How Can God Justify the Wicked?

by | Jul 10, 2021

“Come, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are crimson red,
they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

The book of Isaiah opens with fierce statements against the people of God. The first thing that God speaks in Isaiah is this, “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” God’s children are rebellious. They “despise the Holy One of Israel; and have turned their backs on him.” The prophet is not speaking of the other nations that surround Judah or Israel. God is talking about the people whom he took out of slavery and established in the Promised Land. It’s these people who have been witnesses of God’s goodness and power that have turned their backs on him. One of the most important things we need to remember throughout the Bible is that God is God. He will not be mocked. He is not unable or unwilling to punish wickedness. God is just, and he will be well within his right to punish anyone who rebels against him. It would make sense. But look at how God reasons with his people in Isaiah 1:18.

In Isaiah 1:18, God says, “Come let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” What you would expect in this situation is God’s unmitigated justice. You would expect God to treat the rebels in Israel just like he did Sodom and Gomorrah. It says as much in Isaiah 1:9. But here, God surprises his people with words of grace and mercy. God offers not only to withhold punishment but to cleanse. He promises to remove the stains of the sins that have plagued his people and separated them from their God. The question is, how does God do this? Proverbs 17:5 says he who justifies the wicked is an abomination. To justify means declaring someone righteous. So, how does a Holy God justify evil people?

If God were to declare people righteous without any regard to justice, it would mean that God is not just. That is impossible. But God can do this because God does not leave the guilt unpaid. He provides the payment for sin by sending His only begotten Son to take on human flesh and become like us. Jesus, the Son of God, lives in unity with God, never disobeying and always living to please his Father. And Jesus goes to the cross, and dies on behalf of his people. Because of Jesus’ payment, God’s forgiveness is right and good. Romans 3:26 says, “God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.” Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection are demonstrations of God’s righteousness. So now we can say it is reasonable that our Holy God would remove our sins from us.

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