There are many characteristics that shed light upon God. If you ask someone “Which of God’s characteristics define Him the best?” most will probably respond by saying His love or maybe His holiness. But according to the Bible that would be the wrong answer. As this writer has mentioned often, the beautiful biblical attributes that define who God is are His forever life (Psa. 90: 2), His sovereignty (His absolute control of everything in time and space (Dan. 4:34-35), His love (1 Jn. 4:8), His righteousness and justice (Psa. 89:14), and the fact that He is all-powerful (Gen. 18:14), all-knowing (Isa. 40:28), and everywhere present (Psa. 139:7-17), and finally the truth that He never changes (Mal. 3:6). And His love is a biggie. As the reader well knows, God is love. He is the very essence of love. The only reason that we know anything at all about love is because we have His image stamped on us (Gen. 1:26). This writer has memorized and meditated on the meaning of these characteristics for many years. I recognize that these are just some of God’s attributes making up His Godness, His holiness, His “set apartness.”
However, two of God’s attributes stand out from the rest and are almost always found together. These two characteristics hold the rest of His attributes together in a powerful unbreakable bond. The first is His righteousness, or His rightness. “I, the LORD, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right” (Isa. 45:18). When the Bible says that God is righteous, it does not mean that God is good, or even really good, or even really, really good. It does not mean that God is much better than any other being. The God of the Bible is the very essence of perfection. He is perfectly perfect. He is righteously right. He is the One who invented “good.” He is right in every thought that He has thought, every decision that He has ever made or will ever make, every action that He has ever done, and every word that He has ever spoken. The prophet Habakkuk says that His eyes are too holy to even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13).
He is the God of infinite integrity. The apostle John said that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). Not bad for an uneducated fisherman! God is pure unadulterated light that contains not one tiny speck of darkness. Not one! The psalmist tells us that God’s work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever (Psa. 111:3).
The second of God’s characteristics that rises to the top is a counterbalance to His righteousness – His justice! “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4, NASB). Carefully note that “all His ways are just.” That is powerfully plain-spoken. The truth of God’s justice is so important that Moses – probably because God revealed to him that God’s justice would be tested, resisted, and restricted time and again throughout history – said it two ways: positively he says that all God’s ways are just; and negatively, Moses says that “God is without injustice.”
He is making the fact of God’s justice as clear as possible. To this writer, the word “counterbalance” describing God’s righteousness and justice fits perfectly. They are like a sacred scale. I am thinking of a meat scale at a food market. God’s righteousness and justice must always remain perfectly balanced – always. God must maintain both and preserve them perfectly. Isaiah 28:17 says, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level.” Measuring line is the Hebrew word mishpot – a unit of capacity, a measuring cup, and righteousness is tsedeqah – a leveling device. The reader who has spent time in the kitchen knows what a measuring cup is, and a carpenter knows what a leveling device is. Everyone knows that a plumbline keeps workers’ projects straight. Oh, the times that recipes have failed because the measuring cup was not used correctly, and the times a building project has failed because the plumb line was not used correctly. All that God is, what God does, and what God says must always be measured against his measuring cup and His leveling device – so they could very well be called His plumbline.
The fact that God’s righteousness and justice are His plumbline is exceedingly heavy truth! A negative way of saying this is there can never be an imbalance between God’s righteousness and His justice – never! What His righteousness rejects, His justice must condemn. God’s works – God’s decisions must always be realigned with His plumbline of perfection. Point! All of God’s works must always be in line with His characteristics of righteousness and justice. What God does – the decisions that He makes can never be out of balance with His character. God must remain right, and He must always remain just. Always! Every word that God speaks must be measured for truth against His plumbline. God can never say anything that is not true and believers can never sin against God and get away with it.
God’s discipline of a sinning Christian (His justice) must restore His righteousness (His plumbline) in the Christian’s life. Since Christians will never be sinless while in this fallen body then Christians must always endure God’s chastening. “My son do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom the Father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they (human fathers) indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He (God) for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:5-10).
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness [dikaiosune]” (Heb. 12:11). Remember this Greek word dikaiosune. This chastening gets extremely complicated when we take in both our thought life and our open sins. At the time the Holy Spirit convicts us of a rouge thought or a wrong act, agree with Him quickly and turn from it (John 8:11).
