Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor, Ph.D.) will present a series of blogs, dealing with various issues raised in the recent election that showed a deep divide, impacting both society at large and the church. The thoughts presented are processed through the lens of the Radical-Middle (both/and), personal narratives, and pastoral concerns. Your rational feedback is welcomed.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.
DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT FOR TODAY
The Gospel of Justice and Social Justice: Cousins, Not Identical Twins
2 Cor. 5:21 (ESV): For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
One can be tempted to think that justice is synonymous with “social justice,” that it is all about maintaining fair social and political relations. But in Christianity, the primary aspect of justice is about how the individual relates to God; the word “justification,” which is at the heart of salvation, is just another form of the Greek word for “justice.” Christian justice is mainly about how a person can be made right before God, which is through faith in divine grace and exemplified by good works.
Justice is inherently and ultimately centered on God, not human rights or identity politics, although these may indeed be helpful concepts in implementing justice. In fact, virtually all Bible verses on doing justice are somehow based on God’s vision for how we ought to live. This means that for the Christian wanting to work for a more just society, the main part of this project will be focused on how to create a world that is right before God’s eyes. This can create tricky issues: do we work to eliminate all sin or is it better for justice’s sake to not let all immorality be illegal? Although sorting through problems like these require much spiritual wisdom and discernment, one thing is for certain—our vision for social justice must be about how to create a world that God desires.
But justice is not only about public policy or laws—it is also about how we personally relate to God. Commands on doing justice are often paired with a call to righteousness, as the two are closely related, even perhaps identical concepts, sometimes translated interchangeably. This means that our personal moral lives are a matter of justice before God. The fight for justice inevitably involves our struggle for righteousness. One can be a noble crusader for economic rights for the marginalized or against human trafficking, but if he rebels against God in his personal life by committing adultery or telling falsehoods, he is not a complete man of justice—in public justice, he is perhaps a hero but in private justice, an abject failure, and God does not fail to look at both spheres when contemplating his justice.
We can “remove all mountains” and deliver up the “body to be burned” in all our social justice zealotry, but if we are unrighteous by failing to love God through our personal lives, then have we indeed gained “nothing”? (1 Corinthians 13:2-3). We may look upon the struggling single mother, the starving orphan, or the bullied transgender with sentimentality that pushes us to social justice fervor, but if we have no love for God in living righteously before him, how much do we really love justice? As James 1:27 says, let us fulfill the twin pillars of justice, that of protecting the weak and the oppressed but also of living righteously, all in the hope of building a better world that is right before God.
Prayer: Above all, Father, we thank You for the greatest gift of salvation. What a mind-boggling truth that a righteous God would justify us, miserable sinners, imputing His perfect righteousness on us through Christ. Help us to honor You by declaring the gospel of justice as well as social justice. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Judges 9
LUNCH BREAK STUDY
Read 1 Jn. 3:16-8 (ESV): By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Mt. 7:22-3: On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” 23 And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Lk. 10:17, 19-20: The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’. . . [Jesus said] “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Questions to Consider
- Unfortunately, Christians and their churches tend to privilege one justice over the other. Which justice is privileged by the people described in 1 Jn. 3:17-8?
- Basically, the people described in the Matthew passage had done impressive works to help people (casting out demons certainly does that), but they were never known by God? What does that mean?
- While we shouldn’t privilege one justice over the other, what is Jesus warning against in the Luke passage?
- These believers may have privileged the gospel of justice but not social justice, because they ignored the physical needs of the poor. John reminds them to love both in deed (social justice) and in truth (the gospel of justice).
- While something drove them (like humanitarian idealism) to engage in good works, no doubt including social actions, they personally never addressed their sin issue; in other words, they were never justified by God by way of believing Jesus as the perfect atonement for their sins.
- Jesus warns the Christian workers not to get too impressed by their own good works to help people. After having done social justice, we should always be mindful of what the gospel of justice has done for us: our name written in heaven. This will remind us to share the gospel of justice with those whose social needs are being addressed. After all, what good is it to be free from all earthly oppressions, only to end up in eternal hell.
This morning we talked about the amazing gospel of justice; and no one knew that better than John Newton, a reckless and godless commandeer of a slave ship who, after coming to know the Lord, wrote the all-time favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. I invite you to sing this hymn in honor of what God, in Christ, has done for us. Then, let us pray for friends and relatives who still haven’t experienced this grace.
“Amazing grace (how sweet the sound) that saved a wretch like! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see; 2. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed; 3. Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”