Are the Gospel and Justice Mutually Exclusive? Part Two.
This is part 2 in a 2-part series on whether the Gospel and justice are mutually exclusive.
A few months ago, I went through a period of doubt. Not necessarily doubt about whether or not God existed, but doubt in myself. I doubted whether I actually believed God existed. I stopped to consider the implications of such a belief and questioned whether my life reflected a genuine belief in the existence of the God of the Bible.
The fact of the matter is this: such a belief has massive implications. It’s one thing to say that I think God exists, but it is quite another to live like it. If God exists, and specifically if the God of the Bible exists, then everything He said in the Bible must be true. Not only true, but real. God and God’s word is then as real as the chair that I’m currently sitting in and the screen that you’re currently reading this on. It would be ridiculous, then, for me to live like He isn’t real. If God is real, and if I don’t live like he is real, then I am living apart from reality. It would be as if I decided to live like gravity wasn’t real. It doesn’t really matter what I believe about gravity, it doesn’t change the fact that it still exists. So if I decide to jump off the top of my house because I don’t really think that I will fall, I will still fall. Because gravity exists. I am living apart from reality if I jump off the top of my house with the thought that I won’t fall. In the same way, if I live like God doesn’t exist, then I will be living apart from reality (assuming, of course, that God is real.)
At this point, some of you may be thinking, “What on earth does this have to do with the gospel and justice?” Well, quite a bit.
Previously, I asked whether it is true that the Gospel and justice are mutually exclusive concepts and attempted to demonstrate that they are actually inseparable. I argued that the Gospel without justice isn’t really the Gospel. In this article, I want to argue for the inverse: that justice without the Gospel isn’t really justice. This conclusion is based on the foundational reality of God’s existence.
The reality of God tells us quite simply that there is more to this world than we can see. We cannot see God, yet we know that he exists. Not only does He exist, but He is at work in this world in ways that we don’t understand. This applies even to injustice.
As I discussed in last month’s post, seeking justice is the process of working to restore the world back to “the way things should be.” In other words, injustice is a deviation from our vision of “the way things should be.” So in order for us to have a clear picture of justice and injustice, we need to have a clear picture of “the way things should be.” Where do we get this picture? Well, if God is real, then I suppose we should get it from Him.
In Scripture, God established the world from the beginning to be as it should be. We saw a beautiful picture of this world in Genesis 1-2, and sprinkled throughout Scripture are glimpses of this world as it will one day be again. It is a world where God and God’s people enjoy perfect fellowship with each other, where death does not exist, where humans do not oppress each other for their own advantage, where there are no tears, and where creation itself works in perfect harmony.
Needless to say, we do not live in such a world. Oppression exists. Death exists. Tears flow every day. And we enjoy anything but a perfect fellowship with God and our neighbors. This is not the way God intended his world to be. Why is that? What went wrong? What led to this world deviating from its intended condition?
You know the answer. According to God, it’s all because of sin. Sin entered the world, and from that moment everything crumbled. We have been yearning for a better world ever since.
You see, this is the root of all injustice. At the core of every system of injustice is sin. You remove sin, the system of injustice evaporates overnight. You remove the system of injustice without removing the sin, another system springs up in its place.
Now, we come to a crucial junction. The question is, do we believe this to be true? Do we believe that sin really is the root problem? If we believe that the God of the Bible is real, then we have to believe what he says. And what he has clearly told us is that sin is at the root of all evil and injustice in the world.
If that’s true, then there can be no true justice unless sin itself is destroyed. We can spend all of our lives fighting injustice and see no change because we have been focusing all of our efforts on the fruit rather than the root. We may grow increasingly frustrated as we dismantle one system of injustice only to see another spring up. You can see why so many “social justice warriors” become so cynical and cruel after spending years fighting injustice.
This finally brings me to my main point. How do we destroy sin? Well, Jesus already has. In 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul says that our Savior Jesus Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Through the Gospel. That’s how Jesus abolished death and sin. In Colossians 1:20, Paul tells us that God is using Jesus to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” By the blood of his cross. The Gospel. That’s how God is reconciling all things back to himself, which is another way of saying that God is restoring all things to the way they should be. That’s because the Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is the power of God for destroying sin.
So fighting injustice is so much more than just fighting the physical manifestations of injustice. Paul tells us in in Ephesians 6:12 that “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Fighting injustice is about fighting the unseen spiritual forces of evil. Fighting injustice is about fighting sin. We cannot truly bring about justice unless we combat these unseen forces. Otherwise we are simply applying a bandage to an infected wound.
Let’s look at an example. I think one of the gravest injustices in our world today is modern slavery, particularly sex trafficking. Many think that fighting sex trafficking is about implementing the 4 “p’s”: prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership. Of course, these are all good things. In fact, we must do these things if we wish to see sex trafficking eradicated. These tactics, however, are not in and of themselves enough. At its core, sex trafficking is an injustice fueled by sin. Sex trafficking exists because men (primarily) have a raging thirst for sex that they struggle to control and are not satisfying at home. They seek to satisfy this desire by purchasing sex. Will the 4 “p’s” address this desire? No, they will not. Ultimately what these men need is the Gospel. Otherwise they will find ways to satisfy their sexual desire, one way or another. We are not really any closer to achieving justice than we were before, unless their hearts can be changed by the power of God himself.
This concept doesn’t just apply to institutional injustice “out there,” but it also applies to the injustice within each individual person. Like I said earlier, there is so much more happening in the world that we realize, and there is so much more to a person than we realize. Take the sex trafficking example again. What happens to women when they are rescued or escape from their sexual bondage? They are often horrendously traumatized, and seeking justice is also about seeking the healing of these women’s souls back to the way that God intended them to be. This, of course, can only be done by the power of God: the Gospel. To rescue someone from physical slavery, but not their spiritual slavery, is not really to rescue someone at all. You may have rescued their body (which is seen), but what about their soul (which is unseen)? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” You have saved their transient body, but their transient soul is still trapped in the spiritual bondage to sin, and unless the power of God comes against that sin, they will remain in that bondage for all of eternity. Is that really justice?
Of course not.
So justice without the Gospel cannot really be justice. Fighting injustice requires fighting sin, which is something that only the Gospel has the power to defeat. But take heart, friends. The Gospel also tells us that Jesus has already defeated death and is in the process of seeking justice in this world. To fight injustice is to fight alongside Jesus, and that is a fight you cannot lose.