Monday, May 19, 2008

Justice and Mercy

Lately as I have talked to other bloggers, a common theme among them has been the belief that the commandments are no longer in force. Some have cited Jesus' statement on the cross as evidence of this fact. "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." John 19:30. Others have quoted this scripture: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. " Matt. 5:17,18. While the thought of a God who requires nothing more of us than to believe seems wonderful on the face of it, what most people fail to understand is that this belief does not mesh with the idea of a God of justice.

Before I address the topics of justice and mercy, let me address the two scriptures above. First, in looking at John 19:30, it might be well for us to consider other similar scriptures in the Bible. If we go to John 17:4 we get a clearer understanding of what it is that the Savior was speaking of when He said, "It is finished". "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." What was the work that the Father gave Jesus to do? That "work" was to come and be the Savior of the World, to pay the price for us so that we could overcome sin and death. What was "finished" was this mission.

The second scripture, that speaks about the law being fulfilled is referring not to the end of the commandments, but to the fulfilling of the law of Moses. The law of Moses was a strict law of performances and ordinances that included animal sacrifice. It was symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and helped prepare the people for the sacrifice that He would make. Everything about the law of Moses was symbolic of the Savior. In explaining the symbolism of the law of Moses, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, "First, like Christ, the animal was chosen and anointed by the laying on of hands. (The Hebrew title Messiah and the Greek title Christ both mean "the Anointed One.") Second, the animal was to have its life's blood spilt. Third, it had to be without blemish—totally free from physical flaws, complete, whole, and perfect. Fourth, the sacrifice had to be clean and worthy. Fifth, the sacrifice had to be domesticated; that is, not wild but tame and of help to man (see Lev. 1:23, 10; Lev. 22:21). Sixth and seventh, for the original sacrifice practiced by Adam and the most common sacrifice in the law of Moses, the animal had to be a firstborn and a male (see Ex. 12:5; Lev. 1:3; Lev. 22:1825). Eighth, the sacrifice of grain had to be ground into flour and made into breadstuffs, which reminds us of our Lord's title the Bread of Life (see John 6:48). Ninth, the firstfruits that were offered remind us that Christ was the firstfruits of the Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:20). (See also Bible Dictionary, "Sacrifices"; Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. [1992], 3:1248–49.) The Law of Sacrifice By Elder M. Russell Ballard Ensign » 1998 » October

Christ's atoning sacrifice fulfilled the law of Moses. Today, instead of offering animal sacrifice, we rely upon the atonement of Jesus Christ, and offer up a sacrifice of a "broken heart and a contrite spirit". Repentance on our part becomes our sacrifice to access the atonement of Jesus Christ, just as animal sacrifice was required of the people who practiced the law of Moses. Some feel it is an offense to God to say that we need to repent, but sacrifice was required by God of the people of the Old Testament, just as it is required of us today. Repentance is the sacrifice that we make today.

There are two aspects of God that are part of what make Him God. One is that He is a God of justice. Another is that He is a God of mercy. Inherent in the meaning of the word justice is the principle of lawfulness. There is no justice without a law. For God to be just, there must be a law. That law was given by God Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. God's commandments are the "law" that we must keep. Justice requires that if we do not keep the law, that we suffer the consequences. At the same time, if we keep the law, we receive the blessings. This is justice.

However, God is also a God of mercy. The atonement of Jesus Christ allows us the opportunity to repent of wrongs that we do. When we repent, His atoning sacrifice fulfills the demands of the law of justice. It pays for what we did that is wrong. But mercy cannot replace justice. "Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God. But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God. What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God." Alma 42:13, 22, 25

But God is a God of mercy, so does provide mercy to us. "And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also." Alma 42:15 "But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. " Alma 42:23, 24

It is not justice that people harm each other, abuse each other, even murder each other, and pay no price. It is not justice that an abuser, who has changed a child's life negatively forever, should not have to suffer consequences for his behavior, but be allowed to go to heaven simply because he believes. This is not justice. But if that same abuser truly repents, and offers up a sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit for what he has done, and changes his behavior, and then relies upon the mercy and grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ, then he can repent of the wrongs that he has done. In this way, the law of justice and the law of mercy both are put in to effect. The law is still in effect, it has not been nullified. If it were nullified, justice would be dead.

