God justifies the ungodly
Question: God clearly states "I will not justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7). That seems to imply that we need to obey the commandments of God in order to be justified.
Answer: Divine justice demands that the righteous person should be justified whereas the wicked should be condemned. It is a miscarriage of justice when lawbreakers are set free and when innocent people are condemned. "He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15). We can be sure that God will deal justly with us. Therefore He declares: "I will not justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7). Since God is absolutely just, He cannot let the sinner go free.
Now that is a fearful thought! For we are all sinners; we have broken God's holy Law. In this sense we are all wicked and therefore we do not stand a chance of escape from Divine justice. God will not justify the wicked!
That is why, if we had to rely on our obedience to the Law, we can never be justified before God. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). With tears of sorrow, even the holiest Christian admits his sins ever day. As long as we remain on earth it is a sad reality that we continue to sin. Though there is nothing on earth that I hate more than sin, yet I continue to sin and offend the God who loves me so much!
If we were honest with ourselves, we would not ask whether we have obeyed the Law enough to be justified. We know we haven't! Rather, every one of us should ask: What can free me, a guilty sinner, from my sin? Who can save me from God's righteous anger and punishment? Is there hope for me?
Thank God for His Son. There is hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
The apostle Paul makes this incredible statement in the epistle to the Romans: "To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). God justifies the ungodly! He does not say, "God justifies the righteous." That would have been perfectly understandable and just - and it would have spelled despair to all of us sinners. He does not even say, "God justifies the ungodly when he converts and starts doing good works." Paul insists that it is to him "who does not work" but "believes" that God accounts as righteous. God justifies the ungodly by faith alone.
Now that is the good news that we need to hear! Somehow God is able to justify me when I believe in Christ even though I am a sinner.
We realize that this is pure grace - something that we do not deserve. Yet a distressing question immediately springs to mind. How can a just God, who has declared that He will not justify the wicked, justify the believer even though the believer is a lawbreaker? Is God ignoring the Law to show us mercy? The apostle Paul is anxious to answer this problem:
"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).
God demonstrated His righteousness and uprightness in His gracious dealing with sinners by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. God set forth His Son as propitiation by His blood.
The word "propitiation" basically means to placate, to pacify, to appease. God is offended and angered by sin. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). Jesus turned aside God's wrath against us who believe when He shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. God is appeased because Christ fulfilled the demands of the Law.
Justice and mercy met on Calvary's tree. That is why God could be both "just" and "the justifier" of those who believe in Jesus. God justifies the ungodly who believes because his sins were taken away by Jesus Christ.