Resolving the Tension Between Salvation and Social Justice - Christ and Culture (2022)

Editor’s Note: Brianna elaborates on her arguments in a follow-up article, ‘Reclaiming Gospel Justice.’

By Brianna Copeland

In recent years, evangelical Christians have increasingly taken steps to address issues of social justice. For example, we seek remedies for poverty, fight human trafficking and seek the end of abortion. As the church, we increasingly desire to walk in justice.

This trend towards justice makes some of our brothers and sisters antsy. And for good reason. In the past, prioritizing justice issues led to dangerous imbalance — the social gospel. How, then, can we walk in justice without losing the gospel?

(Video) Thaddeus Williams: Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice [Talbot Chapel]

A History of Imbalances

The social gospel movement was led by North American protestants in the early 20th century. The movement sought to apply Christian ethics to social problems in an attempt to fulfill the section of the Lord’s prayer which reads, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Many of the evils social gospel workers fought against could be classified as social justice issues: inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial reconciliation, underprivileged schools, child labor, trafficking, hunger, homelessness and environmental health.

The ideals of the social gospel movement suffered massive decline after World War I, when its advocates’ good deeds could not make a dent on the war’s destruction. Predominantly propagated by theological liberals, the social gospel often offended conservative Protestants by seemingly ignoring spiritual matters and only focusing people in this life. Social gospel advocates focused on the physical world at the expense of the spiritual world.

In response to the imbalances of the social gospel movement, conservative evangelicals reacted by swinging the pendulum to the opposite extreme. They shifted the focus from the physical (neighborly love) to the spiritual (saving people’s souls).Instead of focusing on eliminating evil, they focused exclusively on getting as many souls into heaven as possible. These reactionaries focused on the spiritual world at the expense of the physical world.

The problem is, both extremes miss the mark. In contrast to social gospel advocates, Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor in this world (Matthew 26:11) and we will always face evil (John 16:33). Therefore, believers cannot fulfill the Great Commandments by band-aiding social issues. In contrast to the evangelical extreme, Jesus also makes it very clear that Jesus does not just value our souls, but that he regards our physical bodies with high esteem and demonstrates this through his teaching and healings (Mark 1:4-45, Matthew 9:20-22, Matthew 14:13-21, John 4, Matthew 25:34-46, James 2:14-17).

We’ve seen the dangers of both extremes. With Jesus’ teaching in mind, knowing that neither the social gospel nor the exclusive concern of saving souls represents God’s heart, how can we re-emphasize the importance of earthly justice without losing the importance of eternal salvation?

(Video) Social Justice and the Gospel, Part 2

How can the church walk in justice without losing the gospel?

True Justice

Justice does the work of making things right—and we see this all the time in our daily lives. Whether it be in righting the wrong of breaking civil laws by giving someone a speeding ticket, or teaching your child to apologize and amend the situation when they have hurt a friend, we experience and practice making things right every day. Justice makes things right when they are not as they should be: When laws are broken, order is disrupted and peace is compromised. Justice protects the righteous design of how things are made to work together. In short, justice restores shalom.

Here’s the thing: True justice can never be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is the supreme act of justice.

The tension between the good news of the gospel and call to seek justice is really no tension at all—the connection between the gospel and justice are inextricably tied together, and in fact, cannot be separated without compromising the truth. The gospel is the greatest act of justice for all time because it is in the gospel we find Jesus making all things right. Jesus lived justly, obedient to the Father to the point of death on a cross so that the sins of the world would be made right. Jesus bore the weight and judgment of sin in his body on the cross, so that believers may be justified —
made right,
set back to the way things were meant to be,
reconciled,
restored to shalom with the Father.

This is the gospel, and this is ultimate justice. We cannot share the gospel without speaking of justice, and we cannot truly walk in justice without connecting our actions back to the gospel as our motivation.

(Video) Thinking Biblically About Social Justice (Panel Q&A)

Our desire to do justice must come from our love for Jesus and the justice that he showed on the cross. The gospel drives our desire for justice because we have been justified. And since we have been justified we desire to see all things made right by the power of Christ. It is by this same power that we are enabled by the Spirit to walk in justice and to share the shalom-restoring hope of the gospel.

