God calls Christians to “do justice,” but what is true justice? Jon Noyes shares a biblical picture of justice and how Christians can pursue it in his latest Stand to Reason University course.
Justice has always been at the front of the cultural conversation, but when we say “justice,” what does it mean? What is true justice? In Stand to Reason University’s course Pursuing Biblical Justice, we’re going to look at a few things. First, we’re going to define what true justice is. Then, we’re going to take a critical look at what’s known as social justice. From there, we’re going to turn our focus on ourselves and talk about what blind spots might exist in our own understanding and practice of justice. Then, we’ll get practical and see how we can address those blind spots and begin to do justice. I have a modest goal here. I want to recover a full-bodied biblical concept of justice and encourage you to apply it to all areas of your life. Simply put, the answer to injustice is biblical justice.
Before we define justice, it’s important to understand why any of this matters. Why are we having this conversation at all? “Justice” is a word that’s often been muddied, distorted, and even disregarded. To be God’s agents of justice, we have to work through the mud. We have to work through the distortion and bring clarity to true justice.
Daniel Webster said, “Justice is the great interest of man on earth. It is a ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.” Justice, friends, is the glue that holds society together, but it’s more than glue.
When we act justly, we experience the true joy of Jesus while glimpsing the grace and mercy that was offered to us. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you’ll remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. These things I’ve spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy will be made full.” As Christians, it’s paramount to understand biblical justice because what we think about justice influences almost every area of our lives. The biblical concept of justice needs to be restored, and to restore justice, we need to understand a few critical concepts.
God’s call to justice is the first thing we need to look at. Justice is important to God. There are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible directly related to justice. How many can you quote? How many did you learn in Sunday school? There are twice as many references to justice than to prayer, and almost three times as many as love. There are three times as many references to justice than money, which are often justice issues, too.
Jeremiah says, “Let no wise man boast of his wisdom, nor let the mighty boast of his might, nor the rich boast of his riches, but let the one who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the lord who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things.” God calls everyone to justice. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” That’s Micah 6:8, the famous justice verse. God’s kingdom is defined by justice. “The Lord reigns, may the earth rejoice; may the many islands be joyful. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” God wants us to pursue justice in our own lives. “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the lands which the Lord your God is giving to you,” is what Deuteronomy tells us.
God calls us to justice, but what do we mean by “justice”? Justice is a term that we hear all the time. Is our common understanding of justice, though, the same thing that God means by justice? With this question in mind, let’s begin to sketch out a broad definition of what justice is.
First, justice is the single best word to capture God’s purpose for human conduct, individually and corporately, through our governments. Think about it. When we talk about justice, we’re talking about what ought to be.
Second, justice is a universal moral principle, an objective moral good, the standard of what’s just and unjust. It’s not a matter of personal opinion or personal preference. In this way, justice is a category of truth, with an important difference. Standard truth claims correspond to what is. Justice corresponds to what ought to be. Justice tells us what should be.
Now we’re getting closer to a picture of what true justice is. When we do justice, it means we render to each what each is due. Doing justice involves harmony, impartiality, and is based on the very image of God in each person. Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” James said, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in your Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” This is incredible. God told us from the very beginning what was the most important thing to him. “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” All human beings, in virtue of just being human, bear his image, from the greatest to the least.
The image of God is foundational to understanding how and why we do justice. It’s that image which creates the standard that lends to each person’s transcendent value, requiring us to treat all human beings with dignity and worth. Note Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he’s been made.”
What does it mean to have a robust biblical understanding of justice? What does it look like to give your life away and be a true social justice warrior? What issues in our world might God be wanting us to apply a biblical justice standard to? We’ll explore these things together in the full Pursuing True Justice course on Stand to Reason University.