Genesis 1:1; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Romans 3:23-26
Today we continue our series, “Did God Really Say,” looking at God’s design for human flourishing, the confusion that exists in areas of authority, sanctity of life, race, gender, sexuality, responsibility, justice, and salvation, and then God’s path for restoration that we might flourish again.
‘Justice’ has long made a short list of desirable virtues. It was God who said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). With it we begin our Constitution, “In order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,” and end our Pledge, “Justice for all.” When wronged, ‘justice’ is what people say they want. We even name superheroes the Justice League!
Adding ‘social’ to the word ‘justice’ seems like a match made in heaven. From a distance, it seems to fit with the kingdom we are led to imagine that is “upheld with justice and righteousness” (Is. 9:7). It seems to be the goal we are called to pursue as we, “Seek justice and correct oppression” (Is. 1:17). However, the closer we get to understanding what people mean when they say, ‘social justice,’ the more confusion seems to exist and the more discrepancy appears between it and the justice found in the Bible.
‘Biblical social justice’ is a submission to God that brings our lives, relationships, and responsibilities into compliance with His law in order to render to people what He says they are due. ‘Secular social justice’ is the belief that everyone has a right to equal possession, privilege, and opportunity, and to the extent that it is missing, society is unjust and needs realignment through redistribution. Drawn from Critical Theory, everyone is categorized either as ‘oppressed’ or an ‘oppressor’ based on factors like race, gender, and sexuality. Those who live in multiple ‘oppressed’ categories are said to experience ‘intersectionality.’ For example, a black, gay, woman, all considered ‘oppressed’ identities, is said to have three intersections of oppression, making her 3x more a candidate for justice. ‘Secular social justice’ aims to identify the ‘oppressed,’ assess outcomes, and redistribute resources to balance the outcomes. This is what fuels the ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ policies in our universities, institutions, and businesses.
Some hear ‘social justice’ and imagine bringing our lives into compliance with God’s law to render to people what He says they are due, and others imagine bringing society into compliance with man’s law to render to people what our perceptions say they are due. These worldviews use the same term, which is why some say the gospel and social justice can’t be separated, and others say they can’t be combined.
DEFENDING THE GOSPEL
Some want me to lift up ‘social justice’ to affirm the reality of injustice and God’s coming justice. Others want me to tear it apart because you see obvious flaws or so you can protect your stuff. Let me be clear: Injustice is real, God’s justice is coming, human ideologies are flawed, and pursuing ‘biblical justice’ is going to require so much more of our stuff. My aim is to preach and protect the gospel. Human ideologies distort truths like sin, responsibility, and salvation by saying that we are born into different levels of guilt, that we need different standards of justice, and that we save ourselves by dismantling inequity. Today we will clarify the gospel. Next week we will show how Christ changes our heart to seek justice for others.
THE STORY OF THE BIBLE
The story of the Bible begins with God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Before there was heaven and earth, Adam and Eve, there was God. He is the eternal One, the Almighty One, and the only One. He is the Creator of all things and has creator rights over all things. As the Creator of life, answers to life must begin with God. What has God revealed about Himself?
1. GOD IS JUST (PSALM 89:14)
We don’t get a vote on this. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Ps. 89:14). Man is under the delusion that we pick a God that fits our taste from a lineup of suiters. God looks at the mockery of idolatry and says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Is. 45:5). God is not a Build-a-Bear that we accessorize with favorable attributes. God is who He says He is. God says He is just. “All His ways are justice…just and upright is He” (Dt. 32:4). This means God does what is right, gives what is right, and delivers a verdict that is right. Justice is not optional to life because justice is rooted in the character of God. On His initiative, God created a world fit for human habitation. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).
2. GOD CREATED US IN HIS IMAGE ACCOUNTABLE TO HIM (GENESIS 1:26-27; 2:16-17)
We were created by God, for God, to live with God, and to answer to God. If you are created by someone, for someone, to live with someone, and to answer to someone, and you lose that someone, you are lost. So according to His loving justice, God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). For a time, the man and woman enjoyed God and each other. Within the clear boundaries that God communicated, boundaries that aligned with His justice and accountability, they enjoyed peace.
In Gen. 3, Satan came to the garden to dishonor God and destroy man created in His image. By saying, “Did God really say?” Satan questioned God’s goodness, truthfulness, and justice. He attacked God because nobody rises above their thoughts of God. To be wrong in our thoughts about God irreparably distorts our sense of justice until we think rightly about Him. Man sinned and devastation ensued. They died spiritually. They felt guilt. Their hearts that once said, “My life for your good,” now said, “Your life for my good,” leading to acts of injustice. Adam’s nature was passed like DNA. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As the representative of man, Adam’s words reveal our heart. “This is bone of my bones” (Gen. 2:23). Affirmation! “I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10). Isolation! “The woman you gave to me” (Gen. 3:12). Accusation! The default mode of sinners is to blame God, to blame others, and to play the victim.
Into the pain, God promised a Rescuer! A special ‘son’ would be born. Satan would strike His heel, but this ‘son’ would crush Satan’s head and establish a kingdom of justice. The rest of the Old Testament traces this ‘son’ through acts of injustice and appeals for justice. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). “You who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate…Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:12,24). The ‘gate’ was the place in ancient Israel where civil cases were heard. Israel’s judges were taking bribes and showing favor to the rich instead of the upright. This was social injustice. People were not being given what God said they were due!
