This week we begin with Question 19 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 1 (questions 1-20), which focuses on God, creation and the fall, and the law.
Question 19: Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?
Answer: Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.
God has commanded us to forgive each other when we sin against each other (Matt. 6:12, 14). In one sense, by forgiving each other, we are doing exactly what God has done for us: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). We forgive because we are acting toward others the way God has acted toward us.
However, there is another sense in which God’s forgiveness is different from ours. The catechism says that God sent us a Redeemer “to satisfy his justice.” In other words, before God could forgive us, justice had to be satisfied by some way other than punishing us for our sins. That’s where God’s forgiveness is different from ours. God must always uphold his own justice, or else he would not be true to himself. Therefore, payment must be made for sin no matter what. Without some payment for sin, God would allow the lies that sin tells about him to go on forever without ever being answered, and he would become complicit in those lies and ultimately deny himself. That could never be (2 Tim. 2:13).
That is why God sent a Redeemer to die in our place, satisfying his justice where we could not and upholding his complete opposition to all that is ungodly while also promising forgiveness to all the ungodly who trust in his Son. When we forgive others, we do not demand the satisfaction of justice; that’s not our job. God, as supreme Judge of all, will take care of that. And for those who are in Christ, he has already done so.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Romans 3:21-26. What does this passage teach us about the cross and God’s righteousness/justice? How can God be both just in himself and the justifier of those who believe?