Understanding Justice

"That's not fair" is many a child's first sentence. God wired justice into us.

Today we will talk about justice—without adjectives. Not political justice, economic, racial, environmental or social justice. But justice. We can call it God's justice or biblical justice to differentiate it from man's justice, supreme court justice, or mob justice, but the biblical authors call it mishpat, justice.

Let me remind you that the LORD our God is wonderfully and supremely just.

Isaiah 30:18 … For the LORD is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him.

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.

More than wisdom, power, and wealth God wants us to pursue an understanding and trust that our Lord exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness, that He truly delights in these, even at great cost to Himself.

In the name of a just cause, racial justice, people are vilifying all police, burning down innocent people's family businesses, and have taken over a section of Seattle all in the name of justice. And many defend it as justice.

Yet in Jeremiah 9:24, notice that justice is planted between lovingkindness and righteousness.

Without righteousness or lovingkindness it's not justice, it's just vengeance. It's a power grab. Justice that God endorses must be pursued righteously with love.

We see this most clearly on the cross.

Jesus served God, lived righteously, loved perfectly. Never sinned, committed a crime. Yet He's falsely accused. While facing horrible injustice, He didn't take justice into His own hands. He didn't call down angels. He even condemned Peter's violence against a cop.

Jesus chose to bear the sin of the guilty on the cross—the just for the unjust in order to reconcile us to God. This is true justice in righteousness and love.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

He died for the sins of the world. Everyone's. Every sin.

Justice is not select or piecemeal—for this group, for the rich and powerful—justice is universal.

While certain sins or injustices provoke offend one person and different sins and injustices offend another—God heart and conscience is offended by all.

Justice follows God's standard of right and wrong, not ours, not culture's.

He's our Maker. Our Judge. Our Father. What He says is right or wrong, good and evil, proves true, and must in humility be the Christian's standard.

Justice is God upholding His glory against every sin, and every injustice, even ours, yet our sins were mercifully and undeservedly judged by the Father in Christ's body that we can be free.

In order to work toward true justice in an injustice world, we cannot pick and choose the sins that anger us and say "this one's unjust and must be stopped," and yet justify and celebrate those which God identifies as sin yet we like to do them. That's not just.

God didn't even spare His own Son when He donned our sin and guilt on the cross. God is just. And Jesus Christ giving His life on the cross and purchasing our redemption is our model of justice.

Justice is indiscriminate. It applies equally across the board. It's blind to color and class, fame, power, personal preference. Justice is unbiased, unprejudiced.

Leviticus 19:15 You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor [Don't tip the scales of justice to favor the poor] nor defer to the great [don't defer to the wealth or fame or power of the great], but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.

Whatever the issue, justice is not just if it is not applied equally to all people.

The cause is good; racial injustice and the suffering of many needs to stop. But while people say the ends justify the means. A lot of what is going on in the name of justice, is not just. God never justifies injustice. Yet this is typically where we go, sin against you unleashes your own sin. And the heart is always quick to justify our sinful—or unjust responses.

This provides us a good test of justice, even for myself to know.

Certain things are clearly wrong, they go against God's word. Others aren't as clear. For these, the child's question works, "Is it fair?" "Can it be applied equally?" "Is it fine if someone with an opposite view does the same thing?"

If violent protests, destruction of family owned businesses or taking over a downtown is applauded when fighting racial injustice, is such destruction equally allowed for those who pursue, say, justice for unborn children?

Of course not, God pronounces violence on either issue as evil and unjust. Some counter but different rules must apply in this case—and yet that by definition is injustice.

As a church, we want to be just in the way of Jesus. So, we need to check our hearts. If the goal is justice then we are really asking for God's righteousness and the fair treatment of people in God's way—righteously, and with love.  

The third thing about God's justice which distinguishes it from man's—the guilty are offered redemption, the guilty are given a path to reconciliation.

Any call for justice that doesn't offer a path for redemption is merely revenge.

For years, much of what is called for in the name of justice bridges no path to redemption. People want punishment. "Crush them! Destroy their lives. Fire them. They're evil! Never let them work again. Never let them speak again."

But that leaves no room the power of Christ, redemption, hope. Sometimes the greatest activists for justice are those whose lives were changed by grace.

The fact Isaac Newton wrote Amazing Grace makes the song more powerful because he was a slave trader and by today's standards a horrific man. But He met Jesus Christ who forgave him, justified him with God, gave him new life and transformed his heart, and Isaac Newton helped end slave trafficking.

The Bible has a thousand examples of justice, yet the cross is the ultimate.

On that cross, judgment was rendered. God in His justice forgives sins. He wipes out debts; shares His righteousness with all who'll receive it in Christ.

Through Jesus' redemptive act on the cross, those who accept what God has done become just themselves, not only forgiven but justified, brought into relationship with God, reconciled as they were, underserving. This is grace.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…

If our goal truly is justice then we need to seek God's righteousness and fair treatment of people God's way. With love. Offering redemption. Life change.

Colossians 1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,  22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

I don't believe justice can be understood apart from Christ, let alone attained.

People want vengeance. We want others to do what's right in our eyes.

But Jesus wanted justice, reconciliation. Zacchaeus was a wicked man who abused his authority to oppress the poor. Jesus loved him, ate with him, shared truth. Zacchaeus repented. A woman was caught in a wrong act, and accosted by an angry mob that took law and justice into its own hands; Jesus intervened with true justice. "He who is without sin throw the first stone." He was the only one without sin.

And He wasn't armed with stones but the message of a Gracious God.

That we all sin and fall short of God's glory, that none is righteous, no not one, angry calls for justice without grace expose our hypocrisy. Sounds too much like "Crucify Him!" which shows the twisted justice of herd mentality.

Calls for justice without mercy lead to division and end in death.

Angry calls for justice without grace can cower some into compliance because people don't want to be yelled at.

But more often, these calls come across as condemnation, hatred, hypocrisy, or injustice. They invariably breed hatred, anger, arguments, self-defense, and resentment and rebellion. More division.

We know better. We have a better message and the only Savior who frees the oppressed and reconciles the ungodly with God and with one another. When He returns He shall execute perfect justice and make all things new and right.

Until then let us be generous to share the good news in pursuit of justice.