I have a problem with sin. There, I said it.
Wait … it gets worse.
Some of my sins have been with me for a long time. I can recall them manifesting as early as elementary school and would likely remember them further back if my memory was able to go that far in reverse.
I could detail everything for you, but instead, I’ll bubble them up into the main issue: I have a problem with idolatry. And no, not the kind where you physically bow down to some kind of carved image.
As Tim Keller says in his excellent book Counterfeit Gods: “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.” An idol is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God.
When I sin, I do what you likely do. I grieve internally (and sometimes externally) and then pray in an apologetic fashion to God, asking for His forgiveness and mercy for what I’ve done.
But let me ask you something: have you ever brought the same sin to God for the 1,295,456th time, felt a slight chill go down your back, and worried, “Maybe I’ve crossed the line for the last time where God’s mercy is concerned”?
I’ve known many Christians — good ones — who felt there is a point of no return for a believer who can’t shake a particular sin. It’s as if they literally thought, “Sure, Jesus said ‘70x7’, but what happens at sin 491?”
If you’ve ever agonized over exhausting God’s mercy and wondered if He’s washed His hands of you for the last time, let me suggest something that I learned a short while back that really helped me. Instead of asking for God’s mercy the next time you fail, thank Him for His justice.
Good theology to the rescue
Where our sin is concerned, it’s God’s justice that keeps us out of the (literal) frying pan. How so? Let’s start with some basics.
The justice of God is one of His “communicable” attributes. God has “non-communicable” (i.e., something we can’t inherit) traits such as immutability, infinity and self-existence. His communicable qualities are both non-moral and moral, with an example of the former being attributes like majesty and wisdom and the latter being His righteousness/justice.
God’s attributes meld with one another and so not only is God righteous and just, but He is infinitely and immutably righteous and just. That’s really good news.
Regarding God’s justice, the Bible says, “The Lord is righteous … He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail” (Zeph. 3:5), and “His righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor. 9:9). We’re told, “all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4) and “The Lord is righteous in all His ways” (Ps. 145:17).
This is a wonderful truth and something that turns out to be very meaningful when it comes to how He deals with us and our sin. But not everyone makes that connection at first.
For example, the great reformer Martin Luther — before he understood how God’s mercy and justice are intertwined — wrote: “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice is whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore, I did not love a just God, but rather hated and murmured against Him.”
Luther initially viewed Christianity somewhat like all other religions where mercy and justice are never mated and, instead, the worshipped deity either dispenses justice at the expense of mercy or mercy at the expense of justice. However, Luther finally realized that Christianity is unique in that God delivers mercy through His justice.
The Bible is clear that Christ died for all of a believer’s sins. This means that God’s justice is satisfied because Christ paid the penalty for our wrongdoings with the result being, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
No just judge exacts double payment for a crime, and God, being infinitely just, won’t do that with us no matter how much we fall.
This is why the writer of Hebrews says that the blood of Christ “speaks better than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 9:24). The blood of Abel cried out for justice (Gen. 4:10), but the blood of Jesus flips that script and constantly cries out to say that justice has already been satisfied for us because of His sacrifice on the cross.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we have a license to sin; Scripture reminds us of that when it declares: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
But it does mean that we, as those who have been saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), can rest from worrying that we will deplete God’s mercy with our failures because His justice prevents Him from ever condemning us: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
I’ll say it again: I have a problem with sin. And I will have until my mortal puts on the immortal (1 Cor. 15:52), which is why, when I fail, the first thing I do is thank God for His justice that was satisfied by Christ for me.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.