Welcome to the second part of our five part series on the gospel’s five words. In the last post, we answered the question: “What is sin?” Today we will be continuing our study by looking at how God deals with our sin. But before we do, let me start by saying that defining God’s system of judgment must be done very carefully. The Bible warns us that we are not God and that we cannot think like God thinks since we cannot fully grasp our circumstances due to our limited perspective. In fact, that is the main lesson of the book of Job. So with that in mind, we must accept that we will never fully understand the process by which God gives judgment. But despite this, there are still truths that we find in scripture that can give us a limited view on some of the fundamental principles of God’s Judgment.
What is Judgment?
The Hebrew and Greek words for “judgment” (mishpat and krisis) literally just means “sentence or punishment” The Hebrew and Greek words for “judge” as a verb are basically the same as their English equivalent. The Hebrew word is “shaphat” meaning “to judge or govern” and the Greek word is “krínō” meaning “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong or to rule or govern.” From these two words there isn’t anything that can help us better grasp the concept of judgment or look at it in a new light, so let's look at another word relating to judgment.
One of the jobs of a judge is to make things right between the one who wronged and the one who was wronged. This process of making things right is called “justice.” Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for justice (tsĕdaqah) is the same exact word that is translated into English as “righteousness.” It carries the idea of “to rectify” or “to make things right.” This can better help us understand God’s justice system because it shows God’s goal is to make things right, it also has interesting implications because it implies a righteous man is not one who is 100% perfect, but one who seeks to correct his mistakes by making things right between him and others. Here we have something we can use to better understand God’s system of Judgment. And look at that, now we have some real Bible study going on!
How God Delivers Justice
In the last post, I discussed how sin literally means “to miss the mark” and compared it to sports saying “It’s not that much different than a foul ball or a fault. Your task was to get something into a legal play area but because you didn’t hit, shoot, or throw straight it landed somewhere out of bounds.” Just like in sports, when you go out of the bounds set for you there are consequences.
God as the “Judge of all the Earth” is in charge of delivering these consequences through His judgment. Unlike the referee of your sports team, God can see and know everything, so He never makes a wrong judgment call. From here we could go many different directions trying to describe how God judges. It’s easy to get deeply philosophical on the topic, but I find that tends to lead to false doctrine. So instead of leaving things up to conjecture let's look at what God has revealed to us in the Bible. It is Nerd in the Word after all!
God’s Judgment as defined in the Bible
(For the sake of keeping this post unified and short we’ll only we dealing with God’s judgment in our day to day lives, and ignore judgment after death for the time being.)
When dealing with judgment the Bible has a neat little analogy called “sowing and reaping” that can give us a glimpse into God’s system of Judgment.
Gal 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Prov 11:18 “The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.”
Prov 22:8 “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.”
Sowing and reaping are farming terms. When you plant a seed you are sowing it. When you harvest the plant from that seed, you are reaping it. So in the case of Prov 11:18 it’s saying “He who plants righteousness will harvest a reward.” Pretty simple. Sowing and reaping is basically: Whatever you do will be done back to you. If you do evil, evil will return to you. If you do good, good will return to you. Jesus says it this way:
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."
So Jesus is teaching this concept that, as crazy as it sounds, says “what you do to others is done to you.” In fact, just above this passage, Jesus said “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” also known as the “golden rule.” So we must conclude that God as the “Judge of all the Earth” enforces this rule. Whether He does so by moving people’s hearts to do things for or against you, or by manipulating circumstances for you to get what you deserve we are not told. But the fact of the matter is that is how God says it works.
So now we know that everything good we do is rewarded, and everything bad we do is punished. Easy right? Well, there’s still a bit more. This is where we need to pull in the biblical definition of justice and righteousness which we’ve learned is: “making things right.” God has this thing He likes to give called “mercy,” which is great for us. If we look back at the sowing and reaping analogy we can notice that when it comes to farming there is a time period in between the action of sowing and the result of reaping. This also applies to God’s judgment. Just because we sin it doesn’t mean we will be immediately punished for it. (Although depending on the circumstances a swift judgment could happen) During this in between time, God may choose to be merciful by withholding punishment if the person who did wrong sincerely repents of his actions and seeks to “make things right” on his own. Let’s look at how it is put in Isaiah 55:6-8
“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”
God may allow a period of time for an action to be repented before He delivers its judgment. He did it for the city of Nineveh, for Israel, King Manasseh, and a whole multitude of others including you and me. But although God always forgives a sin, it does not necessarily mean that the consequences will be removed too. In David’s sin with Bathsheba God did not allow David’s repentance to negate his punishment. We can never truly know if God will be merciful in withholding our punishments when we seek to make things right. David himself said, “Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?“ Despite not knowing if repentance will prevent punishment, repenting is definitely better than not. Because continuing in sin will only bring more severe consequences and harm you in the long run.
God may allow sins to go unjudged for a long time, as it has already been stated, God is merciful. But despite this, there is a day coming at the end of the age when all unreaped sins will be harvested. Even if someone seems to have made it through life unpunished for his crimes against his fellow man, there is a Judge waiting on the other side ready to make things right. When that man dies, he better have a way to pay off all those debts he owes. But hey, that's what salvation is all about, so hold on, we’ll be talking about that soon enough!
So now we know a bit about God’s system of judgment, but what does it mean to us? It’s pointless to talk about it if it doesn’t make a difference in our day to day lives. So here’s the application: Be the person who you want everyone else to be. Be quick to serve others, desire to give rather than take, and make your first response to love rather than to judge. If you do these things faithfully, God promises that He will return these blessings you gave to others back to you. My desire is that one day all of us learn this simple truth so that we can be a blessing to others and have God’s blessings on all of our lives.
Sadly we don’t have the time to put in all the other topics of judgment such as Hell, the Great White Throne, the Bema Seat, the Lake of Fire, God’s right to judge, or how God’s judgment is a good thing. So this is where we’ll leave off for today. I’m sure these topics will be revisited down the road, so I guess you’ll just have to stay up to date on all the new posts!