That is known as walking in the Spirit and not fulfilling the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17), and when we sin we are to confess it to God. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). The word “confess” is the Greek word homologeo, and it means to “say the same” or, you guessed it, to agree. The Christian can do this in a matter of seconds and in the process “keep walking in the light (1 John 1:7). By the way, the words “one another” in this passage as in “we have fellowship one with the other” in context, is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ – not fellow believers. We are to walk in fellowship with Christ moment by moment. It speaks of a vertical relationship, not horizontal. This spiritual exercise is to be an ongoing huge part of the Christians life. Therefore, God tells us to endure the chastening. If we respond correctly “we live.” Did the reader catch that little phrase? Desire a long life? Keep short sin accounts with God. Remember, its often the little words that make the greatest impact (Heb.12:9). Now……. Just how righteous and just is God?
David said this about God’s righteousness and justice, and he said it twice. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; Mercy and truth go before His face” (Psa. 89:14). “Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psa. 97:2). The foundation is the part of the building that holds the structure’s entire weight. If a building is to stand, a solid foundation must be laid strong enough to hold it up, to support it. “Foundation” is the Hebrew word makon. It means a fixed nonmovable established place. The foundation of righteousness (being right) and justice (being fair and just) is the firmly fixed makon upon which all the rest of God’s God-ness rests. He must always think right! He must always do right! He must always be right! He must always be just or fair. And He must always keep these two characteristics in perfect balance. He must always align Himself with His plumbline. He cannot alter His character one tiny bit. He cannot change (Malachi 3:6). He will not change! His deity depends upon it. Someone wrote long ago that God’s righteousness is the righteousness that God’s righteousness requires Him to require. That’s heavy language meaning that God must remain right in every sense of the word. His very being depends upon it.
God’s righteousness is mentioned in the Bible well over two hundred times, and always within close proximity to His justice (1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Job 29:14; Psa. 72:2, 99:4, 119:121; Proverbs 2:9, Isaiah 1:27, Jeremiah 4:2, Ezekiel 45:9; Hosea 2:19; Amos 5:7, and Micah 7:9). I mention these few passages just to make the point! God’s righteousness and justice are mentioned together so often that they are called, “the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19). Proverbs says that to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3). God is said not only to be righteous and just, but He is said to love righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5).
These two characteristics, thought of as one (as we will see), are well worth memorizing and meditating on. Think of all the forementioned characteristics: sovereignty, love, eternal life, all knowingness, all-powerfulness, everywhere presentness and unchangeableness and even His holiness, must all be subject to God’s righteousness and His justice. That’s heavy!
Places where the Bible is silent make the biggest impressions. For instance, the Bible does not imply that God’s sovereignty is His plumbline, nor His love, nor His power, nor His eternal presence, nor even His holiness. Nor does God say that all these attributes are the foundation upon which His throne is built, nor does He call any one of them His way. This place in God’s holy character is reserved only for His righteousness and justice ……alone. God does not say that He loves any of the forementioned characteristics other than His righteousness and His justice.
One may think that God’s overwhelming characteristic is His love, but the Bible does not say that God loves His love. God is love (1 John 4:8). The only reason we know anything about love at all is because God’s image is stamped upon us. He is all the characteristics mentioned above, and more. But again, Scripture affirms that God loves righteousness and justice. The Bible does not even say that God loves His holiness – as important as that is. Wow! The importance of God’s plumbline keeps rising until it towers high above all.
So, God’s righteousness and justice – His plumbline – the Rock that never moves is established (Deut. 32:4). But this writer feels the necessity to be cautiously repetitious. The “why” will soon be discovered. God’s rightness and fairness are the same yesterday, today, and forever. His nature of righteousness and justice never wavers in the slightest degree. God’s plumbline must always remain fixed – always. His judgments are all forever righteous. His work is always perfect. He never makes missteps or mistakes. There is never a character flaw with God – not one. This truth magnificently glorifies the work of the cross. God made Him (the Lord Jesus) who knew no sin (God’s sinless Son) to become sin for us. Through the death of Christ, God forever balanced the scales of His righteousness and justice. God did this in order that we might be made the righteousness (dikaiosune, plumbline) of God in Him (1 Cor. 5:21). God can now be just (fair with Himself) and the justifier (declaring just) those who place their faith in Christ (Rom. 3:26).
The powerful prominent Old Testament Hebrew words tsedekah (righteous) and mishpot (justice) sing together in perfect harmony in the New Testament in the single word dikaiosune – translated simply, righteousness. This word is made by combining two Greek words, dikaios (righteous) and krino (just), resulting in dikaiosune(righteousness). Dikaiosune (righteousness) became God’s New Testament word defining His plumbline.
