For too many Christians, when they hear the word “justice,” they immediately think of “social justice” and “social gospel.” The idea of justice is inextricably linked to the 20th-century movement that emphasized good works to the exclusion of presenting the gospel.
We should be clear that is not the perspective of Scripture. The Bible does, however, proclaim justice as an aspect of God’s character and an expectation of His people.
It should flow out of us and be a desire for us, not because we want to avoid talking about Jesus, but because we want to talk about Him all the more. Justice is not a replacement for the gospel; it is an implication of the gospel.
To demonstrate that fact, here are two dozen passages that demonstrate the obsession Scripture has with the concept of justice. The link goes to the full chapter so you can read them in context.
These are not all of the verses, as there are hundreds that address the topic, but these give an idea of what the Bible has to say about justice.
Justice is part of God’s character.
These verses demonstrate that justice is inherent to who God is. It is a character traits of His and an attribute He loves.
- Psalm 33:5 — “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.”
- Psalm 45:6 — “Your throne, God, is forever and ever; the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice.” The writer of Hebrews quotes this Psalm (Hebrews 1:8) as part of what makes the Son different (and higher) than the angels.
- Psalm 89:14 — “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; faithful love and truth go before you.”
- Psalm 140:12 — “I know that the Lord upholds the just cause of the poor, justice for the needy.”
- Psalm 146:6b-7 — “He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry. The Lord frees prisoners.”
- Isaiah 61:8 — “For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and injustice; I will faithfully reward my people and make a permanent covenant with them.”
- Jeremiah 9:24 — “But the one who boasts should boast in this: that he understands and knows me—that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.”
Justice is commanded by God.
When God established the laws for His people in their new land, justice was at the heart of the laws. As they lived in the land, God reminded them of the responsibility they had to provide justice. As a result, when they violated justice, they were punished and removed from the land.
- Deuteronomy 10: 17-19 — “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving him food and clothing. You are also to love the resident alien, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”
- Deuteronomy 16:19-20 — “Do not deny justice or show partiality to anyone. Do not accept a bribe, for it blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Pursue justice and justice alone, so that you will live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
- Psalm 82:2-4 — “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and needy; save them from the power of the wicked.”
- Proverbs 31:8-9 — “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”
- Isaiah 1:17 — “Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” This is the verse right before God’s invitation to come and wash our sins and be made “white as snow.”
- Jeremiah 21:12 — “House of David, this is what the Lord says: Administer justice every morning and rescue the victim of robbery from his oppressor or my anger will flare up like fire and burn unquenchably because of your evil deeds.”
- Ezekiel 18:7-9 — “‘He doesn’t oppress anyone but returns his collateral to the debtor.He does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing. He doesn’t lend at interest or for profit but keeps his hand from injustice and carries out true justice between men. He follows my statutes and keeps my ordinances, acting faithfully. Such a person is righteous; he will certainly live.’ This is the declaration of the Lord God.”
- Amos 5:12, 15 — “For I know your crimes are many and your sins innumerable. They oppress the righteous, take a bribe and deprive the poor of justice at the city gates. … Hate evil and love good; establish justice in the city gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
Justice is part of the prophesied Messiah’s reign.
When the prophets began speaking about the coming Messiah, they frequently included justice as a characteristic of His reign.
- Isaiah 11:1-4a — “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight will be in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, he will not execute justice by what he hears with his ears, but he will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.”
- Isaiah 42:1-3 — “This is my servant; I strengthen him, this is my chosen one; I delight in him. I have put my Spirit on him; he will bring justice to the nations. He will not cry out or shout or make his voice heard in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick; he will faithfully bring justice.”
- Jeremiah 23:5 — “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—”when I will raise up a Righteous Branch for David. He will reign wisely as king and administer justice and righteousness in the land.”
- Jeremiah 33:15 — “In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.”
Justice is part of the New Testament.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Luke 24:27 tells us that Jesus explains to two of His disciples how “Moses and the prophets” are about Him.
So we should not dismiss instructions and examples of justice in the Old Testament as if they have no weight on us today. But I understand the desire to see examples of justice in the New Testament.
- Matthew 12:18 — “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Here, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Matthew applies one of the Old Testament messianic prophecies to Jesus.
- Matthew 23:23 — “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.” Luke 11:42 records Jesus giving the same warning about concentrating on tiny matters, but not being concerned with things at the heart of the law, like justice.
- Galatians 2:10 — “They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.” When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, Paul says the only thing they asked him to do was help the poor. They trusted his theology, but wanted to make sure he was living it out and helping those in need—a justice issue.
- Hebrews 11:33 — “… who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions …” In the “Hall of Fame of Faith,” among those like Abraham, Moses and David, the writer lists people who “administered justice.”
- Revelation 19:11 — “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with justice.” When Jesus returns, justice will be part of His kingdom.
What does this mean for Christians?
Clearly, God’s desire is for justice, as He made that clear throughout His Word. If He saw no conflict between proclaiming the gospel and seeking justice, why would we? Why would living out what we believe cause problems for proclaiming those beliefs?
Do some attempt to replace good deeds with the gospel? Absolutely, but their misunderstanding of Scripture should not cause us to abandon a topic that permeates the pages of the Bible.
God clearly cares about justice and has since the beginning. As His people, we should also care about it and work to bring it about as much as possible until the day He comes to establish it completely.