As I write this article, the United States is experiencing unprecedented political and social unrest. It was triggered by the unjust death of George Floyd, a Black American man, at the hand of a Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin. Protesters and rioters across the nation are demanding justice, not only for George Floyd, but for the countless number of Black men and women who were also wrongfully killed by police officers over the years.
While the world cries out for justice, many Christians sit comfortably, condemning their efforts as “unbiblical.” Yet, the Bible speaks about justice hundreds of times. I’m not sure where the misinformation came from, but I would like to clear up some things about Biblical Justice and the Gospel. By the end of this article, you will understand God’s heart for justice and righteousness, how this relates to the Gospel, and how to pursue justice in light of grace.
What is biblical justice?
Mishpat is the Hebrew word for justice, and it refers to equitable or fair treatment. (The Gospel Coalition) We were created to live in unity with one another, treating each other well. In fact, Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31)
This brings me to another Hebrew word, Tsedaqah, which means righteousness. It refers to right relationships with God and with other people. In other words, true righteousness means to live out the two greatest commandments, love God and love others. However, mankind is sinful and fallen, and instead of pursuing righteousness, we seek out what seems best for ourselves at the expense of others.
Moving away from God’s original design, the world turned into a very unjust place after the fall. We see this early on in Genesis with the story of Cain and Abel.
Cain and Abel
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.Genesis 4:8 ESV
Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord but Cain brought an offering from the “fruit of the ground,” while Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:3-4)
God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Cain became angry with his brother and killed him. Clearly, Cain let his anger get the best of him and failed to honor God and love his brother.
Abel’s blood cried out from the ground
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”Genesis 4:10 ESV
If this doesn’t show us God’s heart for the oppressed, I don’t know what does. God heard the voice of Abel’s blood crying out from the ground. His heart was moved concerning the injustice done to Abel.
Since, God was (and is) just, he punished Cain accordingly.
And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.Genesis 4:11-12 ESV
Yet, God is also loving and merciful. He loved Cain as much as he loved Abel, and though he punished Cain, he also promised to keep him safe.
Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who found him should attack him.Genesis 4:15 ESV
God desires that his people live in unity with him and with each other. However, we often break his laws. If God is just, then there is punishment for those who decide to break these laws. Yet, we see God’s mercy so clearly in the story of Cain and Abel. God put a mark on Cain so that no one could harm him.
Why should Christians seek Biblical Justice?
As Christians, we are called to seek out Biblical Justice. We start off by pursuing righteousness through loving God and others. We do to others what we desire to be done to us. But, we don’t just seek Biblical Justice on a personal level, we also seek it on a systematic level.
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.Isaiah 1:17 ESV
In loving God and others, we look out for those who are oppressed and we do what we can to restore them as Christ has restored us.
Let’s talk briefly about Mishpat again. When Mishpat is used in scripture it more oftenly speaks about “restorative justice,” as opposed to “retributive justice.” When God tells us to seek justice, he’s telling us to restore those who have been oppressed.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”John 8:10-11 ESV
While the Pharisees sought “justice” on behalf of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus turned things around and gave her justice against them. Now, technically the Pharisees were right in seeking justice against this woman. She sinned against God, and according to the law, she deserved to be punished. But, instead of seeing the huge plank in their own eyes, they sought to remove a speck in hers.
Clearly, as Jesus said, these Pharisees were “whitewashed tombs,” that looked beautiful on the outside but on the inside they were filled with “dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)
I mean, seriously? How can you attempt to stone a woman for adultery when you’re filled with death and decay yourself?
Famously, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7b) No one could condemn her because all were legally deserving of condemnation themselves.
Though this woman sinned, she was still a daughter of God, and God wanted to restore her. Likewise, we seek Biblical Justice on behalf of those who are oppressed simply because that is what God would do. In fact, as his ambassadors on earth, this is one of the things we are called to do.
How does Biblical Justice relate to the Gospel?
The Gospel is the culmination of Biblical Justice. It is the story of how God restored fallen mankind to right standing with him, and will also restore the entire earth when Jesus comes again.