True justice can never be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is the supreme act of justice.

Remembering Our Story

Walking in justice cannot be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is God’s justice at work. As the church, in our efforts to walk in justice without losing the gospel we must do the work of remembering.

All throughout scripture the Lord calls his people to remember: Remember who He is (Exodus 20:2), remember where they came from (Dueteronomy 9:7), remember who they are (Isaiah 44:21), remember what the Lord has done (Deuteronomy 8). By giving the command to remember, the Lord himself is remembering that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), and we so easily forget. In our efforts to walk in justice, we are called to remember who we were, who we are, who the Lord is and what he has done.

Remember, without the gospel, we are all enslaved to something (Romans 6:6, Galatians 4:3).

Remember, without the gospel, we are the orphan (John 14:18, Lamentations 5:3).

(Video) Social Justice in Education Award (2015) Lecture: Gloria J. Ladson-Billings

Remember, without the gospel, we are the stranger and alien (Ephesians 2:12, Philippians 3:20).

Remember, without the gospel, we are the homeless (1 Corinthians 4:11, Hebrews 11:14).

Remember, without the gospel, we are the hungry and thirsty (Psalm 107:9, John 4:13).

The Lord has made right these injustices in our lives through the gospel by becoming our Freedom, our Father, our Home, and our Living Bread and Water. By remembering that we were at one time destitute and in need of justice in every way, we gain deep compassion for those who are currently suffering injustice. Because of the justice the Lord has extended to us in Christ, we can walk in true justice: justice that brings the hope and healing of the gospel to the soul and the body. This is the kind of justice that Jesus walked in. This is the kind of justice that Jesus calls us to.

The church has the ability and the responsibility to walk in obedience to Jesus by walking in justice as scripture has laid out for us. This justice cares for the physical body, and this justice offers the gospel as the ultimate justice for all that needs to be made right. Every act of injustice comes from a heart of idolatry. When we are living in obedience to the Great Commandments of Christ—loving God and loving neighbor—we will walk in justice, restoring shalom through our everyday choices. Every act of injustice needs the gospel of justice to makes things right.

(Video) Lesson 5: Understanding the Unique Roles of Different Christian Social Justice Traditions

When seeking justice, the church must remember our part in the story of God making all things right. We will balance the tension between the social gospel and evangelical spirituality when we remember that Jesus values both the body and the soul, and the gospel offers the most beautiful justice to everything that needs restoring shalom.

This article originally published on March 15, 2017.

FAQs

What did Jesus say about social justice? ›

Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8).

Does Jesus care about social justice? ›

Jesus also spoke harshly against those who hid behind their religious practices while they “... neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.” It appears that Jesus practiced the social dimensions of justice.

What does God say about social justice? ›

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” (Psalm 82:3). “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow's cause,” (Isaiah 1:17).

Why is social justice important to Christians? ›

Most Christians believe that working towards social justice is important because: 1. All made in image of God so all human life is sacred and should be protected from injustice.

What is the difference between social justice and biblical justice? ›

While biblical justice unites and uplifts people, social justice tears down certain groups and creates division. The second problem with social justice is that it surrenders more power to the government, since it appears to be the only one powerful enough to correct these systematic inequalities.

How did Jesus handle conflict? ›

Throughout the gospels, Jesus defined himself by saying who he was and what his mission was. At the same time, he never controlled or manipulated others to agree; instead, he asked questions and invited others into conversation to help them see where they stood in relation to him.

What does God say about justice in the Bible? ›

Zechariah 7:9

And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other. '”

What is justice in God's eyes? ›

From a scriptural point of view, justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God. As God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.

What is meant by the term social justice? ›

“Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” National Association of Social Workers.

What does the church believe about social justice? ›

Catholic Social Justice teaches us that all people are made in the image of God and so possess an equal and inalienable worth. Because of this essential dignity, each person has a right to all that is needed to allow him or her to live their full potential as intended by God.