The reader now knows why it is good to keep this word in mind. The word reveals that God forever realigned His plumbline of perfect righteousness and justice that was distorted by the sin and death of Adam. Through one man’s offense, death reigned, and judgment came upon all. Even so through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift of righteousness (dikaiosune) came to all, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). God credits the precious benefits gained by this cross work of His Son (of which there are many) to those who trust in Christ by faith alone. God made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to become sin for us (believers) that we might be made the righteousness (dikaiosune) of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Upon hearing the gospel and responding positively to it, at the exact moment that our faith is placed in Christ, God miraculously places us in Christ where He credits His plumbline of righteousness and justice to us – His dikaiosune. This is what it means to be “justified” (Rom. 3:24). God then sees the believer sheltered in Christ and being as righteous (dikaiosune) as Himself. God has forever settled His demand for righteousness and justice in Christ. Halleluiah! How can we even begin to reach the depths of this? This is grace! The question is do we really believe this? Do we really believe that God’s righteousness and judgment is always in play absolutely and perfectly even when it does not appear this way to our sin-fogged minds?
Let’s test it! It does not take long for new believers to realize that God did not choose to eradicate our sinful natures the moment we were saved. By faith in Christ, we have become new creations having new natures – and are given God the Holy Spirit to teach us and to guide us (John 16:13-14). Yet we still sin (1 John 1:8), and we live shoulder to shoulder with millions of other sinner/slaves – all trapped in a slave market of sin and death. As one of my mentors used to repeat, our sin natures are so powerful that they touch and affect every thought that we think, every word that we say, every choice that we make, and everything that we do. He said evil touches even the good things that we do. We live in fallen limited bodies that are growing more so every day – in a fallen world, with Satan at the helm. Therefore, God’s disciplining hand always remains present and active in us, always continuously reestablishing His dikaiosune. Let’s truck through a small portion of the chastening passage in Hebrews one more time and focus attention on the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) – God’s plumbline.
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness [dikaiosune] – God’s plumbline – to those who have been trained [gumnadzo, strengthened] by it” (Heb. 12:11). God’s chastening of His spiritual children is continuous and continuously strengthens and reestablishes His plumbline in them, and for Him, for life. God is a good heavenly Father, and a good heavenly Father always keeps His righteousness and justice in perfect balance with all His children. He never lets any part of this realignment slip by one time – ever.
Even the best human parents are not perfect parents. There are just commands given to a child, but the justice slips by. Not once, but many times. It is said to the child, “If you do such and such again, I will do such and such,” but our part of such and such never comes. We are busy – too busy to follow through – or we are in a place where such a parental act would cause embarrassment. There are many such reasons. The writer of Hebrews says that we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. This correction lasted “for a few days,” and “as seemed best to them” (Heb. 12:9-10). But God’s chastening is maintained throughout life, and it is always done according to God’s character – it is perfect.
With this info in our mind a very big question is raised. Are sinners – even the best – ever in the position to judge how an infinite God carries out His righteousness and justice based on what is thought to be just and fair. One may think that a work that God does is good, fair, and just because it agrees with their fallen standards of goodness and fairness, and that is the reason that God wills it. Or said another way, one may think well of what God wills to happen because it is thought to be the right thing to do. The psalmist wrote, “These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you and set them in order before your eyes” (Psa. 50:21). God does not think like us, nor does He act like us (Isa. 55:8).
Humans must bow to the fact that whatever the living God wills to happen is just, good, and fair, because He wills it. That should settle the issue. God is in control, and He never loses control not one moment. If we are seeking true “right,” we must establish what is right from God’s Word. If we are seeking true justice, again we must go to God’s Word. God’s Word contains the unchangeable Rock of our salvation (2 Sam. 22:47). Blessed be our Rock! “Let God be true, exalted, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). We must all give thanks to the Lord, “for He is good. His mercy endures forever” (1 Chron. 16:34). If all the above is true, then all should gladly worship and honor Him. He is truly a God worthy of our love and our worship, even when we fail to understand why He has determined to do what He does. “Let everything that has breath praise this LORD. Praise the LORD” (Psa.150:6).
But even with His eternal nature – His holiness – in mind, many will never choose to worship Him because there are places in God’s Word that do not square with human sense of fairness. The reason is clear. Adam’s fallen image continues to affect our human wills. I have often wondered why God left Adam’s nature in us, even after our new birth. It may be to continuously remind us of who we are and from where we have come. To this writer, this is the reason that people want a god that meets their own human standards – a god like them. They desire to worship a God who would never choose to do anything that they themselves would not do. Or a god who can be reasoned with and changed. This begs the question, “Do we really believe that God’s righteousness and justice always remains in perfectly balance – always?”