What Does the Bible Say About Justice?
What is Justice? Are there different types of justice?
Why do we believe that we all deserve justice?
Is God just? Was Jesus just? Are we just? What is the difference between God’s justice and ours?
Why is it important for Christians to seek justice?
A God Concerned with Justice
Unlike the gods of other ancient Near Eastern cultures of the time, the God of the Old Testament exhibits deep concern for human beings and the issues they face. This God is a personal being, interested in justice, and often referred to as “just” and “righteous” in the Old Testament.
He is a God who rules from a place of perfect justice: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14).
Major portions of the Old Testament illustrate how God’s people break their promised relationship with Him, undergo punishment, repent for their sins, and receive forgiveness and restoration from God—at both the individual and communal level.
Two Kinds of Justice
1. The pursuit of justice may require righteous punishment or consequences for human sin and brokenness to remind followers of Christ of our responsibilities to love and serve God above all else. Some religious identities use the idea of karma here.
Galatians 6:7-8 - “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
2. The pursuit of justice requires the actions of those who follow Christ to ensure that justice is served to the marginalized in our community, ensuring that they receive equitable treatment in the community.
Jesus displayed this in who he spent his time with.
Mark 2:13-17: “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
When actions cause harm to others, punishment must be exacted from the wrongdoer.
Voices of God’s Prophets on Injustice
The message of Isaiah to Jerusalem primarily addresses social injustice, decrying the maltreatment of the poor, widowed, and orphaned.
The following verses are various prophets calling out to God’s people to be more just!
What can we bring to the Lord?
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins?
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Jesus on Justice
Read Matthew 25:35-40
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The New Testament makes clear that justice has something to do with an attitude and inner transformation that moves beyond an individual or community’s action or inaction.
The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this emphasis on heart attitude.
There, Jesus revisits the Law and asks His listeners to do not just what it requires of them, but more.
Not only must one not commit adultery, one should not even entertain the idea in thought by lusting in one’s heart (Matt 5:27–30).
Jesus’ Forgiveness – A Grace We Do Not Deserve
The reality is that as sinners, who are broken, we do not really deserve the grace of Jesus.
But God displays his graceful judgement in this: while we were still sinners, stuck in our sin, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Justice would deem that we must receive judgement for our sin, but instead of judgment we are offered forgiveness.
This is the good news of the Gospel that we must be reminded of as we consider the justice of God.
The Law and the Court
As people, we deserve the judgment of Christ to be guilty of our sins, right? I mean we’ve committed them, we continue to commit them – justice would be accepting that judgment.
But instead, Christ Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection declares us not guilty and bears the weight of our sin and shame once and for all.
Now what does this mean for judgment or justice that we receive for our sins?
Consequences for our actions here on Earth – is this justice or judgment?
Prayer - Student to lead