God created us with an innate desire for justice. And it’s no wonder, because justice is one of the defining characteristics of God: “He is…a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Jeremiah 50:7 tells us that God is the very “habitation of justice.”
As image-bearers of God and the people of Christ, we must also value justice. We must, as Micah 6:8 instructs, “do justly.” And we must, as Proverbs 31:9 instructs, speak up for the oppressed.
But what I have just described isn’t what is generally meant by the term social justice for which many are advocating today. Although some aspects of the social justice movement have attached themselves to injustices of the past, other aspects of the movement are using the perception of injustice to further worldly agendas.
Christians across America must be discerning as they decide how they will interact with the social justice movement and its various causes. Tragically, some churches have already caved to a “social justice gospel” that has nothing to do with God or His word. They have forsaken the transformative message of the Bible and are simply conforming to the message the world already has.
As Bible-believers, we are not called to conform to the culture, but to change it. The Bible gives us a pattern for how to respond to injustice, so we shouldn’t turn to the world’s answers. Instead, we should strive to exemplify the biblical model of justice. Any justice we seek to see in our world must come from God and be patterned after His character and nature.
The Biblical Concept of Justice
Because God is just, His laws—both in the Old Testament laws He gave to Israel and in the New Testament commands to Christians—are just. Thus, biblical justice can be defined as “the faithful application of the law of God.”
In the Bible, we see two aspects of justice. The first is communicative justice, by which individuals maintain a right relationship with God and others by giving people their due respect as image-bearers of God. In other words, this relates to our relationship with God (being justified through Christ) and our dealings with others (treating others respectfully and fairly). Communicative justice primarily concerns individuals.
The second aspect is distributive justice, which involves impartially rendering judgment for wrongdoing—such as is done in a courtroom. This aspect of justice is reserved for God and the authorities He puts in place to meet out judgment. In a home, it is the parents; in a workplace, it is the boss or the board; and in a society, it is the various levels of government.
On a personal level, we as Christians are called to demonstrate justice by loving those around us. God provides an example of godly justice in Ezekiel 18:5–9: “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…and hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment…hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just…saith the LORD God.”
Scriptural justice isn’t about burning the flag or screaming at an offender; it’s about helping people who are in need. Our justice must not be defined by the winds of the culture but by the commands of God.
Over the years, culture has gotten it wrong. And, to be sure, Christians who have followed culture have gotten it wrong as well. (Think of slavery and racism in America as an example of both.) But Christians who have followed God’s Word have historically been the ones to lead the charge against the injustices of culture. (Once again, consider slavery and that the leaders of the abolition movement were largely Christians.)
Today, however, we see a new definition of justice in the social justice movement. The new justice does not represent biblical justice.
The World’s Justice
The modern idea of social justice has twisted what real justice is supposed to be. Traditional justice is based on giving every individual a fair trial or an unbiased ruling. Social justice, however, is based on creating a specific outcome for an entire group. Thus, rather than asking that every individual be treated fairly and be given equal opportunity, the social justice movement looks for groups that have been marginalized and predetermines that the entire group should receive a specific outcome, regardless of the effort of the members of the group.
Social justice sees minority groups as necessarily victimized. And if a person can be categorized in multiple minority groups, he or she is seen as more victimized. The popular term for this is intersectionality, and it allows those who fall into multiple victim categories to claim greater victimization and thus wield greater power through social justice. For instance, according to intersectionality, the viewpoint of a lesbian black woman is more valuable and important than that of a straight white man.
These ideas are taken to even more dangerous levels through Critical Race Theory, commonly referred to as CRT. Obviously, the Bible condemns any and all forms of racial discrimination. James 2:9 tells us, “If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” CRT, however, claims that systemic racism and an unconscious bias are so thoroughly built into the structure of Western society that to be white is to be racist. According to proponents of CRT, the only remedy is a wholesale dismantling and restructuring of political mechanisms, economic policies, moral standards, and other social norms. Those who point out that this is a thinly-veiled, self-serving theory intended to legalize Socialistic policies that would otherwise be rejected are simply labeled “racists.” After all, of course they think that way. Their unconscious bias demands it. It becomes a circular argument.
One of the real problems with social justice in general and CRT in particular is that it claims to have knowledge of other people’s intents and hearts. Those who fall within a victim category or minority group are always in the right, and anyone who does not fall into such a group is forced to apologize for their “privilege.” This apology is an empty gesture, however, because the victim is not required to offer forgiveness until they have received what they believe to be fair compensation.
In social justice, people are not judged on the merit of their actions, but on the identity of their group categories. (Incidentally, these ideas are the driving force behind identity politics.) No matter how good or bad an individual’s actions may be, their value and their need for “justice” is based upon what categories they may fall into.
As Christians, we must not be persuaded to participate in this kind of unbiblical justice. God’s justice is not based on the whims of culture. His justice is rooted in His very nature. We will more perfectly exhibit justice as we become more like Him.
How We Demonstrate Justice
So, how should Christians demonstrate justice? In Micah 6:8, we find this powerful challenge: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Within this verse, we see two qualities linked with justice that we as Christians must seek to exhibit in our interactions with others: mercy and humility.
The sacrifice of Christ for our sins is the greatest exhibition of mercy and justice this world has ever seen. We have received abundant mercy from God through our salvation, and we continue to receive His mercy every day. As God shows us mercy, we in turn must show mercy on others who are without Christ.
The most needful act of mercy is to share the Gospel message to a world lost in sin. If we spend our lives in compassionate acts of kindness that seek to right the wrongs of injustice, but we never share the Gospel—the very mercy and justice of Christ—we have failed in God’s command to “love mercy.”
So yes, look for ways to love those who are outcast, abused, neglected, and hurt. And minister to them with the Gospel itself. I think of a thriving bus ministry as a way to extend gospel-filled mercy to children who may have been mistreated, neglected, or even abused. Finding ways to be a blessing and share the Gospel with those who have been wronged is the biblical way to show justice through mercy.
The other characteristic God links with justice in Micah 6:8 is humility. If we try to exhibit justice without humility, we will find ourselves arrogantly bringing judgment upon others and having no impact for Christ. We have to maintain a humility before God, because it is only through His power that we are able to truly love our neighbors. We must also exhibit a humility before others.
Humility is what sets biblical justice apart from the social justice movement. Those involved in social justice are, by and large, characterized by a proud, vengeful spirit. In many cases, they prioritize their own agendas above the actual needs of victims. But when we as Christians find ways to humbly serve those in need, we are able to demonstrate God’s justice and mercy to a world who needs it.
Justice Will Come
Although our world is wrought with evil and injustice, we know that God is good and will bring perfect justice in the end.
God has provided a path to mercy through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus provides a way for God to justly save sinners and change their lives forever. Social justice, on the other hand, has no cross—no end in restoration. Vengeance and anger will never satisfy the world’s longing for true justice.
Ultimately, we look forward to perfect justice on this Earth when Jesus returns. As the perfect Judge, He will right the wrongs and institute a perfectly-just kingdom.
Until then, we must continue declaring the Gospel to those who desperately need God’s mercy. We must lovingly serve those who are victims of injustice and seek to show them the redemption and restoration they can find in Jesus Christ.