Why did Jesus wake us up? For what purpose? I’ve written elsewhere why we were chosen by God, but here I want to focus on one particular purpose: bringing justice to an unjust world.
Justice vs Righteousness
The word “justice” may bring up images of retribution, vengeance, prison, even death. But did you know that the words “justice” and “righteousness” in the New Testament translate the same word? The word is dikaiosune, and it means what we accidentally in English have split into two separate words. What probably began as English translators using synonyms (one Latinate, the other Germanic in origin) in order to break up monotony has lead to the unfortunate results that justice is considered retribution and that righteousness is personal character and beliefs. The division is artificial and frankly unhelpful: it keeps our eyes closed to injustice. And the closed eyes lull us back to sleep
But it’s time to wake up, for if I as part of the Church am going to light the way for Society (aka the World), I have to open my eyes to see what’s out there. And there is a hurting world out there, full of injustices and evil. Notice if I had said “full of unrighteousness” it would have brought up images of sexual immorality, dirty language, and maybe gambling and drug use. But evil is so much more than just that. One of the greatest injustices of our time, I believe, is the Christian focus on “righteousness” over (true) justice. So for the sake of this post, let’s combine justice and righteousness into one, and simply call it justice.
Now only God is truly just, but we Christians have been justified by God. Literally, justified means “made just,” yet we are mere humans, still flawed despite the deposit of the Holy Spirit within us. In biblical terms, “justified” actually is a legal term, meaning we were declared just in his Heavenly Court. That is, we were acquitted of wrongdoing so no longer deserve the punishments of sin. Christ took on the penalty himself: the death penalty.
Now my question is, if we have been declared just, shouldn’t we also act justly? Is it enough to simply carry a title and not become it?
What Justice Looks Like
Look online, on TV, or just out your window. You’ll see the results of injustice in our world: hatred, quarrels, war, suffering, fear, oppression. And that’s just societally. You can also see the damage we’ve done to God’s Earth as well, from deforestation, desertification, extinctions, and even (albeit disputable to what extent) climate change. Mankind wasn’t meant to be this way.
Meant by whom? By God. God intended humanity to be bearers of his image on Earth, that is, be his representatives. We were meant to be just rulers like He is, caretakers of both Creation and each other. But since the expulsion of mankind from Eden, we’ve been anything but. Even when Israel got the Law and threatened by punishment, humanity failed miserably at justice.
We need to relearn what justice really is. It’s not just retribution (especially since the penalty for sin is gone in Christ Jesus). And it’s not just about having right beliefs or surface behaviors. To understand Justice, we should turn back to the Word of God. For example, Exodus contains many examples of what justice looks like, straight from the mouth of God. In Exodus 22:21-25 (NLT):
- You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
- You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.
- If you lend money to any of my people who are in need, do not charge interest as a money lender would.
Just these three commands turn America upside down. Sure, we are not under the Law of Moses or its penalties anymore. But the Law’s moral lessons are timeless because the morals are derived from God’s eternal and unchanging character, of which one trait is Justice.
Now imagine Christians following just those three moral laws. We would become aliens within our own country. But a traditional Christian will find objections easily, such as “Say an immigrant widow signed a credit card contract, and then couldn’t pay? So what? Pay what you owe!” But the fact is the contract was unjust to begin with because it 1) charged interest to someone in need and 2) exploited a widow.
Now my debater may cite this verse in rebuttal:
“You may charge interest to foreigners, but you may not charge interest to Israelites, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you do in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 23:20 NLT)
Our modern analogy to the Israelites are fellow Christians, since the Church is what old Israel became (Romans 11; a subject for another post). So how would you know then you aren’t charging interest to a Christian widow? Foreigners to the Church would logically be those of other religions, not those of other nations, since the Church is global.
“But then how will credit card companies make money?” The frustrated debater leaves saddened, for he had much wealth and possessions thanks to stock in the companies. The true reason for objection is therefore revealed.
See how entwined we Christians are in the World’s ways? Despite claiming we are in the World yet not part of it, we in practice are very much wrapped in its web. But realizing this entrapment is part of our awakening. You’re starting to open your eyes now. But this is only the beginning of Justice: Time to throw off the covers.
Time to light the Way in the Darkness.