In his book, The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler refers to it as the “Gospel in the air.” He breaks it up into four parts – creation, fall, reconciliation, and consummation. Let’s focus on reconciliation. This is where missional Christianity comes in. Evangelism, discipleship, justice, and social aid are all parts of missional Christianity. (Chandler)
Christianity is not just about us and our local churches, it’s also about God reconciling his people back to himself.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us to the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV
How do we take part in the ministry of reconciliation?
We take part in the ministry of reconciliation by going outside and getting to work. We meet people where they are and care for their needs.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?James 2:16 ESV
God is not only concerned with people’s spiritual needs, he also cares about their physical needs. If I have the power to help someone else, and I refuse to, I am in the wrong.
Sadly, I confess that I have been guilty of this. The last year or so, God has been opening my eyes about being more aware of the struggles of others. It can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t know where to start. But, simply start with what you have in your hands. Buy someone food to eat, donate your money, share your time. Go out and help people. While you help them, don’t forget to share the Gospel with them.
This is how we can take part in the ministry of reconciliation. We help people, but we don’t stop there. We also share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.
How do we pursue justice in light of Grace?
Finally, I want to tackle the question of pursuing justice in light of grace. While Mishpat is mostly about restorative justice, it is also about retributive justice. Retributive justice means punishment for the wrongdoer.
Do we seek retributive justice? If so, how? How does retributive justice impact restorative justice?
First, let’s make a distinction. Individually, we do not take retributive justice into our own hands. God and governing authorities enact retributive justice. However, we can plead with God and with our government to bring retribution against an offender.
Also, note that there is a difference between revenge and retribution. Revenge is a desire to make a wrongdoer suffer. Retribution seeks justice.
We know that there is always a penalty for sin. (Romans 6:23) However, in our case, Jesus took that penalty upon himself and gave us the gift of everlasting life. When we accept that gift, we are clothed in his righteousness and are declared justified. Those who do not accept the free gift of eternal life will be judged according to the punishment that they deserve when Jesus returns.
There is a difference between someone sinning against us personally and someone committing a crime.
If someone commits a non-criminal offense against us, this is the protocol:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and as a tax collector.Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
However, if someone commits a criminal offense against us or others, this is what scripture says:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… but if you do wrong, be afraid for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Romans 13:1-2,4b ESV
In the case of George Floyd, many Christians are saying that we should not pursue justice because of grace and the cross. However, that is incorrect. If someone has committed a criminal offense, it is our duty to pursue justice.
Unfortunately, justice is not properly sought out for many Black men and women. The governing authorities who are supposed to use their power to protect us, are using their power to harm us. That is unacceptable. As Christians, we cannot watch this kind of injustice and turn a blind eye.
So, we demand that justice be served on behalf of the Black community. Black people are being oppressed by our legal system, and it’s time we make things right.
What actions should we be taking to bring justice to the oppressed?
First, we recognize that Jesus did so much for us when he restored us in our own brokenness. I can imagine that the woman caught in adultery went and lovingly restored other sisters facing similar judgment by the Pharisees. She learned to have compassion on others because Jesus had compassion on her.
Remember that you did not earn your righteousness. Jesus gave it to you. Think about who you were before you met him or who you could have been.
Next, show your brothers and sisters the same love that Jesus showed you. We are all equal in Christ. No one deserves his grace yet he freely gives it to all of us. Show love whether you think they deserve it or not.
Then, speak out. If you see injustice, you cannot sit comfortably and do nothing. The Holy Spirit in you moves you to action. Condemn the evil against your brother and sister as wrong.
Finally, do something. Sign petitions, send emails, donate your money. If you feel comfortable, join a peaceful protest. Demand justice even if no one else is doing so. Here are a few things you can do today:
- Petition for justice for George Floyd
- Send a letter to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz requesting justice
- Petition for justice for Breonna Taylor
- Donate to the I Run With Maud Fund
- Donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund
- Support the Minnesota Freedom Fund
I found these links via Usa Today. You can click here for a list of 100 things you can do to fight racism.
Truthfully, we blatantly ignore the two greatest commandments when we let our neighbor suffer without doing something. Yes, there will always be suffering in this fallen world but if you have the power to do something about it, then do it. This is not optional. Biblical Justice and the Gospel go hand in hand. God cares for all of his people and if he cares for them, so should you.