One thing God asks...

"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?" (Micah 6:8 NASB).

Anyone who even casually reads through the Bible can't miss an emphasis on social justice. God has a special place in his heart for the helpless and the marginal members of society. He wants a world of love, compassion and care.

One would think this would be easy to understand, and not so hard to carry out in life. But history doesn't support that conclusion.


Reading the Prophets, it is striking that ancient Israel was repeatedly criticized, often in scathing terms, for injustice to the helpless. The major charge against them was their unfaithfulness to God, chasing after pagan gods. But as well, there are frequent charges of taking advantage of the poor, not caring for widows and orphans, and other social matters.

I think these two charges are related, and I will elaborate below. But what about today? What is our responsibility?

Our world is easily as unjust as any before it. And God's heart has not changed. Justice is still a priority, and that's the reason the church through history has engaged in building hospitals, school, orphanages, universities, and more, expending astonishing resources to help those who were unable to help themselves. But our world is still wracked with suicide bombers, AIDS orphans, sexual slaves and unspeakably barbaric conduct, especially toward women and children. The church has made a difference, but not a big one.

For many Christians in many churches, the matter of social justice has been neglected. This is especially true in American, twentieth-century evangelicalism, which reacted to the "social gospel" of the liberal churches by avoiding social matters entirely. I am happy to say there has been some change in this pattern in recent decades.

But as Israel made a mistake that led away from justice, so we make a similar mistake that is equally serious.

Israel moved away from the truth of God, which alone made the practice of justice possible.

We act in a similar fashion, moving away from God's statement of the central purpose of the Church - according to the words of Jesus - and so become at best a social service agency. More often, we become just another uncaring people, living self-centered lives.

Why did Israel fail? Because the natural inclination of the fallen human nature is toward self satisfaction, not seeking the welfare of others. And they had no option of a new nature.

I belong to a church with a large population of refugees and a few immigrants. It's a fascinating, colorful and challenging environment. And as might be expected, there is a strong emphasis on social justice. All this is good.

But there's something wrong.

It is inescapable that justice is a high priority for God. But that is not the same as saying that justice should be the driving mission of the church. In fact, the New Testament never says anything like that. A church that makes social justice its driving focus becomes a social service agency. God calls us to much more.

There is a good reason Israel failed. Fallen, unregenerate societies always fail.

Justice is not possible among a people with a fallen nature. We need to be born again. But that's not enough. We need, too, to be taught to think God's thoughts, and to emulate Jesus, our Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The last command Jesus left the formative church was "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19). The verse also says go, but it's not an imperative. And it says baptize, and that's not an imperative, either. The imperative, the command from Jesus, it to make disciples.

That's very often overlooked by churches, who make their stated purpose - or their de facto purpose - something else. Making disciples is difficult. Other things are relatively easy.

But unless we effectively disciple people, helping them grow in the likeness of Jesus, an emphasis on justice is fruitless. It will no more happen in America than in ancient Israel.

So what's the path to justice in a nation? It's a committed community of followers of Jesus, praying passionately for God to empower, guide and use them. It's a community whose leadership understands that the prime imperative is making disciples, and pours effort and resources into that.

How does the world get changed? Disciples - maturing followers of Jesus - see the world through his eyes, and act on behalf of Jesus in bringing justice and mercy to their world. They bring a little of heaven to earth. Anything less is not the gospel.

2 Comments

I totally agree with what I read so far. God wants us to follow his laws.

Thanks for your comment, Rita. Question: Just what do you understand by the phrase "follow his laws"? What are his laws and how do they apply to us today? (Okay, that's three questions, not one.)

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  • Larry Baden said:
      Thanks for your comment, Rita. Question: Just what do you understand b...
  • Rita C Vella said:
      I totally agree with what I read so far. God wants us to follow his la...

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