The word “judgment” has received bad press, and that bad press has mostly come from the church….
In one extreme, parts of the church are now saying that God does NOT judge; He’s too nice and loving to do such a thing. This has been carried to heresy in those that deny the existence of hell and of a final judgment after death. Those who hold to such a view do not know the Lord in His awe-inspiring beauty and justice. If there is no judgment of sin, action and lawlessness, then God cannot be a just God. If He is not just, then He is not holy, without mixture. In denying this aspect of His holy nature, man thus has successfully remade God in our fallen image (at least what we would LIKE Him to be).
The other extreme related to judgment is that it portrays Yahweh as a remake of the Greek god Zeus, who sits on a throne, arbitrarily waiting to throw lightning bolts of destruction and pain in anger over the slightest thought that’s anything less than 100% moral. In 2008, I led an intercessory/spiritual warfare team to Germany to work with some of the saints in several well known cities to address some long-standing demonic strongholds still leftover from hundreds of years past, right up until the time the Nazi’s were in power. One of our stops was Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church. He also ministered in St. Mary’s Chapel about two blocks from the Wittenberg cathedral. Our tour guide took us to a back room in St. Mary’s where many very old artifacts and works of art were kept. On the wall was a stone relief that was once over the entrance to a cemetery, on which depicted a very angry “Christ”, seated on a throne with lightning bolts in his hand, throwing them at dead and dying people, who were obviously out of line with either him or the church. Our tour guide told us that this was the picture that the church had painted of God, thereby keeping a repressive form of bondage over the people to control them. When Martin Luther rediscovered the truth of a loving, compassionate God, to Whom the only way was faith in the finished work of the Son apart from works (who really loved humanity so much that He Himself bore our judgment to give us grace), the people were overwhelmed with desire to know Him. The reason the Reformation took off like wildfire was because the horrid picture of an angry, perfection demanding God (a perversion of His just nature) was shown to be fallacious through the true revelation of the word of God. However, this did not nullify the absolute truth that although He is 100% love, He is also 100% just, and both parts of His nature will not rest until completely satisfied.
Because He is love, He can be fully trusted to judge justly. His judgment is not only just, but it is an extension of His intrinsic nature of love. This is why we see the saints of God, the bride of Christ, openly exalting and praising Him for His judgments when He rises to restore justice and purity in the earth in Rev. 18:20 and Rev. 19:1-4:
“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!”… After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen! Alleluia!”
The Lord is a Remedial Judge
And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:17-25)
In the revelation of God through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and subsequently the interpretation of all scripture through Him who is the word incarnate, the Lord reveals Himself as a compassionate Judge who desires to heal, restore and have intimate relationship with man. If this is true, and we believe it is, how does a compassionate God deal with sin, rebellion and evil and maintain His justice?
No earthly situation could have been more dire than that found in Sodom written of above. Not only was sexual immorality and perversion prevalent, but it was only one of the many outward signs of the inward, animalistic corruptions that were abounding. Lot was vexed (desensitized) by living in the cesspool that had become Sodom. He was even willing to sacrifice his own daughters to the inhuman and demonic lusts prevailing through the crowd. Ezekiel tells us what the core issues were that led to such demonic, immoral and inhuman degradation in Ezek 16:48-50:
“As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.”
In spite of the demonic mindsets and activities humans have joined in agreement with (as seen in Sodom), the Lord reveals Himself first as remedial Judge in the midst of such circumstances, who desires to have mercy. He becomes a punitive Judge only after consistent rejection of His loving remediation. We may not understand this from a human viewpoint, but it is His mercy that brings judgment, because His judgments are not meant to be punitive, but remedial.
From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (copyright 1985):
“Do right,” – mishpat – Vines’ – “the act of sitting as a judge, hearing a case, and rendering a proper verdict. <Eccl. 12:14> is one such occurrence: ‘For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.’
Because He is holy, and His holiness demands sin and evil be judged, He must do so or be found unrighteous Himself. But also because of His transcendent nature of love and mercy, He always provides a way of redemption for humans and the means to achieve it, if it will be surrendered to and accepted.
The Lord reveals Himself as Judge in two dimensions: As a remedial Judge to those who love, yield to and obey Him and as a punitive Judge to all who rebel, agree and act with the powers of darkness. The Lord, as remedial Judge, allows discipline and hardship at times into the lives of His people to bring training to our character and form Christlikeness within us. The more we embrace the Lord and His remedial judgment and discipline, the more our character is transformed into the image of Christ, the fruit of holiness is witnessed to and we begin to share in a greater degree of His kingdom authority and power.
The Lord reveals Himself as remedial Judge in three primary ways: His word, other people and circumstances. One “external” means of bringing His discipline (remedial judgments) into our lives is making a habit of studying and obeying God’s word. Consistent meditating on God’s word, and then putting it into practice, eventually becomes internalized to become a part of our character.
Another external means of His remedial judgments are the people that He brings into our lives and the relationships that form around them. People are used by God to expose areas in our lives that need healing, breaking, maturing or any combination of all of these. The scripture is clear that relationships cause “iron to sharpen iron.”
One other means that becomes a part of His remedial disciplines and judgments in our lives is the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is to be noted that children and weak, immature people will quit when things become difficult. We are called to be overcomers, made into the image and likeness of the Son of God. This means perseverance and pressing through our pain, weakness and fallenness, engaging the grace supplied by the Spirit of God. If we are to become mature, healthy adults, both naturally and spiritually, it will only come through persistent, personal victories by faith and obedience.
The Result of God’s Remedial Judgments
This loving, remedial Judge always deals with pride. One of the first conversations the Lord had with Peter was to deal with his pride as an expert fisherman, so Peter could fully trust Him and not his own ability or training. This was not to insult Peter but to teach Peter to lean on the Lord’s power and grace and not his own understanding or abilities. The Lord uses His judgments to teach us to pray, study, worship, preach, trust and…raise the dead. These judgments come and reveal areas of our lives that are out of sync with Him and many times are actually in rebellion to Him and in agreement with the powers of darkness. Faith is put to the test through these relationships, hardships and circumstances.
The fruit of this loving, remedial Judge’s disciplining hand is freedom. Freedom comes only through the remedial judgments and discipline of the Lord. This means freedom to be in union with Him, not freedom to do as we please, which is the exact cause of Him bringing His loving discipline into our lives in the first place. Have you ever heard an undisciplined musician? Ever seen an undisciplined athlete or teacher? The purpose of this remedial Judge – His disciplines and training – is not punishment, but to form us into the men and women of God we are destined to become, lead us into deeper intimacy with the Lord and trust us with the freedom to flow in His power and authority.
Isaiah 64:8 says, But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. Thanks be to Him that He never discards any vessel. He just reworks it! The Judge of the earth will always do what’s ultimately right, just and compassionate. He can be trusted…even when He rises to judge.