:29). And since apart from God’s grace no one can see the light of the Gospel, he sends the Holy Spirit to testify alongside the Church (John 15:26). Since God is kind to all men, even the “ungrateful and the wicked,” he does all of this to “lead them to repentance” (Luke 6:35, Rom. 2:4). Jesus “draws all men” to himself because he came to “seek and save the lost,” and “call sinners to repentance” (John 12:32, Luke 19:10, Mark 2:17).
God has done everything needed for everyone to have the eternal life that he longs to give. He accomplished salvation in Christ and then invites people to receive it. Not only does he send out an invitation, but with the invitation comes the grace needed to receive that invitation. The reason God’s righteous judgment of sinners is merciful is because it is HIS LAST RESORT! God sends his people to the lost with the good news that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And as the Church brings this message, “God makes his appeal” through them, “imploring” them to be “reconciled to God”!
Let it be known, God judges his enemies with mercy as well as justice!
God’s righteous judgment is not based on divine decree but on the character of a righteous God. God judges men impartially each according to the acceptance or rejection of his generous and gracious provision.
“Whoever believes … will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This is the just and merciful standard of God’s righteous judgment. It is in accordance with justice because those who embrace Christ’s sacrifice receive the gift of his righteousness. And it is merciful because Christ’s love draws all men to himself and God’s kindness leads them to repent. Those that reject it have thrust aside the provision of God’s grace and “judged themselves unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). They have chosen God’s just wrath over his justifying mercy. And God only pour his wrath on them as his very last resort.