I thank God that the law of mercy has not been nullified either. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we all have the opportunity to repent of the things that we do that are wrong. God is truly a God of justice and mercy.


Nate said...

In my view of this, the old and new parts of the covenant, are like oil and water. Completely seperate. With the new, the old was complete. Meaning, ended. When a journey is complete, it is ended. When a meal is complete, it is ended. So as the law of Moses being complete, it is ended.

Delirious said...

I agree Nate, but what is referred to as "the law of Moses" is the law of performance of ordinances and sacrifice. This law was observed to prepare the people for what the Savior would do for us. But even now that He fulfilled that law, we are still expected to sacrifice, only this time our sacrifice isn't one of shedding animal blood, but one of a broken heart and contrite spirit, ie repentance.
The ten commandments are not part of that law of sacrifice that was given in the law of Moses. Jesus reiterated in his day the importance of keeping the commandments. Jesus fulfilled the need for the sacrficies, because he was the ultimate sacrifice. But He didn't nullify the ten commandments. Jesus said, " If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love." John 15:10. The Law of Moses was fulfilled through Jesus' sacrifice, but the ten commandments are still in force.

Ruth said...

Delirious - thanks for expanding on this. I am very interested to understand your faith through the LDS lens and I appreciate your willingness to share it.

In my mind I don't see repentance as a sacrifice. In order to be saved we need to confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. We need to confess our sin condition and be cleansed from unrighteousness.

I beleive that I need to keep repenting of my sins as they occur but that I have been cleansed of my sin condition and have been made righteous by believing in the work Jesus did on the cross. If I were to die today having not repented of something I would still go to heaven.

Delirious - do you beleive that too? Or do you believe you need to have all your sins confessed to receive salvation at any given time?

Delirious said...

Thank you for your comments. I like to have these dicussions.

Our view of repentance is somewhat different than many other Christians. We do agree that Christ's atonement is a free gift to all. Everyone has access to it. But we believe that we must "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." Matt. 3:8

If we say that we can die "in our sins" and still be forgiven, then we rob justice. Justice demands that we must suffer consequences for breaking the law. Therefore, God does require that we obey the commandments, and He also requires that we repent of our sins. That is justice.

But God also provided the atonement for us so that the law of mercy will come in to effect. Although we sin, Christ's atonement makes it possible for us to repent. That is mercy.

The answer to your question is a little complicated. For one, our view of heaven is a little different than other religions. We believe that when a person dies, their spirit goes to the "spirit world" where it waits til the judgement day. At the judgement day, we will be judged according to our lives. If we repented of our sins, through the atonement of Jesus Christ those sins will be blotted out and not remembered at the day of judgement. However, if we have not repented of our sins, the atonement does not take effect in our lives.

In essence, no, I don't believe that we can be saved in our sins. Christ saves us from our sins....He gives us the opportunity to repent and have those sins blotted out. But if we continue to sin, and do not repent, then we are not forgiven. Christ doesn't save us "in our sins". This is probably the biggest difference between our religion and other Christian religions. We don't believe that belief alone is enough. We believe that faith...believing, without works is dead. If a person were only required to believe, and repentance was optional, then abusers would go to heaven with their victims simply because they believe. That isn't justice. This is the reason I wrote this post. So many think that the law of justice can be ignored because of the law of mercy. But if God is to be just, then the law must be obeyed, and the law of justice observed.

Does this makes sense? I never know if I explain things well or not.

Looney said...