How does religion contribute to social justice? ›

Religion has always had a powerful role in shaping ideas of social justice, oppression, and liberation. Religious authoritarianism can be used as a means of persecution, but social justice is also seen as a moral imperative in many faiths.

Who is the prophet of social justice in the Bible? ›

The significance of the book of Amos lies in the fact that Amos has been universally acclaimed as the prophet of social justice. For him covenant loyalty to God can be shown only by being fair to the members of the covenant, who are considered as brothers and sisters.

Is the term social justice in the Bible? ›

The literal words “social justice” do not appear in the Bible (at least I can't find them). But the biblical commands to be “doers of justice” and “minister justice to the poor and needy” certainly compels me to understanding, confronting and acting out their social implications.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice? ›

Micah 6:8 connects our faith with our actions, our care for those in need with our walk with God: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

How is social justice restored? ›

15 Ways to Advance Social Justice in your Community
  1. Examine your beliefs and habits. ...
  2. Educate yourself about social justice issues. ...
  3. Discover your local organizations. ...
  4. Take positive action in your own community. ...
  5. Harness the power of social media. ...
  6. Attend demonstrations and protests. ...
  7. Volunteer. ...
  8. Donate.

Why do we need social justice? ›

Why Is Social Justice Important? Social justice promotes fairness and equity across many aspects of society. For example, it promotes equal economic, educational and workplace opportunities. It's also important to the safety and security of individuals and communities.

What is the basis of God's justice How does he ensure that we receive justice? ›

God's justice was manifested through the expiation of sin through the blood of Jesus and so believers are justified, that is, acquire the justice of God, through faith in him. Rom 10.3–4: "For, being ignorant of the justice that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's justice.

What does God say about the least of these? ›

One of Mother Teresa's favorite texts in the Bible, which she often quoted to support her ministry to the poor, is "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

How does God want us to resolve conflict? ›

God's Word tells us that He expects several things from us in regards to conflict resolution: humility, forgiveness, love, and action.

How do Christians resolve conflict? ›

God's Word helps us handle conflict in a godly way so He can use it for good:
  1. Own it. If you've messed up, own it. Own it fully because the offense is against a Holy God—don't explain it away. ...
  2. Speak Truth. If you've been hurt, go to the person humbly and talk tothem. Listen to them. ...
  3. Give grace. Be quick to forgive.
7 Mar 2016

What does the Bible say about fighting for your rights? ›

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

What does the Bible say about human equality? ›

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Freedom, equality, and dignity are bestowed on all by virtue of being human, made in the image of God. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that these rights are not earned but divinely ordained.

What can we do to bring about justice and peace? ›

The world needs global justice to achieve global peace.
...
5 Ways You Can Work Toward Peace and Justice
  1. Use your voice. ...
  2. Learn the signs of human trafficking. ...
  3. Volunteer at a local food bank or soup kitchen. ...
  4. Support the work of missionaries serving vulnerable populations. ...
  5. Pray for peace and justice.
29 Sept 2020

Can Christians seek justice? ›

Many of us are paying more attention to issues of equity and justice than ever before. And this is good. But it is important to note that, for Christians, justice should never be merely a passing fad. Scripture is clear that God calls us to live lives that seek justice in his world.

What does Paul say about justice? ›

In Romans 2:14,15 Paul says that God's law is written on the heart of every human being—all people have an inward sense of morality, justice, love, the 'golden rule' and so on.

What is the true meaning of justice? ›

1 : fair treatment Everyone deserves justice. 2 : judge entry 2 sense 1. 3 : the process or result of using laws to fairly judge people accused of crimes. 4 : the quality of being fair or just They were treated with justice.

What is social justice in culture? ›

Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. In Western and Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive their due from society.

What are the 4 principles of social justice? ›

The principles of social justice are an essential part of effective health promotion. There are four interrelated principles of social justice; equity, access, participation and rights.

