Is it really fair for God to forgive?

Some of you probably don’t know this, but in addition to working for PassionLife, my wife and I also run a small hobby farm with 30 or 40 cows and a bunch of pigs, chickens and things like that. In the summertime we run a camp for children ages six to 12 years old. Last week there were 170 kids running around our property and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s really hot, sweaty and hard work, but the kids enjoy it. It gets children off the iPad for at least one week of the summer. We do a big race where teams of children compete against each other during the week. One of those teams always crosses the finish line first and everybody else screams unfair, unfair, and they cheated. They did something to shortcut what everybody was supposed to have done. Every single week it’s the same: it’s unfair. Kids have a great sense of what is and is not fair. If they feel like something is unfair, they are quick to call it out. This stems from a really old idea that is common to civilized humanity, the idea of lex talionis. It comes from the earliest collection of Roman law from 400-500 years before Christ was born or older than that. Lex talionis is the idea that we all have in our mind that it’s fair to give an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, that the punishment must fit the crime, just retribution is deserved for certain things. It’s a recompense, if you will, for what has gone wrong. Lex talionis is the old Roman concept of fair law, fair restitution, fair punishment for all sins that have been committed.

I always thank God for my old days in college when I was serving with the ministry known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Now it’s known as CRU. They did a lot of Bible verse memorization with us, specifically around the idea of sharing the gospel with people who needed to hear about Christ. One of the passages that we always memorized was Romans
6:23: “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”. But the emphasis was on the idea that the wages of sin is death. That was coupled with the Romans 3:23 passage, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Now, if you put those two things together, if everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death, then all deserve death. We’ve discussed that a little bit over the last couple of recordings that we’ve made. But here’s an idea that begins to bother some people, and that is the idea that God, in His mercy and His grace, is able to forgive. Now how can God remain just and fair if He forgives us? The idea that we’re going to go back to, of course, is this lex talionis, an eye for an eye. If we have sinned against God, the penalty is death. And in Romans 3:23 again we read that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But reading on in that passage we 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.

What are we getting at here? How did God pass over former sins and does He still pass over sins today? Why did He do that? Is it fair for God to pass over former sins? Well, let’s take the example of any of the Old Testament figures, but the easy one for us when we’re doing our teaching is David. David, we know, is a man after God’s own heart, but we also know that he committed some grievous sins. He seduced and you might even make a case for the idea that he raped an innocent woman, Bathsheba, because she could not resist the authority and power of the king. She was powerless to do so. He, with a smile, betrayed her husband and then had him murdered to cover up his own sin. This doesn’t sound very much like a person who would later on be described as a man after God’s own heart, but indeed he was. For some reason, in God’s forbearance, He passed over David’s sin. We trust that David is in heaven with God, even at this very moment. How can it be? How can God remain just? Did He just forgive the way we forgive sometimes by saying, you know, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to count your murder against you. It’s no big deal. We won’t tell anybody that you’re here in heaven. Just don’t make a ruckus or draw a lot of attention to it. You don’t deserve to be here, but I snuck you in the back door, wink, wink, kind of tapping feet under the table. That is not how God forgave David. He forgave David the same way He forgives us, and that is through the cross of Jesus Christ. Of course, for David, He was looking forward in faith to the cross of Jesus Christ. For us, we look rearward in history, in faith, to the cross of Jesus Christ. But if God passed over former sins, it was because He was going to delay His punishment of David until such time as David’s faith could find its fruition in the just punishment of Jesus on the cross.

Again, God is not like us in that we sometimes forgive in certain ways. We say, don’t worry about it. That’s probably the worst way we can possibly forgive one another as humans to say don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal. Sin against another person and certainly against God is always a big deal. The way we forgive sometimes is to say, don’t worry about it. But that is not the way God forgives. God must justify His forgiveness in order to be fair. He can’t just forgive some and not forgive others. If He forgives, He has to justify His forgiveness. Isn’t that an odd concept? But it’s just like our modern day laws. It is unfair for someone to pay the penalty for their crime or their lawlessness two times. You can’t punish somebody for a crime and then go back and have them pay for that same crime again. And Jesus is the same way. Jesus cannot legally or justifiably pay for our sin on the cross and later on have God the Father demand that payment from us for our own sin through death. If the wages of sin is death and we all deserve death, then how does God justify forgiving some? He justifies forgiving some because Jesus on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins. There is nothing for which the forgiven sinner who has trusted in Christ for their forgiveness, there is no sin in them that has gone unpunished.

That is one of the glorious, amazing things about the gospel is how God sends Jesus to suffer in our place so that we can no longer justifiably be punished by God for what we have done wrong. God is just and fair. Before Jesus, it was just and fair for God to demand my death for my sin, but that same justice and fairness now defends me from God’s wrath because Jesus paid the full penalty in his body for each and every one of my sins. Therefore, God can no longer justly punish me. Here’s an odd passage that sometimes is a little stumping at first as we listen to it. This one comes from Second Thessalonians 1:5: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering, since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted, as well as to us.” The reason I’m reading this passage is because we’ve talked about how God can forgive David for murdering Uriah. But how does Uriah feel about David’s forgiveness? And another question is how does Bathsheba feel when she gets to heaven and finds David there and discovers that God has forgiven David for his grievous sin against her? The good news for Bathsheba is that God is a God of vengeance, and He says, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay”. In this second Thessalonians one passage, verse 6, He is actually comforting Bathsheba and Uriah when He says: ”since indeed God considers it just or fair to repay with affliction those who afflict you”. David had afflicted Bathsheba. David had afflicted Uriah and God did afflict or pour out His wrath on the sin that David committed against them. He just didn’t do it on David. He poured out that wrath on Jesus on the cross.

So, we trust that the great news of the cross is that Jesus has paid in His body the full punishment for all the wrong that we have done against God. This is why it says in Romans 5: 9: “If we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God”. Now that is a reason to proclaim the good news of Jesus from the rooftops and share it with your friends and to go out and make disciples of the nations. It’s because Jesus has done the greatest thing that He could possibly have done. He has paid for all of the sins of those who placed their faith in Jesus for His substitutionary death to pay for their sin. This is what we preach about. This is what we teach about with PassionLife. It’s such an exciting thing to share with people that even the sense that they feel most convicted about, most condemnation in their own minds and souls for, they can find forgiveness for those things through the cross of Jesus Christ. Not because God says, don’t worry about it, but because He says, I paid for the wrath that I had to pour out on you. I gave it to Jesus on the cross in your place. Trust Him to be your forever Savior and have the record of wrong expunged between the two of us so that you can live with me in reconciliation forever. That is the mystery of the gospel.