I would probably note that the word "justice" has been given a new meaning in our modernist world. The Bible's usage is with regard to the fact that God has standards which we have violated. The new usage is that someone else has something that I envy, and it isn't right! Where is the justice?!!! The focal point of justice has become me rather than God.

Ruth said...

Matthew 3:8 (New Living Translation)

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.

I admire you for understanding the King James version. I just don't get it!

Yes you have explained well and I thank you for taking the time and effort to do so.

I also believe that a real heart transformation shows up in our actions. In other words - the tree shows its fruit. However, God ultimately knows the heart.

Do you understand what I am saying about repenting from our sin condition? Addmitting I am a sinner and do sin? So I have been forgiven for my sins, past and future. If I truly have had a heart change I will continue to examine my heart and repent of sins but ulitmatley I am forgiven. I might die tonight not having repented of something or maybe I am still blind to it but I believe that I am still righteous before the Lord.

Also - what do you think of what it says in Hebrews that Abraham was imputed righteousness because he believed God? Abraham did some screwball things in his life. He may or may not have repented. But he was imputed righteousness simply because he believed God.

Delirious said...


I do understand how we can admit that we are sinners, and that we do sin, but to me, admittance alone is not repentance. I don't see the connection between admitting that I sin, and having that carry over to sins I haven't even committed yet. Recognizing that we sin is but the first step. If our actions don't follow our recognition, then true repentance hasn't occurred yet. I may even feel sorry that I am a sinner, and feel sorry because I know that I will sin in the future. But that feeling does not guarantee that I have repented. Only my actions will show.

I believe the scripture that you were referring to was James 2:23.
" And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God."

I think to understand this passage, we need to back up a couple of verses. "21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?"

Abraham had faith, and that faith led him to obey. His works, that were a demonstration of his faith are what justified him. Faith is not made perfect except by works.

Ruth said...

Delirious my friend, you are really hot on the button and I knew you would point that out. :)

yes Abraham was justified because his works showed that he BELIEVED god. I think my point is that we are justified for believing and when we believe we obey. However, even though we can never obtain perfect obedience we are still justified.

I think we could probably talk circles around this forever. Most Christians I know are undecided themselves. I figure the Lord will straighten me out if I go wrong somewhere.

Delirious - you are truly a remarkable person and a blessing! take care.


Nate said...

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love." John 15:10.

Which commandments are those? Are you just assuming they are the ten commandments. What about the one to lay on your left side and burn human dung for warmth? The only commandments that I am aware of that Jesus gave are: Love the Lord God with all your soul, heart, maind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Those commandments are the ones that I adhere to. When adhering to those, the ten become obsolete.

(Just to let you know, I firmly believe that I have to follow NO law, commandment, stipulation, rules etc.. put forth in the bible but the two quoted above. Absolutely NO LAW will I even consider. That is when I truly found the freedom of the Christ. When the Holy Spirit showed me the shackles man had placed on me by falsely saying that "these are the things you must live by, see they are right here in the bible.")

Nate said...

I was just responding to your response to me, then I read your response to Ruth. This is in response to a portion of that.

In YOUR RELIGION, (another belief that I have, if we believe in the same God, it is our religion. Just different beliefs) people may lose salvation by not repenting. Not repenting and rebellion are basically the same things. Salvation can be lost if we rebel against God. Doing something we know is wrong, and continuing it, is rebellion. Or the same as not repenting. SO on this point, we are firmly in agreement.

I really enjoy the discussions we have as well. Most people can not articulate their beliefs well enough to defend them. You can and that makes this fun.

Nate said...

And finishing reading, I believe that you and Ruth are saying exactly the same thing, using different words. And I also agree with that.

But on to the notion of just. Would it be just, if a man live a perfectly Godly life, and die while commiting his one indescretion, to then be cast out of heaven because he died in sin. I am just trying to understand what your beliefs tell you would happen in this instance.

Delirious said...

