[Reading time: 8 minutes] The premise of this article series is that our conflict in the spiritual realm is legal in nature and the evidence is in the original languages of the Bible. We’ll examine the participants engaged in that conflict by identifying one of God’s primary roles.
Let’s begin by examining two Hebrew words used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew noun, mispat, describes the act of judging; specifically, determining rights and assigning rewards or punishments. It’s a common word, used more than 400 times in the Old Testament. Three of its uses in the Psalms make its legal significance very clear. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous” (Ps. 1:5, NIV). “The Lord is known by his acts of justice …” (Ps. 9:16). “He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth” (Ps. 105:7).
A Hebrew verb, spt, means to hear and be the judge of a legal case; to judge or bring justice. Abraham used this word when negotiating with the Lord about Sodom: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25, with the verb translated as a noun in English). Consider two other uses: “Then people will say, ‘… surely there is a God who judges the earth’” (Ps. 58:11). And, “For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord” (Isa. 66:16). So the Old Testament clearly portrays God as the Judge, passing legal judgment.
The New Testament uses several words to present God as judge. The Greek noun, krites, simply is a word for “judge.” “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9). “You have come to God, the Judge of all …” (Heb. 12:23).
The Greek verb, krino, means to hear and be the judge of a legal case; to pass judgment. It occurs in John 3:17-18, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John used the verb three times in two verses, referring to a judicial condemnation, a legal sentence. The word appears more than 100 times in the New Testament with God as the judge, including Acts 17:31 (“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”), 1 Peter 4:5 (“But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”) and Revelation 18:20 (“God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.”).
A third Greek word we’ll consider is krisis, a noun used nearly 50 times that defines the legal determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. It occurs in Matthew 12:36 (“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”) and Hebrews 9:27 (“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment ….”).
Word studies aren’t very exciting, but I wanted to present enough scriptures to make a lasting impression on your mind; that is, God’s legal and judicial system governs the spiritual and physical realms, and he’s the Judge. That needs to be absolutely clear in our minds.
God’s Legal Roles
At this point, we might wonder what basis God uses for his judgments. It would be helpful to consider three of God’s roles, two of which relate directly to that question, and a third that affects us as Christians.
Both the Old and New Testaments use the word “Almighty” only in reference to God. The Greek noun, pantokrator, is translated in the New Testament as “Almighty” and describes someone whose control is unlimited, which indicates absolute authority and absolute power or ability to make things happen. I suggest most of what the Almighty states should be considered laws, because he is the only one with absolute authority to state what he chooses and absolute power and ability to apply what he says. By definition, spiritual and physical laws are universal because they apply to everyone at all times under all conditions. Other statements by the Almighty might be considered principles, which are general standards that define typical results; similar to laws but not universal. We might call a third category of the Almighty’s statements “destinies,” because what he declares ordains or predetermines results. For example, when the Almighty declares Jesus will remove the church from the earth at a specific time, it will happen then, regardless of what anyone else says or does.
As we’ve seen, the Bible clearly presents God as the Judge, one who presides over a court session and pronounces legal verdicts based on established law. James 4:12 makes an interesting statement: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.” James is describing God as both Lawgiver and Judge. As the Almighty, his will and statements become laws, principles and destinies. As the Judge, he renders verdicts on the basis of those laws, principles and destinies.
Under the New Testament, we have the opportunity to become God’s children by accepting Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sin (John 1:12). As one of his children, consider the following: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). This short verse is packed and it begins by reflecting Father’s role as Judge. So how should Father’s impartiality as Judge affect our behavior, according to this verse?
First, it motivates us to live our lives on earth as foreigners, not as earth-dwellers. We’re not to think and act as if this earth is our home or conform to its culture. Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). We don’t belong to this world because our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
Second, our Father’s impartiality as Judge motivates us to live our lives on earth in reverent fear. The key Greek word is phobos, which refers to fright, terror or panic, and in a religious context refers to a profound fearful reverence of a God who is the epitome of both grace toward us and wrath toward sin (see 1 Pet. 2:17; Rev. 14:7). His impartiality means we don’t get a free pass, that what he says applies to us like everyone else and we’re accountable to him for what we do. So how does 1 John 1:9 apply? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful as Judge to his laws (“impartial,” according to 1 Peter 1:17) and faithful as Father to his covenant relationship with us. He’s also just, which is a legal term meaning he renders justice with appropriate verdicts.
If we confess our sins, he’ll forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness. It begins when we confess that we sinned. What’s the verdict for sin? Spiritual death, separation from God. But Jesus paid the price for our sin by dying spiritually in our place so we wouldn’t have to, so now we ask that his sacrifice be accepted as payment for our sin. Do you see the legal nature of this? It’s a legal appeal based on evidence – our guilt and Jesus’ death in our behalf.
As stated earlier, spiritual and physical laws are universal because they apply to everyone at all times under all conditions. However, under certain conditions, one law can supersede another. For example, an airplane sitting still on a runway is held to the ground by the law of gravity. As the airplane begins to move and pick up speed, the law of aerodynamic lift begins to offset gravity’s hold and eventually the plane flies. As long as the airplane moves forward fast enough, aerodynamic lift supersedes gravity and the plane continues to fly. Gravity’s still in effect, but it’s superseded.
Similarly, the law of sin and death requires spiritual death and separation from God because of sin. The law of redemption, however, applies the blood of Jesus to our sin and allows us to remain in an intimate Father and child relationship with God. God is our Father and we can freely enter his presence, but he doesn’t bend the rules for his kids.
Our conflict with Satan is a legal matter, not combat. As we’ll see in the article, “The Prosecutor,” he’s constantly looking for opportunities to bring legal charges against us for violating God’s laws. But God the Judge is also our Father and he’s prepared to supersede the law of sin and death with the law of redemption by applying Jesus’ blood when we confess our sin.
The Bible clearly portrays God as the Judge of all, who delivers righteous verdicts in all matters.