Today we continue our series, “Did God Really Say,” looking at God’s design for human flourishing, the confusion that exists when we reject those designs in areas such as authority, sanctity of life, race, gender, sexuality, personal responsibility, justice, and salvation, and then God’s path for restoration.
‘Social justice’ seems to be the cry of this age. It’s the banner under which hopes of righteousness, equity, mercy, opportunity, vengeance, and restitution all reside. It seems to describe the perfect environment. ‘Social’ brings the mercy. ‘Justice’ brings the arbiter that gives to each their due without partiality to class or creed. From a distance, ‘social justice’ seems to fit with the kingdom we are led to imagine that Christ will uphold forevermore (Isaiah 9:7), but the closer we get to understanding what people mean when they say it, the more confusion exists and the more discrepancy appears between it and the justice in the Bible.
COMPETING DEFINITIONS THAT CONFUSE
‘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 by redistribution. Drawn from Critical Theory (CT), everyone is seen either as ‘oppressed’ or an ‘oppressor’ based on factors like gender, race, and sexuality. The more categories of ‘oppression’ one faces, the more deserving they are said to be of justice. Though CT is motivated by real pains, it has no regard for God. It distorts what God said about sin by saying we are born into different levels of guilt. It distorts what God said about justice by saying different standards of justice should be applied. It distorts what God said about the gospel by saying salvation is achieved by solving inequity. We won’t flourish as people or a society until we yield to what God really has said.
I want to remind you of four truths from last week because we are going to build on them.
- God is just. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Ps. 89:14). This means God does what is right, gives what is right, and delivers a verdict that is right.
- God created us in His image accountable to Him. God brought us into a just world and 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). Tempted to question God’s justice, we sinned. We died spiritually, became selfish, and learned to blame.
- God focused His terms of justice around personal responsibility. “The soul that sins shall die” (Ez. 18:4). People may cause unjust conditions in which we must live, but our sin is ours alone. We won’t flourish until we see our sin against God who is just, take responsibility for it, and repent.
- Christ came to prove God’s justice and be our justifier. “He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 6:23). Christ died in our place to pay for sin and then rose again. Those who put their faith in Him are justified and empowered to love and pursue biblical justice.
To get a picture of what biblical justice looks like let’s look at Isaiah 58. What do we find here?
1. A RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST WILL CREATE A BURDEN FOR THE HURTING (ISAIAH 58:1-7)
Notice how God described the people. “They seek me daily and delight to know my ways…they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Is. 58:2). This seeking, knowing, asking, and drawing near was not an isolated act of zeal, but a daily pattern. Yet God tells Isaiah to “Cry aloud, do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Is. 58:1). God exposed the sin, saying, “As if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God (Is. 58:2). They were able to compartmentalize a spiritual routine in their lives that included no real concern for the righteousness and justice of God.
When they heard Isaiah, they played the victim. “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” (Is. 58:3). God explained, “In the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers…Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? (Is. 58:3-5). In other words, pausing our mistreatment of people to do spiritual things is unacceptable. God continued, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Is. 58:6). And how would we break every yoke? “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is. 58:7). Do you see what this means? If we have no active concern for the hurting, we are mistaken about the quality of our relationship with God. “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker” (Prov. 14:31). Vertical devotion to God that ignores hurting people is devotion that fails to get off the ground.
Jesus echoed this truth when He arrived on earth by reproving those “who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:38,40). When He described those going to heaven at the final judgment, Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt. 25:35-36). When they asked when they saw and served Him, Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40). God loves us all, but He has a burden for the quartet of the vulnerable (widow, orphan, immigrant, poor). “Render true judgments…do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor” (Zech. 7:9-10). This is why He says, “Bring no more vain offerings…learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:13,17). To stand with God is to stand near them.
2. A BURDEN FOR THE HURTING WILL LEAD TO THE PURSUIT OF JUSTICE (ISAIAH 58:6-7)
If biblical 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, what are we to render?
Advocacy For The Vulnerable
Part of what is meant “to loose the bonds of wickedness…” (Is. 58:6), is to “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). The vulnerable are not more worthy, but they need advocacy more than others. They need a voice who will join them and speak for them. This includes praying, connecting a person to the legal, medical, or financial resources in a crisis, or helping them to gain self-sufficiency.
