I am on the Board of Directors of Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid clinic. Bruce Strom, the founder of Administer Justice moved on five years ago to form the Gospel Justice Initiative that has established 75 other faith-based legal aid clinics around the country. The tagline for GJI is “communicating the truth of the gospel through justice.” That tagline inspires this blog.
Justice, especially with the social prefix, is code in some circles for a liberal, progressive political orientation. Gospel, in some circles, suggests conservative “Christian” people who ignore issues involving justice. These perceptions are often inaccurate mischaracterizations, but one thing is true: focusing on one to the exclusion of the other misses the heart of God.
We have no better example of God’s heart than Jesus: God who become flesh and lived among us, being obedient to the purposes of God the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross for us. His life is the Gospel incarnate. This Jesus will ultimately mete out justice to all mankind.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
Do you know the basis of the justice that Jesus will mete out?
It will be based on what people did when they saw the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the needing clothes, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-46)
Why? …. Because Jesus said,
“Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
When John the Baptist was in prison and wanted some assurance of who Jesus was, before Jesus answered him, “[Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” (Luke 7:21) Then Jesus said:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 alluding to Isaiah 61:1-2)
The message Jesus gave to signal who he was – the Anointed One, the messiah the prophets spoke about – was given only after the demonstration. The message in Isaiah (“good news to the poor”) went hand in hand with “[binding] up the brokenhearted”; and the proclamation of “liberty to the captives” was paired with “the opening of the prison to those who are bound”; “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” was paired with “[comforting] those who mourn”. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
In the same way, the Gospel, which literally means good news, should not be separated from justice. They go hand in hand.
If we read through the prophets without understanding God’s desire for His people to pursue Justice, we should read through them again. God doesn’t just want our worship or our preaching, He wants us to be motivated by what motivates Him. One without the other is an aberration.
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21–24 NIV)
God desires Justice, and He desires His people to do justice.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and 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)
He requires His people to do justice – not to seek justice, but to do it. Like the Nike commercial: just do it! justice, most simply, means putting things right again — ﬁxing, repairing, and restoring broken relationships. And doing justice restores our relationship with God and makes our worship of God authentic.
Yes, god will meet out Justice ultimately to all of us and to the entire Earth, and his Justice will be perfect. In the meantime, God expects us to be people who do justice in the present time, who do the right things, who have the same heart that God has.
When Jesus went around preaching good news to the poor, he didn’t just preach. He demonstrated His heart for the people by meeting them where they were and healing them, setting them free, loving them. He demonstrated the good news in the physical lives of the people He met. He wept when people wept. He walked in the trenches with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.
Jesus invites us, no He commands us, all of us, to follow Him. We are to take up our own crosses and follow Jesus. This means that we are to lay aside our own business and to be about the business of the Father, preaching the good news and demonstrating the good news in the way we live our lives.
Politics and many other things distract us from the the business of God. We think of “social justice”, and the very thought of it turns off a segment of the church. We think of preaching the gospel, and the very thought of it turns off another segment of the church. We should not allow politics and other distractions to influence how we go about the business of God.
We should preach the gospel and do justice. The two things go hand-in-hand. They were never meant to be separated. We demonstrate and communicate the truth of the Gospel through justice.