Usually we think of God's justice as his perfect judgment in punishing sin and dispensing equity along perfect scales of measurement. However as we were born in sin, justice is essentially something we fear. However upon believing in Christ it seems justice switches around:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

How is it that 'justice' no longer stands as a accuser but a defender? Assuming their is no merit in confession, only admission of guilt, how does the gospel make justice ensure we are always cleansed from sin? In some ways this seems counter intuitive. How does justice and faithfulness defend the guilty?

3 Answers 3


As it's been preached to me, justice, here, refers to God's faithfulness to His own promises. It does not refer to giving us what we deserve, which would be Hell. Toward us, justice would necessarily mean Hell.

Instead, "Just" refers to the fact that He has promised to forgive us through the cleansing power of Christ's blood, as long as we have repented and placed our faith in Christ.

Short version: In this verse, we see that because God is Just, He will keep His promises. That would be why the word is combined with "faithful".

For doctrinal support, I refer to Barne's Notes on the Bible

And just to forgive us our sins - The word "just" here cannot be used in a strict and proper sense, since the forgiveness of sins is never an act of justice, but is an act of mercy. If it were an act of justice it could be demanded or enforced, and that is the same as to say that it is not forgiveness, for in that case there could have been no sin to be pardoned. But the word "just" is often used in a larger sense, as denoting upright, equitable, acting properly in the circumstances of the case, etc. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:19. Here the word may be used in one of the following senses:

(1) Either as referring to his general excellence of character, or his disposition to do what is proper; that is, he is one who will act in every way as becomes God; or,

(2) that he will be just in the sense that he will be true to his promises; or that, since he has promised to pardon sinners, he will be found faithfully to adhere to those engagements; or perhaps,

(3) that he will be just to his Son in the covenant of redemption, since, now that an atonement has been made by him, and a way has been opened through his sufferings by which God can consistently pardon, and with a view and an understanding that he might and would pardon, it would be an act of injustice to him if he did not pardon those who believe on him.

Viewed in either aspect, we may have the fullest assurance that God is ready to pardon us if we exercise true repentance and faith. No one can come to God without finding him ready to do all that is appropriate for a God to do in pardoning transgressors; no one who will not, in fact, receive forgiveness if he repents, and believes, and makes confession; no one who will not find that God is just to his Son in the covenant of redemption, in pardoning and saving all who put their trust in the merits of his sacrifice.

Also from Vincent's Word Studies (also available from the same link as Clarke's Commentary)

Just (δίκαιος)

Rev., righteous. From δίκη right. The term is applied both to God and to Christ. See Revelation 16:5; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:7; 1 Peter 3:18. The two words, faithful and righteous, imply each other. They unite in a true conception of God's character. God, who is absolute rightness, must be faithful to His own nature, and His righteous dealing with men who partake of that nature and walk in fellowship with Him, is simply fidelity to Himself. "Righteousness is truth passing into action" (Westcott).


The Essence of Justice

Justice is served when the penalty for an offense is paid. For every crime, there is an appropriate penalty. We talk about this as having "paid one's debt to society", by a fine or imprisonment or whatever the sentence dictates.

If someone were to be convicted of theft, the sentence may well be simply restitution of the amount of what was stolen. An additional punitive amount may be added as well. Nonetheless, whenever that fine is paid, the guilty party is no longer condemned. Even if his father generously pays the debt on his behalf, he is free from any further punishment. The offended party has been restored. Justice has been satisfied. The guilty no longer stands condemned.

The Justice of God

The same is true of our salvation. It is wrong to think that the sins of anyone incur no punishment. God would not be just if sin had no penalty. On the contrary, God requires full payment for the penalty of every sin.

However, God does not demand that every person pay his own debt. This is the whole reason why Jesus died--to pay the penalty incurred by us. So, the debt is fully paid. There is no perversion of justice. The offended party is restored and fully satisfied. Justice is fully served. In fact, if the death of Christ does not serve to pay the penalty for sins, then Jesus really died for nothing.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. 1 Peter 3:18 ESV

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21


In fact, if the guilty party were still condemned after the penalty had been fully paid--regardless of who paid the penalty--that would be a perversion of justice--injustice.

So, in order for God to be just, He must punish those whose debt remains unpaid, but He must not punish those whose debt is fully paid.

The debt of sin is fully paid by the death of Christ and is appropriated by sinners through faith in Jesus Christ.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:21-24 ESV

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    +1 - love the pure gospel preached. This answer indirecty answers 3/4 of all religious questions. Wonderful thing to hear.
    – Mike
    Jan 21, 2013 at 23:55

You have referenced one of the most mis-understood verses of the Gospel (1John:1:9). The religonists (a.k.a. legalist) of yesterday and today love to trot this verse, and others, out to keep their ignorant flocks in ignorance and on their knees wasting their time while asking Father God for forgivness. When Jesus died he died for ALL sins for ALL time and for ALL mankind. All sin was taken by Him of his free accord and the Father pronounced ALL judgement upon Jesus. Read Romans and this is exactly what it says. When Jesus died ALL humans died with Him, when he rose ALL humans rose with him. Read it in Romans. As a result of Jesus's sacrifice the issue of Adam's sin (sin consciousness) was distroyed and is not an issue in any person born after the cross because we are ALL now in Christ (even the murderer, thief, pedophile, homosexual, prostitute ect, but only those who accept Jesus as their personal saviour has Jesus and Father in them). Therefore nobody born after the cross has been born in sin. This is part of the "Almost too good to be true News" a.k.a. the Gospel. Because all sin was paid for by Jesus' sacrifice nobody can committ sin against the Father ever again. (Read Isa:ch.54, Father swears He will never be angry with the Church age people again even till the end of Revelation). So the sin refered to in 1John is sin comitted against each other. Remember the Lords' Prayer "and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" When we sin against each other and don't forgive ourselves or the other guy then it hinders Father from pouring the benifits of the Kingdom onto us. This is why we must forgive sin.

  • Welcome to C.SE. This is a better answer than your other one, but it still sounds more like a sermon to the converted rather than an academic answer to unbeliever. Again - I completely agree with the sentiment here, but this site is different Jun 14, 2013 at 19:10

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