3. GOD FOCUSED HIS TERMS OF JUSTICE AROUND PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY (EZEKIEL 18:1-32)
Ezekiel was in his 20’s when he was exiled to Babylon. There God said, “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ez. 3:17). What was his message? The soul that sins will die! We saw this when God told Adam, “You will surely die.” Moses said, “Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (Dt. 24:16). Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). Paul said, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is the law of individual responsibility that is unpacked with remarkable clarity in Ezekiel 18.
GOD REVEALS HIS TERMS
“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:1-4). This proverb was their way of saying, “Our fathers ate the grapes and we got the pain. We’re victims!” Let’s be clear.
Our circumstances are influenced by others. This began with Adam. His sin created hard conditions, but no one is judged for Adam’s sin. We are judged for our own sin. God will not tolerate the delusion that disavows personal responsibility. The soul that sins will die. We don’t come to Christ until we see our responsibility for our sin before a holy God whose justice demands that He deliver a verdict that is right.
GOD ILLUSTRATES HIS TERMS
The Lord illustrates this with three men. First, we meet a grandfather. “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right…he shall surely live, declares the Lord” (Ez. 18:5-9). Second, we meet his son. “If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things)…he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself” (Ez. 18:10-13). Righteous accounts don’t cross generational lines. Third, we meet his grandson. “Suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise…he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live” (Ez. 18:14-17). In other words, we feel the generational effects of sin and injustice, but we do not share their guilt. We are responsible for our own sin.
GOD OFFERS HIS INVITATION
God closes with an invitation. “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit…I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ez. 18:31-32). God invites us to repent and live. He knew we couldn’t make a new heart for ourselves. God said these things knowing He was sending His promised ‘son.’
At the right time, God did send His Son into the world. Jesus lived without sin, died in our place, and rose again! Do you know what happens to those who trust in Him? “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ez. 36:26-27).
4. CHRIST CAME TO PROVE GOD’S JUSTICE AND BE OUR JUSTIFIER (ROMANS 3:23-26)
We all have a sin problem. Jesus alone is able to rescue us from this problem. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26). That is the gospel. Those who put their faith in Jesus are forgiven, justified, made new, and made citizens of a kingdom upheld with justice.
Beliefs & Actions
First, let’s yield to the Bible as our authority. Social theory says we are born into a groups (identity), that we have oppressed or been oppressed (problem), that salvation comes by rectifying inequality (solution), that we must seek redistribution (purpose), and that utopia arrives when inequity is gone (destiny).
But this is God’s world and His Word serves us a different worldview. The Bible says that we are created in God’s image (identity), that we have sinned against God (problem), that we are saved by trusting Jesus (solution), that those who believe in Him are empowered to love God and seek justice (purpose), and that we will face judgment before God and spend eternity in heaven or hell (destiny). Let’s trust Him!
Second, let’s saturate our minds with Scripture. We cannot bring our lives into compliance with God to render to people what He says they are due if our Bibles remain closed. Declaring biblical authority while not reading the Bible leads to confusing behaviors. For example, people can see us protecting the unborn under the biblical banner of ‘sanctity of life,’ and be confused about our genuine concern for life when they see us laughing as immigrants are bused to cities as a political stunt. Reading the Bible reminds us that people were never designed to be pawns and it shows us what God tells us to render to them.
Third, let’s take personal responsibility for our sin. People of influence in our lives, our families, and our society may have left harsh and unjust conditions in which we must live, but our sin is ours alone. Unjust circumstances may explain our pain, but they never excuse our sin. It is futile to blame God or others. It is futile to disavow our personal responsibility and guilt before God. He invites us to repent and live!
Fourth, let’s not allow personal responsibility to strip us of mercy. Secular social theories pit us against one another, making us skeptical, accusatory, and defensive. Let’s be careful how we look upon people. Poverty is harsh. We all know that some cases of poverty are due to laziness, but the Bible also tells us that some cases are due to injustice. According to Proverbs 13:23, there is ground that would yield food for the poor but its swept away through injustice. Let me give an example. At the end of World War II, nearly 1.2 million black soldiers were denied the GI Bill aimed at helping veterans after the war by providing college tuition, home loans, and insurance. That injustice widened a wealth gap that lingers to this day. No matter the cause of people’s struggle, we can show compassion and mercy. We don’t have to feel guilty for sins we didn’t commit to abhor injustice. If we are following Jesus, we will spend less time justifying causes and dismissing possibilities, and more time trying to help people.
Fifth, let’s share the gospel. As cracks appear on our societal structures, remember that fixing symptoms without fixing the source leads to more pain. Man’s greatest problem is guilt before God, so we must continue to extend ourselves to the point of discomfort to speak of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Finally, let me urge you to put your faith in Christ. A day is coming when we will stand before God. “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). On that day, His holiness is going to burn away every desire to blame or to justify. On that day, we will not feel inclined to describe our morality. Our presence will not raise the moral average of that room. On that day, only those who put their trust in Jesus and received His righteousness as a gift of grace will stand secure. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am [the Christ] you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Have you trusted Jesus?