Part of what is meant “to loose the bonds of wickedness,” (Is. 58:6), is to “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him” (Is. 58:7). The Bible teaches that our money belong to God who gives us a portion to manage according to His priorities. Generosity is one of His priorities. “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice” (Ps. 112:5). In the Old Testament, generosity was instructed, applauded, and even baked into property laws. For example, God’s law told landowners to leave some of their crops unharvested so the poor could ‘glean’ and eat for their labor. God did not demand the equalizing of wealth, nor did He entrust equal wealth, but He emphasized generosity from everyone.
The priority of generosity is magnified even more so in the New Testament when God’s gave us His Son. When Jesus was on the earth, He taught things like, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk. 12:33). Then Jesus gave His life for us. For those who want to imitate Jesus, generosity isn’t optional. This is why John wrote, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17).
Treating People Impartially
Part of what is meant “to loose the bonds of wickedness,” (Is. 58:6), is “not hiding yourself from your own flesh?” (Is. 58:7). As members of the human race, we are of the same flesh. God created all of us. His character revealed in the Bible is the standard of righteousness by which we are to treat all people. For example, God told Israel, “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 Israel where civil cases were heard by the city judges. The law was not to tilt in favor of the rich or poor. But Israel’s judges were taking bribes and showing favor to the rich instead of the upright. This was social injustice. One day we will stand before God. No favors will be paid to the rich or the poor on that day. As such, we are to treat people according to the same standard here on earth.
3. A VISION OF JESUS IS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN SEEKING JUSTICE (ISAIAH 58:8-9, 14)
Our first motive in fighting injustice is always duty. “It’s your duty to give. If you do, you can know you are a good person.” Duty may get justice off the ground, but only delight keeps it in the air. We get a taste here, “You shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth” (Is. 58:14). Part of the delight is in God’s promise. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily…the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (Is. 58:8-9). Those are wonderful incentives.
But most of the delight comes from seeing Jesus. When Jesus came to earth, He chose parents who gave the offering only required of the poorest of the poor. During his ministry Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). When it was time to give His life, Jesus rode on a borrowed donkey and ate his last meal in a borrowed room. His trial was a mockery of justice. He was flogged and crucified to be our Advocate. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2). When Jesus rose, He invited us to believe. Those who do are forgiven and justified. This means our sin is put on Jesus and His righteousness is put on us. We are saved by faith alone, but faith doesn’t stay alone. This faith blooms into love and justice for His glory.
Beliefs & Actions
First, let’s yield to the Bible as our authority. Our authority forms our worldview. Critical theory says we are born into a groups (identity), that we are oppressed (problem), that salvation is in equality (solution), that we must dismantle oppression (purpose), and that utopia arrives when inequity is gone (destiny). The Bible, however, 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 He empowers us to love and seek justice (purpose), and that we will stand before God in judgment (destiny). Let’s trust Him and saturate our mind with His word so we can bring our lives into compliance and render to people what He says they are due.
Second, let’s allow the gospel to propel our pursuit of justice. The gospel shows a Savior who has authority over us, but who used it to serve us, and was willing to set it aside to save us. He left the riches of heaven and became poor so that those who are spiritually poor could become spiritually rich. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3). How does someone who knows they are spiritually poor treat someone materially poor? Do we only help the deserving poor? Had Jesus looked over the earth and said, “I’m only giving my blood to the deserving sinners,” He would have stayed in heaven. Not helping the poor because we are justifying the causes of economic gaps is unlike Jesus. The gospel asks us to look at the vulnerable as if looking in the mirror of our spiritual condition before Jesus. Jesus’ example must motivate us to pursue generosity, to treat everyone by the same standard, and to advocate for the poor. It is wise for us to regularly ask ourselves, “Who had needs that I personally met this month?”
Third, let’s show the evidence of God’s coming kingdom in the church. The church is called to give the world a glimpse of what society will look like under Jesus’ rule and justice. We are to love one another, advocate for one another, be generous to one another, and treat one another according to the same moral standard. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we want to exemplify a kingdom where all its citizens flourish.
Fourth, let’s demonstrate biblical justice as we share the gospel. Man’s greatest problem is guilt before God, so we must continue to speak of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We can reinforce the justice in the gospel by speaking truth about sin and by treating people with impartiality, giving generously, and advocating for the vulnerable. Every time we give, love, and use our voice to get in the way of injustice—whether it’s human trafficking, economic exploitation, human rights abuses, or infants dying from disease and malnutrition—we provide a winsome apologetic of God’s kingdom to those observing our lives.
Finally, let me invite you to put your faith in Christ. A day is coming when we will stand before God. 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 because our presence will not raise the moral average of that room. On that day, only those who put their trust in Jesus will stand secure. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Have you trusted Jesus?