As we sit here on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we acknowledge the work of a man who did much in the way of bringing about justice for all in this country – regardless of the color of a man’s skin. The work of Dr. King, and so many others, has brought about a movement of change that has swept across our nation and our globe. His “dream” is more prevalent in this country than we have ever known before.
Yet, even as the dream is lived out comes the acknowledgement that we have so much farther to go. The faces and stories of image bearers like Ahmaud Arberry, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor put nationally known faces and stories to injustice that still exists in our world today. Justice for all people is still in flux when people of color do not know if today’s trip out of the house will be their last simply because of their shade of skin. The work of Dr. King cannot stop in the wake of his assassination. The pursuit of justice for must press forward because the injustices of his day still hold power in the lives of people of color today.
Standing in the face of injustice can be such a menacing undertaking for one to embrace. Some of us even today wonder why or how we can walk such an intimidating path. Make no mistake, the path towards justice for all is forged by those who have surrendered their lives to the God of Justice. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, how does the church push forward towards justice when many of us do not know the first step to take?
Justice matters to people of color. Justice matters to the people of God. But how do we make meaningful headway in our lives right now? It must start with me. It must start today. Let’s look at a few questions that will help us chart a path to be people of justice in our life right now.
What is the biblical picture of justice?
The term “social justice” has become quite a loaded term in our day. My considerations here is not to rebrand the term or to sign a new light on it. Men like Tim Keller have offered an exhaustive treatment of what social justice is in light of the gospel. I would encourage to read the almost 20,000 words that Keller has penned on social justice for an in depth understanding of the term in a gospel light.
For us today, I want us to look at what the word justice means for us in the bibilical context. In both the Greek and Hebrew the term justice simply means “to make right.” This applies to being in right relationship to both God as well as to our fellow man. By way of Scriptural example, we see justice displayed in the person and work of Christ crucified. He lived a bodily life and died “to make right” the broken relationship between sinful man and a holy God. By His body and blood, a sin-sick man is made right in the acceptance of the sacrifice and Lordship of Christ.
Christ pursued justice in the midst of broken by way of His death but also by way of His life. He loved the marginalized. He made known the kingdom of God to those who were far from it. The kingdom of God came without distinction. As Jesus proclaims in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” The King sought justice for the blind, the beggar, the slave and the solider. Christ lovingly sought to make things right for image bearers who were seen as broken and less than. The life and the death of Christ reveals a path forward for the church of God to seek justice.
Why does justice matter to the people of God?
Quite simply: the church seeks justice because we serve the God of justice.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”
~ Isaiah 30:18
“For I, the Lord, love justice,
I hate robbery in the burnt offering;
And I will faithfully give them their recompense
And make an everlasting covenant with them.”
~ Isaiah 61:8
Christians do not have a full understanding of justice because we are smarter or more moral than the rest of the world. We do not have a better internal compass or have a deeper pool of wisdom to draw from. We understand both the concept of justice and the call to justice because we have wholeheartedly given our lives to follow the God of justice. The God that defines justice, loves justice and calls His followers to justice – to make things right.
Justice belongs to God so as believers pursue God we also pursue justice.
How does the church pursue justice?
The people of God seek justice for all people so that the world may taste and see the just kingdom of the soon and coming King. We pursue justice on behalf of a king who despises the many faces of injustice whether it be seen in racism, slavery, segregation, economic injustice or the abuse of basic human rights. The range of injustice is broad but the work of those who seek justice begins with a few simple steps:
a) See every person as an image bearer – As we look to the God of justice, we acknowledge that every man, woman and child is formed in His just image [Gen 1:27]. In being created in such a way, every person in made with the right to be treated justly. Certain people groups may not share external traits like external appearance, ability/disability or country of origin but they are an image bearer of God nonetheless. Our perspective of justice alters when we see all people as being equal imaged and endowed with equal opportunity without being sorted on the basis of manmade distinctions. Justice reigns (Lev 19:15) when people are judge in view of who they truly are without partiality or discrimination.
b) Be watchful and be a voice – There is a clear biblical call for the church to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves or are being altogether silenced. Proverbs 31:8-9 starkly says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Whether the be the poor, the abused or the maligned – the church stands with them. We do not have to be pushed around by every cultural issues that comes and goes but we must be watchful to attend to those who are maligned or abused. We scan our surroundings with open eyes to see what is happening around us so that we can give a unified voice against those who seek to subvert the God of justice.
c) Fight for flourishing – Proponents of justice must be proponents of human flourishing. There are people all around us who cannot attend the college of their choice or get the job of their choice because of the country they were born in. People are treated differently in the criminal justice system because of how dark their skin tone is. We want to see people live a life that is free of injustices and encumbrances. That’s why James reminds us that “pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their time of affliction.” (James 1:27) Christlikeness is seen in the church when we care for those who have life stacked against them by pursuing both the right and the opportunity for justice to have its day.
Dr. King had a dream. – a dream that will one day be made real by way of the return of Christ. Until then, we fight for that dream to have real life application right now. We have a King of Kings who has paved the way for His followers to know and live a life aimed at justice. A life that is aimed at the heart of God. For it to be more than a dream it starts with me. It starts today.