Stephen Um: Jesus and Justice #TGC13

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My notes from Stephen Um’s session at TGC13′s World Missions’ pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” (All notes are paraphrased.)


I’ve been given this great topic on Jesus and justice and in some ways it is a topic we all need to consider very seriously. As C.S. Lewis has said, every human being has an innate sense for justice. We all have this innate sense of what is right and what is wrong.

On the right you have those who say that justice is a personal responsibility; on the left you have those who say it’s in the domain of the state. And within the Christian church, we have a number of attitudes toward justice and the church—some focus solely on preaching, while others focus almost on the gospel as demonstrated in acts of service. Churches can get divided, theologians are divided… although there’s controversy, we cannot avoid the discussion for two reasons:

Practially, there’s too much injustice going on in the world to do nothing. And secondly, more importantly, the Bible shows that justice is extremely close to the heart of God.

Justice defined

How does the BIble define justice? What do we see in Scripture?

Justice is grounded in God’s character. The community when it looks at the character of God, should have a desire to reflect the character of God. There are structural provisions throughout the Old Testament to respond to justice, to respond to the needs of the quartet of the marginalized.

DeYoung and Gilbert have noticed carefully that some things are different from OT times. We’re no longer an agrarian society, our land is not given directly by God, etc. But we also would be wise to note that although many of the outer trappings have changed, the call to reflect the character of God has not.

Jesus doesn’t rescind the OT commands of justice—He draws all the OT law under the great commandment, that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and we are to love our neighbors like ourselves. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission ought not be in tension.

Justice is grace-fueled. Grace fuels a desire toward justice. If we are not those who are middle-class, but poor in spirit, then certainly the gospel will grab our hearts and move us toward meeting justice.

Justice is holistic. Jesus didn’t just meet spiritual needs—he fed people, he cared for them, he exercised demons…

Justice is radical. When you are engaged with the marginalized with one-way giving of your time, money and intent—then you know you’re connected God’s sense of justice.

Justice is universal. The concept of justice is expanded beyond our families and communities and churches, but even to our enemies who are in need.

Justice is eternally significant. Proclamation of the gospel is essential, but demonstrating the gospel is also essential. Demonstration is not the same as proclamation, but it is the evidence of salvation.

How justice is denied

We deny justice by focusing on the external instead of the internal. We focus on legalism, instead of grace. We perform acts appearing to be good on the outside.

In Matthew 7, Jesus describes two similar types of people—and both bear fruit, but one bears good fruit and the other bears bad fruit. He characterized people not by being good or bad, but humble or proud. One does his deeds to exalt himself, the other does his deeds to please God.

We deny justice by moving way from being radical to doable. We don’t recognize how radical the demands of the Law really are—we begin to think they’re doable. That we can actually do them ourselves.

In Matt. 5, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’” Now that second half isn’t anywhere in Scripture. He also says, “You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’”—which is the opposite of what the Bible says elsewhere.

So why would anyone want to add to the Law? To make the radical command doable. And if you can make it doable, you can justify yourself. The Law was not given to show us these are doable, or manageable but to point us to a Savior? What’s easier to do—to tithe or to give sacrificially?

The impulse of the human heart is the narrow down the commands of God so we can justify ourselves.

We deny justice by moving away from the universal to the narrow. It’s all about self-absorption. We are to be concerned with the needs of others, to think of others more and think of ourselves less, as someone has said. When we become self-centered we think only of ourselves and our needs and our desires—and we are prevented from walking humbly and seeking justice before our God.

It’s deadly to deny justice in this way. Where do we get the hope to reflect God’s character and justice?

Justice delivered

Justice demands judgment. Let’s brake this down: Grace is getting we don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Justice is getting what we deserve either for punishment or protection. Because of our sins, we are accountable to a holy God and there needs to be punishment, there needs to be penal justice. But all those who are marginalized, those who are in need, need to receive protective justice. So this is going to lead to three things:

It’s going to lead to a change from focusing on the external to focusing on the internal. We deserve judgment, but he gives us justice in Jesus. When we come before judgment, we’re going to want to plead justice. And God won’t demand for a payment for something that’s already been paid. God doesn’t double-dip. We need to recognize that we’ve received grace. That we received mercy. We can pursue radical grace-fueled justice because we have received grace.

Secondly, we have the capital to be radically self-giving, rather than settling for what’s doable.

Lastly, we have the ability to be radically self-giving universally, instead of self-focused, on account of another. We have the ability to show generous justice to because what we’ve received in the gospel.

Friends, we have received the gospel, which says we’ve received love and compassion—counter-relational love that we don’t deserve. That we’ve received mercy that we don’t deserve because Jesus has absorbed the judgment that we did deserve. And this should move us to disadvantaged on account of the needy. We are called to respond not only to the great commission, but also the great commandment which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.