Sooner or later, most drivers will receive an invitation to traffic court. They must answer guilty or not guilty to an infraction of one or more traffic laws. But it is the judge who sets the fine. Depending on the presiding judge of that particular day, the fine may vary, even if it is for the same infraction. One judge may make a guilty driver pay as much as $425 for running a light, whereas another judge may impose a fine as low as $125. Rolling through a stop sign could be as high as $280, or as low as $100.

Repeat offenders can never be sure of what to expect. One day, it seems the judge overcharges. Another judge will cut it down in half. The lack of a permanent judge sitting on the bench what we might call “the luck of the draw.” Working as an interpreter at the courts, I’ve heard a defendant respond, “But your Honor, you’re not playing fair!” You can imagine this does not bode well with the judge, who usually responds with, “And who said we’re playing games here! It’s you who is playing with people’s lives and your own by driving 40 miles over the speed limit!”

What seems to be an injustice is fair game within the playing field. The judge is free to exercise his or her judicial discretion in imposing traffic fines. There is nothing unfair about it. What seems unfair in the eyes of the guilty, turns out to be fair and good. The appeal to unfairness falls on the deaf ears of the law. The written law does not have the discretion to lower or increase fines. The law does not have the power to forgive or absolve. Only the judge can exonerate a fine, decrease it, or increase it! Only the judge can reduce infractions or throw them out altogether.

We can find some similarities before the judgment seat of God. Only the Supreme Judge of the universe can forgive, wipe records clean, or declare the wicked righteous! But there’s a big difference. The fine and the punishment is always the same for everyone. Therein, the Judge has no discretion. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). Everyone must pay the maximum penalty: eternal death. There’s no arguing, no pleading, no exculpatory footnotes in God’s Law.

But there is a Substitute.

God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, declares before the Judge: “I already paid that fine on the cross, for all the infractions, misdemeanors, felonies, and high crimes. Completely. I paid the last cent over 2,000 years ago. I took the place of every sinner, and all who believe me have their penalty paid in full.”

Scripture calls this marvelous exchange “the righteousness of God.” On the cross, God removed the load of every single one of your sins and placed it instead on Christ. Then, He clothed you with the fullness of His holiness and perfection. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him” (Col. 2:9-10, NKJV). “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:22,26, NIV). But wait, don’t these verses indeed make it seem as if the Judge is not playing fair?

On the cross, God removed the load of every single one of your sins and placed it instead on Christ. Then, He clothed you with the fullness of His holiness and perfection.

How could you be totally forgiven, freely, without paying with even a microscopic amount of blood? Yet it is totally just and fair because that punishment was paid on your behalf, by Someone else’s sacrifice. It was paid by the blood and body of someone who loves you, by someone who cannot live without you. Therefore He did the unthinkable: He took your nasty debts on His spotless soul. We merited nothing but punishment, abandonment, and death. But the eternal Judge used His judicial discretion, and in Christ, removed your guilt and sentence of death. What a shock that due to God’s pure and unmerited grace we were loved and declared righteous, holy, and perfect in His sight. Even though at times we may feel we are still covered with a lot of muck, and with more than one sin hanging around when God looks at our computer file and searches for “sin,” the search comes back: “None found.” The only thing that shows up in our file is the perfect life of His Son Jesus Christ.

Pounding on a lecture hall lectern in 1531, Luther told his students, “[Christ] made a very favorable exchange for us. He took on Himself our own person of sin and gave us His innocent and victorious person, with whom we are now dressed anew.” Do you believe this? Confess it with your mouth and believe it in your heart. You have been embraced in God’s arms, cleansed by His grace. You are loved and cared for in His embrace forever.