Modern-day conservatives and liberals alike agree that justice was an important part of the earthly ministry of Jesus. From the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) to the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37), Jesus was not afraid for his teachings to have clear implications for social justice. Such was even one of the major things that identified him as the long-awaited Messiah (Isaiah 61:1–2; Luke 4:18–19).
Now, Jesus plainly did not preach a “social gospel.” Speaking to social issues was not the primary focus of his ministry, but many of us today need to be reminded that it was an aspect of his ministry. We speak well to the social issues that affect those in other nations of the world — and rightfully lament the staggering numbers of image-bearers murdered, impoverished, and trafficked in developed and developing nations. But far too often, local injustices — the ones down the street and around the corner, the ones that feel too close to home — are met with silence or apathy.
Yet social justice — whether local or abroad — isn’t just something that Jesus or the Bible mentions in passing. After saving his oppressed people from Egypt, God identifies himself to them as a God whose ways are just (Deuteronomy 32:4), a God who executes justice for the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18). His redeemed people are commissioned to image their God who cares about the needs of the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast.
The Old Testament prophets display this same concern. Isaiah and Amos passionately speak against social injustices within the community of God’s own people. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself with his followers who are the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, and the naked — and says that to neglect such people is to neglect him (Matthew 25:31–46).
The Whisper of Perfect Justice
What does it look like, then, for the church today to speak to issues of social injustice in our backyards, in our communities, and in our own cities? How do we address justice issues such as abortion and human trafficking, along with discriminatory lending practices, redlining in housing, gerrymandering in education, predatory lending, and discriminatory pay? What does it look like for God’s people, embedded in today’s society, to address systemic racism, sexism, and classism?
Again, as biblically faithful Christians, we do so with distinctions from the social gospel. Our end goal is not the redistribution of wealth, nor is our ultimate hope placed in the ability of our government to change its legislation. Rather, we speak and act against injustice, not in an attempt to create a utopian society, but in a Spirit-empowered effort to point to the true utopian society to come.
This was the aim of our Savior during his ministry on earth. The point of his healing ministry wasn’t to free the world from sickness in this world. The goal of Jesus’s healing ministry was to point to something else: the kingdom of God. Jesus heals the sick to point to a day when sickness will be no more, a day when a new heaven and a new earth will replace this current order, and we will experience “no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NIV).
More than this, Jesus’s ministry of healing pointed supremely to himself as God, who is the Author of Life, the all-powerful ruler over all things including sin and sickness.
Even More Than Justice
What is our goal in fighting for justice? The same as Jesus’s when he healed the sick: to glorify God, bring joy to the hurting, and point to the glorious kingdom where sickness and suffering will be no more. Imperfect justice now whispers of the coming kingdom where perfect justice, eternal righteousness, and no marginalization or oppression will exist. We anticipate a day when discrimination will cease, racism will be destroyed, trafficking will stop, the innocent unborn will not be murdered, and individual and systemic abuse will be overcome. As Christ’s body, our mouths and our hands express this truth, and this forthcoming final reality fuels our zeal to fight for change now.
And as Christians, we are fueled by even more than justice.
While we aim to magnify our just God and his just judgment, we also aim to show that this God is more than just. In speaking and responding to social injustice, we point to our God who has displayed his perfect justice and his goodness on our behalf, giving guilty sinners the opposite verdict than what we deserved for our crimes, while at the same time remaining perfectly righteous. While we were alienated from God, under the burdensome oppression of sin, deserving God’s wrath and eternal separation from him, God acted justly and mercifully, placing the punishment for our sin on his perfectly righteous Son. Because of Jesus’s death at the hands of wicked people — who murdered him unjustly — God justly crushed him in our place, graciously giving us full acceptance, eternal joy, and true life.
We pursue justice for victims of injustice — and even more. We extend compassion because even greater justice has been achieved for us through Jesus. How can we settle for anything less than justice for our fellow man, when God himself has shown us mercy?