At the heart of the Gospel is a huge dilemma that may seem insurmountable, a major quandary that could appear insoluble, and it is this: How can a righteous God declare the guilty innocent?

A taxi driver

You may have followed the Mido Macia case in South Africa. In February 2013, Mido, a taxi driver, died in a police cell hours after being handcuffed to a police van and dragged through the streets of Daveyton.  Just this week the officers involved were each sentenced to 15 years in prison.  The judge was largely praised and commended for passing a fair judgment.  Imagine the judge said to the guilty officers, “I am a very gracious judge; even though I know you are guilty, I declare you not guilty.  Even though you are unrighteous, I declare you righteous.” We would say that the judge is an unjust, immoral judge. Is God not unjust and immoral to declare guilty sinners righteous?

A Jihadi Terrorist

Suppose the planners of the Paris terror attacks were found and arrested with overwhelming evidence stacked against them.  Their evil planning was caught on CCTV and they had voluntarily signed damning confessions. Now suppose the judge at the high-profile court case had said in his judgment, “I am a very gracious judge; even though I know you are guilty, I declare you not guilty.”  Would we not say the judge is an unjust, immoral judge?

Yet, the Bible teaches that when guilty sinners put their faith in Jesus, God declares them not guilty and righteous (i.e. justified).

The King left his throne is heaven

Victor Kuligin relates this helpful illustration in his book, “The language of salvation”:

There was a king whose word was law and whose edicts were strictly obeyed.  Three times a week he heard legal cases.  One morning an old woman guilty of stealing was brought before him.  The king had decreed that the punishment for stealing was the cutting off of the offender’s right hand.  As the old woman was brought before the king and her crime declared, the king sank in his throne in despair.

“Is this true? Did you commit the crime?” he asked.

“Yes, I did, my lord”, she replied.

The king hesitated.  He leaned forward and asked, “Mother, how can this be?” She made no reply.

The entire court was watching.  If the king were to free his mother, the moral foundations of his rule would disintegrate.  However, to put his mother through this terrible penalty was too much for him to bear.

Was there no way out of this dilemma and quandary?

The king stood up, removed his robe, and walked down to his mother.  He walked over to where the penalty was to be executed and placed his hand on the block of wood.

God himself

God is just.  He cannot not be.  He did punish sin.  Jesus died to bear all the punishment for all the sin of all God’s people throughout all the ages.  But Jesus was not a third-party.  Jesus is God the Son.  The astonishing truth of the gospel is, in the memorable words of John Stott, God himself gave himself to save us from himself.

God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)  No dilemma.

Written by Andre Visagie, originally posted here.