[This is the third of a four-part series on doing justice and how it relates to the gospel. See the first and second parts here and here.]
Principles for doing justice and the gospel:
- Hermeneutically, we must make distinctions between the combined political/religious institution of OT Israel and the Church today as a counter-cultural entity in a secular nation. The church is given to make disciples, which includes personal transformation leading to social transformation, but the church has not been given the task of cultural transformation apart from the gospel.
- Social justice, as the world proclaims it, can divide us from one another by setting types of people against one another, destroying our unity in Adam as fallen, and our unity in Christ as redeemed, where there are to be no more distinctions. In the church, masters stood next to slaves, Jews next to Barbarians, men next to women. At this foundational level, hatred and separation were transformed by their unity in Christ. Identity politics will necessarily continue to fragment until there is no shared experience at all. Feminist v Womanist thought. Feminist v. Transgenders
- The gospel frees us from false guilt, such as “You are guilty because you are white, or male, or middle-class, or educated, or tall.” It also frees us from false gospels, which say that you can never escape your guilt, or that you must denounce yourself and make unspecified reparations to make atonement. The gospel does not call us to conviction about who we are or how God made us, but for words, thoughts, and deeds that are clear and specific violations of his commands. The gospel says I am guilty because I have sinned against God and I can be forgiven because Jesus, the just one, was punished on my behalf. If God convicts you of a specific act of injustice, then repent and God will graciously forgive you.
- The implication of the gospel is that in my personal life I should be the Good Samaritan who sacrifices significantly and materiallyto help others in need when my life intersects theirs. I should seek out those in need around the world and do what I can individually and as part of the community of the church to do justice and love mercy. This will look somewhat different for each person and church. Exodus 23:4–5 reminds us of our responsibility to love our neighbor: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates youlying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
- Addressing matters of injustice is a powerful means to demonstrate the love of Christ and open doors for the gospel. Churches in America that ignore injustice cut themselves off from reaching their communities! Doing good is mentioned 12 times in 1 Peter as a way to deal with suffering in a hostile culture. One way wealthy, suburban churches can do justice is to support churches in the inner city who are faithfully reaching their communities.
- The goal of doing justice is to glorify God by bringing Shalom to people’s lives. As a former pastor in an urban church, I witnessed firsthand the way the gospel transformed, individuals, then families, and even neighborhoods. When God transforms hearts and changes families, communities are blessed as a result. The church is supposed to be a foretaste of the justice, mercy, love, compassion, truth, and care we will experience when Christ returns.
- When justice cannot be obtained, Christians must have a robust theology of suffering to be able to live triumphantly (1 Peter). We are called to follow the example of Jesus who suffered the greatest injustice, and yet did not revile his persecutors. If justice cannot be obtained, there is the reassurance that God will eventually bring justice (2 Thess. 1:5-7; Rom. 12:19). We are called to dojustice, but not to bringjustice—only God can do that. Our hope should not be in fixing the world, but in the return of Christ, who will restore all things. God will justly judge every person at the end of time. To do away with Hell, for example is to remove the reassurance of final judgment on the wicked.
- Social Justice, as is practiced by those who reject Christ, is almost completely devoid of New Testament Christianity, and has the power to distort the gospel from a deliverance from the guilt of sin through repentance in Christ, to a deliverance from guilt for mere existence through activism. It reduces Christianity to an ethic of ambiguous love, where Jesus is merely incidental. American Christianity walked this path 100 years ago, and it proved impotent and disastrous.
In the final post of this series, I will make some specific statements about injustice in our country and our world today.