Last year, I wrote an article about how seeking justice and sharing the gospel are not at odds with one another. Given recent conversations and concerns about social justice, now seems like the right time for a more nuanced discussion of the topic.
I co-founded a Christian social justice organization which fights against human trafficking. And when individuals claim that Christians should not be involved in social justice issues, I notice a few identifiable misunderstandings. First, some misunderstand the use of the term “social justice” to mean a socialist political agenda. This is not what is meant by Christian social justice. Additionally, some think that “social justice” means the social crucifixion of white men, where all of history’s problems can be blamed on them for their colonizing oppression of blacks and women. This is not what is meant by Christian social justice, either. Lastly, some think that “social justice” means that we can just provide clean water or a hot meal and have no need to evangelize and share the Good News. This also is not what is meant by Christian social justice.
If Christians who are engaged in active social justice (like me) are not trying to push a socialist politic, or shame white men or drop evangelism, then what is this really all about?
The social justice movement is a reclaiming of the gospel-justice that has always been a part of the very nature of God and of his people. It is a gospel justice that we are after, and it is in the very acts of doing justice that we find opportunities for to preach the gospel to some of the most broken and vulnerable.
For a different perspective:
Neil Shenvi: Are Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Christianity Compatible?
The gospel is inherently social.
One reason that evangelical Christians can be involved in social justice is because the gospel is inherently social. By definition, the “social” in social justice means justice done communally, to others, or with a group. This social interaction is a primary characteristic of the Christian gospel. The gospel is for people, a diverse group of people, who need help and relationship. God came to us because we needed help and were unable to help ourselves. He saw our need, and he entered into it, by becoming a human and walking in our sin-stricken world.
When we do justice, we are interacting with real people who have real, complex needs because they are humans living in a sinful world—just like us. This is exactly what Jesus did for us. Jesus entered into the world, the time and the skin of a people that was completely unlike him so that he could love us well and share his good news of justice.
Justice can never be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is the supreme act of justice.
The gospel is the greatest demonstration of justice.
Justice can never be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is the supreme act of justice. The tension between sharing the gospel and seeking justice is really no tension at all—the connection between the gospel and justice are inextricably tied together, and in fact, cannot be separated without compromising the truth. The gospel is the greatest act of justice for all time because it is in the gospel we find Jesus justifying all things. Jesus lived justly, obedient to the Father to the point of death on a cross so that the sins of the world would be made right. Jesus bore the weight and judgment of sin in his body on the cross, so that believers may be justified.
This is the gospel, and this is ultimate justice. We cannot share the gospel without speaking of justice, and we cannot truly walk in justice without connecting our actions back to the gospel as our motivation.
The gospel drives our desire for justice because we have been justified. And since we have been justified we desire to see all things made right by the power of Christ. It is by this same power that we are enabled by the Spirit to walk in justice and to share the justice and hope of the gospel.
The gospel is not just an idea to agree with, but a New Life that must holistically affect every part of who we are.
God commands justice from Genesis to Revelation.
When we look closely, through the lens of gospel justice, we see that justice is a part of who God is in his very nature—he commands justice because he is just (Is. 61:8). In creation, we see that God intended a world where there was no injustice. No unrighteousness. No evil. But sin messed that up, and from that very moment God was explicit in his desire and plan to make it all right again (Gen. 3:15). He proclaimed this to Israel (Ex. 23:6, Lev. 19:5, Deut. 16:20), he commanded justice through the prophets (Is. 1:17, 10:2, Mic. 6:8), and he lived out justice in Jesus—and he promises that it will win in the end (Matt. 23:23, Luke 11:42, Heb. 1:8, Rev. 19:11).
Justice is who God is. Since we are a people who profess his gospel, it should be who we are as well. Justice is not a new concept or a new action, but it has often been a virtue of Christianity. Justice has been misunderstood since the time of the Israelites (Ex. 23:6) and also the Pharisees (Matt. 23:23). We will be tempted to misunderstand justice too since we live in a deceptive, fallen world, but it is no excuse to ignore the direct commands of Jesus. That is disobedience.
Instead, we must press into the darkness without fear, because we carry the Light of the World in us. We continue to push back against the destruction of sin on our land and on our bodies, because we have been made New Creatures by the One who is making all things new. We continue to invest and enter into people’s lives even when doing so is costly, because this is the life our Savior lived, and no servant is greater than his Master (John 13:16).
The gospel is not just an idea to agree with, but a New Life that must holistically affect every part of who we are. This all-expansive, touching-everything, making-all-things-new gospel is the Great, Glorious, Good News that we say we believe, but we must be living it as the truth that shapes our one life here.