Foreword: Connecting the dots
“Justice issues” are a hot topic these days, and a few of us think the subject has been too-long ignored in church life. By neglecting the issue of justice, we are leaving out the full context and goal of the Gospel – and leaving ourselves open to God’s judgment.
God has been waiting for us to return to the issue of justice, which is much closer to his heart than other topics we spend enormous amounts of time discussing.
Unfortunately, much of today’s conversation about justice is shallow or ill-informed. Even some of the serious discussion has been framed in a war-weary “liberal vs. conservative” context: “Is social justice an essential part of the Gospel?”
We are asking the wrong question. My reading of the Bible is not so much that justice is part of the Gospel, but that the Gospel is about justice – restoring God’s original intention for his creation.
The term ‘justice’ is used with all sorts of meanings, by all sorts of folks – from Mennonite seminary professors to Occupy Wall Street anarchists. For some, justice is about taking wealth from those who have “too much” and putting it in someone else’s pocket. For others, ‘justice’ means “I’m not getting what I think life owes me.” To many Christians, justice is nothing more than bad people getting the punishment they deserve.
A biblical perspective says justice is God’s creation experiencing shalom (shaw-lome’ – peace, well-being). God created the world in shalom; humanity’s sin broke the shalom and brought all creation under a curse of slavery and brokenness. To this day, every aspect of our lives, all God’s creation, is oppressed by powers that steal, kill, and destroy.
God has been determined from the beginning to restore his shalom to all his creation. The Bible is the story of what God has done to redeem us from captivity. Salvation is God restoring shalom to individual lives and communities. Abundant life here is as much a part of salvation as eternal life hereafter. Our mission as believers is to join God in establishing his “already but not yet” Kingdom of Justice as fully as possible in this broken world, pending its complete restoration when Jesus returns to bring in the new age.
It may be that everyone else already understands this, but I labored for too many years under the mistaken belief that I could receive the reward of eternal life without doing justice for the poor and oppressed. Some of us have mistakenly believed that merely addressing the physical dimensions of injustice, without speaking to the need for rebirth, will somehow accomplish our assignment. Some think holistic mission minimizes the proclamation of the Gospel. We have been wrong. Personal salvation and social justice are bound together.
Salvation is a journey into God’s justice, for individuals and communities. The mission God has assigned to us is to attack injustice in every form – both spiritual lostness and physical oppression – until the day the Lord Jesus returns to bring ultimate justice to all creation. Our message of life transformation combines the truth about God’s saving love with knowledge about how to live an abundant life and walk in God’s ways.
The Lord has been working in my heart for decades to connect the dots between receiving salvation and doing justice. This little book is an effort to show how those dots connect. My prayer is that it helps someone else who is trying to understand.
Read more: The Gospel is about God’s justice.
June 4, 2014
Next chapter: Why do so many care so little?