Over the years, I’ve been given by some the mini-reputation as a leader in the field of justice. At first, I took it as a compliment and of course, I still do because I care a lot about justice. I know that people mean well. But I care about justice not just for the sake of justice. I care about justice…because I care much about the Gospel.
And sometimes, when I hear folks talk about justice in the church, I cringe…
I cringe because if we’re not careful, we’re again compartmentalizing justice rather than seeing it as part of the whole Gospel; We need to see justice as a critical part of God’s character and thus, our discipleship and worship.
Just like we shouldn’t extract the character of “love” or “grace” or “holiness” from God’s character, such must be the case with justice.
People often ask me, “What’s the most critical part about seeking justice.”
We must not just seek justice but live justly. Justice work and just living are part of our discipleship. Justice contributes to our worship of God. Justice is worship.
You will know a tree from its fruit. In other words, you will show evidence of where you are rooted if you produce fruit that is close to the heart of God. To that end, I believe you cannot credibly follow Christ unless you pursue justice.
I know that a lot of people will push back on that statement. Some say that salvation hinges on whether or not you believe in Jesus, and that is true. But do you really believe in Jesus when there is no evidence that you are doing what He compels us to do?
Early in Jesus’s ministry, He boldly proclaimed His revolutionary vision for the kingdom of God in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and the religious authorities surrounding Him stood amazed at His teaching. He stood up to read, and someone handed Him a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He found these defining words and read them:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
This was a proclamation of justice for the poor, the blind, and the prisoner, fulfilling a kingdom vision that included “the least of these.” A kingdom vision that even His closest disciples did not fully understand at the time. Shortly after this time, Jesus was rejected.
There was confusion. There was anger. The religious leaders listening to Jesus got angry, and their curiosity and amazement turned to apprehension, even fear. They believed that this humble arrival of the King was not how it was supposed to be. So an angry mob chased Him out of town and tried to run Him off a cliff (see Luke 4:29).
Biblical justice often does not make sense from our human perspective: The last shall become first. The weak will become strong. The poor will become rich.
How can you read the Scriptures or examine the life and ministry of Christ and not sense that mercy, justice, and compassion—particularly for those who have been marginalized—aren’t dear to the heart of God?
When we read through the Bible, it is clear to me that God cares about justice. The Word of God is God’s revelation for the world, showing how the world can be set right. We see that Jesus is not some mere historical figure—Jesus is the Son of God; He is God incarnate. His words and actions testify to the kingdom of God, where things will be restored, where there is justice, mercy, and compassion.
All of this matters because we are not just talking about ideas. We are not just hypothesizing about a “what if” scenario. This matters because justice involves people and their lives and their value before God. When justice happens to the least of these, God celebrates.
As Christians, we know and understand justice beyond secular definitions. It is not peripheral. It is not external. It is not secondary. It is critical. It is part of our identities. It is part of our discipleship. It is an important part of our witness to the world.
Part of the above is an excerpt from my book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World than Actually Changing the World? (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 42-44.
8 Replies to “We have to see justice as part of discipleship and ultimately…our worship of God.”
Good stuff! What do you think it looks like to work for justice from the perspective of people who love mercy? I get that we should be about liberation for the oppressed, but how do we treat the oppressor?
well written, pastor. ^^
Thank you! I join you in cringing – sometimes from evangelicals who don’t understand that the gospel is justice – both involve tzedek (justice/righteousness) which is restoring what is broken and righting what is wrong. That begins with us as we learn what it means to love God which is our act of worship. But worship doesn’t end there. Love of God compels us to love our neighbor. I sometimes cringe at my liberal friends who separate justice from worship and the gospel. They go hand in hand.
Looking forward to the book.
I had never made the connection between justice and discipleship before reading these words. Thanks for the challenge to live justly not just do justice.
This is so true. So many times we forget that for love to abound, justice must follow! We need to hold that banner along with the banner of Christ.