Justice in Light of God’s Grace

Matt. 7:1: Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

James 4:11-12: Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

   It is by beholding the goodness of the Lord and His grace that we are moved to a spirit of devotion and true piety. The Lord does not call upon us to spend our lives in meditation upon the brokenness of the world or even the brokenness of ourselves except that it would bring about profound reflection and delight in His sovereign goodness. This is why the apostle enjoins us to always and everywhere set our minds upon the pure things and the lofty things (Phil. 4:8). And yet, we are surrounded by depravity and wickedness – both without and within. The Apostle himself (Rom. 7) struggles with the old man of sin who so quickly entangles our every waking moment (Heb. 12). It is impossible for us to live a life where there are no intersections with profound evil and painful wickedness, both within ourselves and with others. It comes, to a degree then, as a shock that the Judge of all the world, who “by no means will clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7) would command us not to judge, lest we fall into judgment.
And surely, we can see that what the Lord means cannot include a kind of naïve view of the world that ignores wickedness, for in but a few verses he will explicitly command his disciples to be on guard for false teachers and wicked prophets whom they will know, or judge, “by their fruit” (Matt. 7:15-20). Nor are we to stand by idly and let the wicked oppress the poor, or overthrow those without voice in society (Isaiah 1:23). Even in Matt. 7:6, he calls on his disciples to discern when and how much to give of the sacred things of God to those who have no regard for the holiness of the Lord – again, this involves discernment, or judgment.

But it is not by the condemnation of the law that a soul is transformed, but by the grace of God. For the Law has not the power to save (Gal. 2:16), nor even to reform (Gal. 3:2-6), but only to restrain and ultimately to condemn (Gal. 3:11). We were not saved from our sins and God’s wrath by the Law, but rather from the power of the Law – its curse – through the grace of God manifested in the person, work and promise of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:13). The Lord warns his disciples that the instrument of the Law can only make a man’s burden of sin lie still more heavily upon his already broken back – it cannot lift it. He invites us to remember that we, without Christ, were without hope in the world, without God, and without the riches of grace (Eph. 2:11ff).

When we enter the Kingdom of God, we do so humbly proclaiming that nothing in my hand I cling, simply to thy cross I cling (Matt. 5:3), by counting everything that we had as loss and sacrificing it in pursuit of unity with Christ (Phil. 3). If we, once born again, with eyes quickened to see the true nature of the world, of ourselves and others, see all our financial resources at the disposal of proclaiming and glorifying the Gospel of our Lord (Matt. 6:19-24) then how can we continue to see men in contrast merely to our own weak and desperate estate apart from Christ? How can we not then, with unimpaired vision (Matt. 7:3-5) made clear by the ongoing pattern of godly repentance (1 John 1:9), consider our brother only in view of the cross, with its shadow hanging as much over our own head as his.

We were not ransomed from sin by the law, but by grace (Gal. 3:1-6). We were not reformed by instruction but by faith granted through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8). We were not strengthened by some resolve of will but by the indwelling of the manifestation of God’s good pleasure (John 1:13). We are called, instead, to carry out our pursuit of holiness in community at the foot of the cross – never losing sight of the grace by which our bonds were loosed, our eyes opened, and our hands made strong and knees straight so that we might walk in the faith of God. It is not that Christ is calling us to live a life free from the Law, but freed from the power of its condemnation. He is not calling his disciples to reject the holy character of God, but to remember their place with regards to their own call and election.

Jesus would have us begin the pursuit of sanctification on our knees, in repentant consideration of our own position in light of the Gospel. He would then have our vision of our brother shaped exclusively by this same Gospel. And he would have us call our brother not to see his own imperfection more clearly in light of God’s wrath, but to rather to see all the more clearly the perfection of Christ in the light of God’s grace, for, it is by beholding the goodness of the Lord and His grace that we are sanctified by the spirit of faith in true worship.

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