2020: The year the world stopped. In our global pause, issues of injustice have come to the forefront.
As the tide has gone out on our busyness, what remains on the shore is the heartache of natural disasters, domestic violence, mental health, racism, human trafficking, corruption in politics, environmental issues and even the pandemic itself. In some ways we are united in our pursuit for justice, in other ways we are divided in the methods of justice. Our young people especially may find it difficult to navigate the overwhelming sense of need in our world. There’s a physical and emotional investment required to process the collision of truth with personal world views. It can be tempting to shut down and simply become paralysed by the chaos of the world.
What do we do with all this? How do we handle it?
To begin, we must ask: What does the Bible say about justice? How did Jesus outwork justice? Let’s take a step back to look at the posture and spirit in which we best outwork justice as followers of Christ.
1. Biblical Justice Stands on the Right Foundation
Social justice begins with God. The true foundation of justice is based on God’s character. In Psalm 97:2 it says that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (NRSV).
Justice is part of the very nature of God. God is righteous, God is just –– it’s his essence. Deuteronomy 32:4b says: ‘He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!’ (NRSV). Justice also comes from the heart of God. Jeremiah 9:24 says: “’I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight,’ says the Lord” (NRSV).
Justice is about God’s order in the world. God has set an order to creation and the world we live in. That includes moral order—doing the right thing at the right time, based on God’s ways. It also includes valuing every person as made in the image of God, and respecting creation as belonging to God, not us (Gen. 1). Doing justice, then, is essentially aligning ourselves with God’s ways. So justice is God’s idea and God’s plan.
We see throughout the Old Testament God’s instructions for the people to live justly. One of the challenges we have today as we read these OT laws is how to outwork God’s justice and instructions in our own culture and time, especially in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. However, ingrained in the Old Testament law were requirements to care for the poor and vulnerable within their community, which were reinforced by Jesus (Lk 4:18-19). In fact, to oppress the poor is to show contempt for God (Prov 14:31). The prophets continually reinforced this message. One such well-known message comes from Micah 6:8, asking us what God wants us to do: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV). Fortunately, we have a model of what this looks like in Jesus Christ.
2. Biblical Justice Walks in the Footsteps of Jesus
Jesus modelled a lifestyle of sacrificial service for others. He taught the disciples not to concern themselves—like the unbelievers do—with who is first, who is ruling, or who is most honoured. Instead, they were to concern themselves with humble service for others (Matt. 20:25-28, 23:11). Just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated this posture by washing the feet of the disciples: a task normally assigned to servants or slaves (Jn 13:13-14). In fact, ‘the account of a superior voluntarily washing the feet of an inferior is without parallel in antiquity.’ How does this relate to justice? This is the posture of justice. Injustice occurs when both individuals and a society value self-interest only.
Jesus also taught his disciples to love God with all their hearts, and
to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mk. 12:30-31). Our world is obsessed with
self-focus and self-interest. Generally, we speak out when our own interests
are harmed. We fight if someone acts to harm us or our family. But what about our neighbours’ interests and
It reminds us that God is not only concerned for us, but for others as
well. God is
love, and love reaches out to others. God’s love does not dehumanise others or set
them up in categories that undermine their value. This is most keenly expressed
in the love of Christ who came to take away the sin of the world. Jesus did not
act out of self-interest. He acted out of love. We can love because Christ
first loved us and showed us the true meaning of love (1 Jn 4:7-21).
In fact, to love others is a command. This command is not about social revolution, but when we
apply its message it is revolutionary. For us as
Christians, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ by loving one
another (Jn 13:35). In this way, we witness to the world of Christ’s sacrificial
love. It requires us to unite as a community to demonstrate this revolutionary
3. Biblical Justice Builds Community
The idea of pursuing justice together is very evident in the Bible. In fact, the greatest picture of ‘justice together’ is seen in the Triune nature of God Himself and the Gospel narrative: The Father, who so loved the world, He gave His Son. The Son, who gave His life to reconcile us to the Father; and the Holy Spirit with us for the continual inward transformation of our hearts into the likeness of Christ. We then seek the external transformation of our world through the togetherness of His Body: The Church.
A Hebrew audience thought as ‘we’ not ‘I’. Today, in a more individualistic society it’s easy to pursue justice as ‘I’ but deep within our DNA is the pursuit of justice together. We see leanings toward community in collective social media responses, masses at protest gatherings, etc. People are moved by solidarity. They are craving communal justice. This is because we are created for community. The most common metaphor for the church is that of a body. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ and each one a part of it. He then goes on to encourage the community to build up the body and care for all its parts.
Another metaphor for the church is of a building (1 Pt 2:5). Building a solid structure takes time and care. While sometimes in the building process we need to pull down old pieces of structure such as wrong thinking and practice, however the purpose is to build. This is important as some expressions and methods of social justice we see in the world today are about deconstruction only and miss the important step of construction. Other expressions may want to construct something that is not in alignment with God’s purposes for the world, which we must also be aware of. This does not mean that we simply reject their work, but that we be careful to ensure that our activity is ultimately building towards an expression of biblical justice.
The work we do towards biblical justice is to advance God’s order in the world. The cornerstone of this project then is Jesus Christ and the gospel message. This is what we work towards and are building. It should result in lives transformed and communities reconciled. This requires dedication and resilience. The work of biblical justice should not be treated like a fad or a sprint, but is a long walk following the footsteps of Jesus.
One group in our ACC community who exemplify this is Ps Wayne and Lyn Alcorn and all our brothers and sisters that are part of the ACC Indigenous Initiative, led by Ps Will and Sandra Dumas (see https://www.acc.org.au/indigenous/). This team exemplify the posture of biblical justice as they lead us in the mission of empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pastors and leaders, and to build the church in Australia. They model long-term, faithful service towards reconciliation in our communities.
There are also many other groups in our communities that work towards biblical justice and serving others. There are too many to list! But they also demonstrate sacrificial service for the benefit of others that points to Jesus Christ. We can’t do all things, but we can each do one thing. We may be limited by our current situation in what we can do, but we can do something. Rather than be overwhelmed by the needs and injustices, we can seek to do one thing that helps work towards biblical justice. It may be to pray, or give, or serve, or volunteer, or speak, or educate. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we consider our own work and how we can and do contribute to seeing God’s ways outworked here on earth.
Ps Kirsty Emery serves in the ACC National President’s Office and is a pastor at Hope Centre. Dr Jacqueline Grey serves as the Dean of Theology and Professor of Biblical Studies at Alphacrucis College.
 John C. Thomas, Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community (Sheffield: SAP, 1991), 187.