Sorry I haven't answered back sooner...I feel like I have the entire encyclopedia in my head, and need to condense it in to a few sentences. LOL I want to think a little bit because I want to zero in on the key points and not just answer quickly.

I think in some ways Ruth and I are saying the same thing, but the end result is different. This is what I want to zero in on, and see if I can communicate. On top of that, I've been preparing a lesson for the adult sunday school class I teach, so my brain has been elsewhere. I'll think about this and figure out the best way to respond. Thanks!

Delirious said...

Nate, you asked, "Would it be just, if a man live a perfectly Godly life, and die while commiting his one indescretion, to then be cast out of heaven because he died in sin." First I must say that I don't think it is possible for anyone to live a sinless life. I'm sure we all have sins in our lives that we work to overcome. Jesus Christ atoned for our sins. He paid the price. He also suffered for our sins. If we do not repent, then we will have to suffer for our own sins before His atonement will pay the price for us.
My question for you is, do you think it would be just for God to allow an abuser, who has not repented, but who believes, the same place in heaven with the pereson he abused? Is it justice that a person does a horrible crime, and doesn't repent, but because he believes in Jesus Christ is saved in heaven? Is that justice? I would say that it might be part of mercy, but it would not satisfy the law of justice. If God is just and merciful, He will require that the punishment be given. Some would say that if a person believes in Jesus Christ, they wouldn't do a horrible crime, but there are many people who do.

I must add too that our view of heaven is much different from many other Christian beliefs. We believe that when a person dies, they go to the spirit world to await the judgement day. This spirit world could be thought of as a "heaven", but this is not the final resting place that most people think about. We first must go through a judgement. "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" Matt. 12: 36 After this judgement day, we will be assigned to the place in heaven that we are worthy of. I could write more about our beliefs about heaven, but I don't want to overwhelm you with writing all of it in one comment lol.

I'm not sure if this answered your question or not.
Once again, thanks for your participation. I do enjoy discussing these subjects.

Nate said...

Well the question was hypothetical, and you didn't answer it. Whatever the answer would have been, would have been fine with me. I also agree that God does not have endless mercy. Just ask anyone Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh yeah, you can't. But anyway. Our positions are not far off from one another.

Delirious said...

Nate, I did feel that I answered your question, although I didn't go in to great detail because I didn't want to inundate you with a long answer lol. The answer I gave was, "Jesus Christ atoned for our sins. He paid the price. He also suffered for our sins. If we do not repent, then we will have to suffer for our own sins before His atonement will pay the price for us." I hope that explains it well. At least that question was better than JJJ's who said, "Can God create a salsa so hot that He can't eat it?". :)

God does have perfect mercy...that is what makes Him God. But it may not be shown in the way that we mortals think it should. Although we dont understand everything about Soddom and Gomorrah, I do believe the law of justice came in to play, and the law of mercy also. Would it be better to allow them to continue to lived wickedly and sort of "rack up" the sins.. (lol sorry, not sure of a better way to say that ) and also possibly influence other people to live they way they did? I don't know the answer, but these are thoughts that I had about soddom and gomorrah.

Looney said...

Nate, I will give you an answer that is within the Calvinistic tradition. God shows mercy to those on whom he chooses to show mercy. Thus, the Bible says "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" - Romans 9:13. This is a difficult part, but God choose to cherish part of His creation and to throw part of it away.

Regarding the 'but I only sinned once' hypothetical, I think there is a flaw here. In my case, it would be that I only admitted to sinning once, but rationalized an innumerable quantity of, um, like, booboos(?).

Another problem with this line of reasoning is that it really starts from man's perspective, not God's. God is so far above us that we simply shouldn't try to judge Him the way we would if a grumpy neighbor down the street started criticizing us. After all, He is our creator, the one who gave us life in the first place. He didn't just give us a check list of things to do so that we could get into heaven - as you have observed. Instead, He invited us to be part of His family and be part of His plan for building the Church.