I’ve been arguing that biblical justice requires attention to a range of outcomes (retribution, restoration, distribution) as well as procedures. Justice is doing the right thing for the right people in the right way at the right time and to the right extent. Justice depends on doing a lot of things right.
But that raises doubts and questions. Are we likely to see this kind of well-orbed justice in our day? If we won’t see this perfectly done, should we attempt it at all? Or, what’s an acceptable amount of injustice? Can all the aspects of justice—retributive, restorative, distributive and procedural—be satisfied?
Only the Gospel Satisfies All Aspects of Justice
In this life, only the gospel of Jesus Christ satisfies every aspect of biblical justice.
Retributive. We have sinned against God and we deserve to be punished. “None is righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Justice demands a punishment for our sins. Jesus, the Son of God, bears our punishment on the cross. God’s retribution for our rebellion gets meted out upon His Son. The Father leaves no sin unpunished; we either pay the penalty at the Day of Judgment or we have the penalty paid for us on the cross of Calvary.
Restorative: Through His cross work, the Lord restores those who were broken by sin. Our sin threatened to undo us (Isa. 6:5); but Christ has come to renew us (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). Our sin separated us from God, leaving us without hope (Eph. 2:12). But the Savior reconciles us to God and to one another in himself (Eph. 2:15-17). Hostility’s reign is conquered; the Prince of peace restores us. And more than that, the entire cosmos will be renewed and made whole again at the adoption of the sons of God (Rom. 8:22-23).
Distributive: Jesus gives us everything in the Father’s kingdom so that no one has any lack. In this life we receive brothers and sisters, houses and lands, mothers and fathers one hundred times as we follow Christ (Mark 10:29-30). Every laborer—no matter the hour at which they were hired—receives the same pay when the Owner distributes His pay (Matt. 20:1-16). The church becomes a family wherein we do good to one another and meet one another’s needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35; Gal. 6:10; and 1 John 3:16-18). It’s a distributive justice fueled by love and communion with Christ and one another. The distribution of the gospel forecasts a future distribution—in the Father’s mansion there are many rooms and Jesus has prepared a place for each of us there (John 14:1-3).
Procedural: Finally, the cross is a perfectly righteous process for both punishing sin and showing mercy and love to sinners. In the most important paragraph in written language, we learn how equitable, right and just the plan of salvation really is (Rom. 3:21-26). “In divine forbearance [God] had passed over former sins” (v. 25)—creating for a time the appearance of unrighteousness. But in the fullness of time, God chose “to show His righteousness at the present time” (v. 26). He put forth the Son as a propitiation for our sins so that the Father might be seen as both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (v. 26). It was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). That procedure held together every aspect of justice along with all the biblical synonyms and cognates of justice—equity, fairness, integrity, justification, truth and mercy.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected meets every demand of justice.
Only the Kingdom Brings Perfect Justice
The world we inhabit—marred by sin—will always contain some measure of injustice. Our efforts at setting things right will always be imperfect, frustrated and sometimes ineffective. We cannot expect perfection this side of glory. That’s why we welcome the gospel as such good news and relief.
But in the life to come, in the eternal kingdom, God himself rules perfectly. There is no injustice or sin. The Father finally banishes all that distorts, twists, perverts and ruins. The finished work of Christ preserves us for that perfect rule to come.
Perfect justice awaits that day. But that day of perfect justice gives us hope and strength to fight for a more perfect justice in this day.