At the beginning of this series, it is important for me to ground the conviction and acts of justice in the roots of the Bible. God cares about justice. Jesus stood for justice. The Holy Spirit convicts our hearts concerning oppression and injustice and enables us to respond with righteous action.
Before discussing justice topics, we need to develop a theological foundation for pursuing justice. While the terminology of “theological foundation” may scare some of you off, there is no need to fear. I am simply saying that we need to consider our faith convictions and what we know about God as we engage our heads and hearts concerning what we think we know about justice. I often say that, “Right thinking produces right action.” Therefore, what we know about God and justice is fundamentally important to the justice conversation. The truth is that God is just.
With this introduction, I’m honored to present Dr. Paul Louis Metzger as a new voice to the blog as he answers the question:
What’s the Big Deal about Justice?
I recall a fellow Christian saying there is too much talk about justice in Christian circles today. This person viewed justice as an appendix to Scripture and the gospel at best, not central to it. To him, people are making too big of a deal about justice. In contrast, the Bible is all about justice, not to the exclusion of other themes and characteristics, but in harmonious relation to them (See for example my article in Leadership Journal titled “What Is Biblical Justice?”). One cannot separate justice from love, mercy, and holiness; they are all related. The theme of justice runs throughout Scripture: God is just and loves justice (See Psalm 146:5-9; Isaiah 58; Amos 5:21-24; 2 Thessalonians 1:6), justifies the ungodly (Romans 5:1-11), and leads justified sinners to live out righteousness and justice (See James 1:26-27). While we do not merit God’s salvation through acts of justice, God’s salvation at work in our lives through the Spirit of Jesus transforms us so that we will act in just ways. I frequently write that together, justice and reconciliation are pillars of the gospel’s messages, and both are big deals to God:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14). They are not separate from one another. They involve one another. In God, they are one. While paying back debts does not bring about payment for the penalty of our sins before God, and while we cannot earn our salvation, those who have been reconciled with God based on repentance of sins committed against God and bound up with faith in God and Christ’s finished work will be freed to make things right with those they have offended. Making right with others follows from being made right with God. While Paul speaks often (though not exclusively) of God’s righteousness in a declarative or legal sense bound up with our faith (see for example Romans 4), the Synoptic Gospels speak often (though not exclusively) of social righteousness as required of God’s people who believe. God’s free grace frees us to open our hands and make economic amends with those of whatever ethnicity whom we have wronged. How free are we?
This last question is worth considering at length: How free are we? To the extent that God’s just mercy and grace have captured our hearts in love and made us righteous, to that extent we are free to make right and act in righteous and just ways toward others.
The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther speaks of the kind of freedom to which Christians are called. In “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther claims that we are not free based on meritorious acts of love, but based on God’s loving merit which becomes ours through faith in Christ. By faith, we ascend to Christ. In love, we descend to our neighbor. The Christian does not live “in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.” [Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 623.]
The love in question is the result of the Spirit’s indwelling presence (Romans 5:5). Union with Christ occurs through faith in God’s act of love toward us. Such love is poured out into our hearts through the Spirit, leading to a loving and free response of faith toward God and faithful concern for others. Luther writes,
Therefore, if we recognize the great and precious things which are given us, as Paul says [Rom. 5:5], our hearts will be filled by the Holy Spirit with the love which makes us free, joyful, almighty workers and conquerors over all tribulations, servants of our neighbors, and yet lords of all…. [Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, p. 619.]
Apart from God’s love being poured out in our hearts and creating faith, our actions are unjust (See 1 Corinthians 13:3 on the subject of the need for the quickening presence of love for actions to be just before God; such love is the ultimate gift of the Spirit—see 1 Corinthians 12:31b and Romans 5:5). So, too, faith that does not lead to loving actions is dead, as James tells us (James 2:14-26). Faith in Christ who justifies us and acts of just love that flow from that faith are big deals. By faith in Christ through the Spirit, such love comes home to us and leads us to act justly. How just and full of God’s life are we today?
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary at Multnomah University in Portland, OR. He the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins. He is also the author of Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Thomas Nelson, 2012); and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007), among other works. Learn more about Dr. Metzger’s work at paullouismetzger.com.