What are the 5 principles of social justice? ›

The Five Principles of Social Justice
  • Access. Access to resources is a fundamental principle of social justice. ...
  • Equity. It's easy to confuse the terms 'equity' and 'equality,' but those things which are equitable are not always equal. ...
  • Diversity. ...
  • Participation. ...
  • Human Rights.
30 Jul 2020

How does the church respond to social justice issues? ›

The primary work of the institutional church is not to promote social justice, it is to warn people of divine justice. Its primary business is not to call society to be more righteous but to tell persons of the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.

What should a Christians response to injustice be? ›

The prophet Isaiah charges us to work for a society whose foundations are just: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). We must work to realize deep structural change if we are to be true to our faith.

What is the biggest problem facing the church today? ›

Other issues seen by more than half of American pastors as major concern facing the church in the U.S. include: poor discipleship models (63%), addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity (58%), prosperity gospel teaching (56%), reaching a younger audience (56%), and political polarization (51%).

What is the relationship between justice and religion? ›

For example, justice requires the toleration of religious belief, a right to free exercise of religion, and a rule against the establishment of any religion by the state. Such principles are embodied in the first amendment to the United States Constitution.

How does religion affect justice? ›

Religious organizations have often led the charge for crime prevention. The result has been less tolerance of criminal behavior and demanding people take more responsibility for their actions. As new patterns in crime arise, such moralistic reactions influence the response of the criminal justice system.

What is the role of the church in the society? ›

The Church can support people who are going through difficulties, whatever background they may come from. Often the Church will seek to work with other religious groups to help keep peace and harmony in the community as religious leaders still have some influence in the areas that they work in.

What did the prophets proclaim related to social justice? ›

What did the prophets proclaim related to social justice? The prophets were the guardians of the old law and called people to put their total trust in God, turn away from false Gods, to be authentic in their worship, repent for their sins, and practice justice in their relationships with one another.

Is the book of Amos about social justice? ›

In the Old Testament book of Amos, the basic message of prophet Amos stresses the divine demand for social justice and concern for the oppressed in 8th century Israel. Many among Israel's wealthy members of the society at the time of Amos chose to be unjust and to treat the disadvantaged as they wished.

What is the meaning of Jeremiah chapter 18? ›

So Jeremiah asks God to make their children die by famine and to make their wives childless widows. Their men should die by disease, and their youths should die in battle. He wants God to deal with them while he's still angry enough to do some serious damage. Jeremiah sounds like he's had it with these people already.

What did Jesus say about injustice? ›

Jesus said that it was not good enough that we love our neighbors, but we must love our enemies as well: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-48). Love is action: doing good for others, giving them justice.

What is justice in the New Testament? ›

This call to “do justice”, consists of recognizing and confronting evil, caring for the lesser privileged, and the recognizing and undoing of injustices (Isaiah 1:17). This call to live and act justly is reiterated many times throughout the bible.

How many times is justice in the Bible? ›

The expression “do justice” occurs 25 times in the Hebrew Bible and God's calls for justice were enablings: “He has explained to you . . .

What are the three things God require of us? ›

"What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

What sacrifices does God want from us? ›

God wants us to offer ourselves wholeheartedly, living for him with every part of our being. Jesus, you offered yourself for my sake. Help me to offer myself to live for you. May I act with justice, mercy, and humility, as you did.

What is God expecting from us? ›

So, what dose God expect of us? God expects us to accept His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Savior. He expects us to give our lives to Him, and in so doing, develop the character of Christ.

What is social justice examples? ›

There are so many social justice issues out there that you can help with, such as voting rights, refugee crises, workers' rights, economic justice, healthcare, hunger, education, gun violence, and more. And these issues often overlap with each other and touch the people we care about.

How social justice can help fight social challenges? ›

However, some ways in which social justice could help to fight social challenges include by promoting equality and fairness, by working to end discrimination and oppression, and by ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to thrive in society.

What does Bible say about human rights? ›

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Freedom, equality, and dignity are bestowed on all by virtue of being human, made in the image of God. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that these rights are not earned but divinely ordained.

What does Matthew 25 40 say? ›

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Unless otherwise indicated, individuals may post material from the Gospel Media portion of this site to another website or on a computer network for their own personal, noncommercial use.

What is social justice in Luke's Gospel? ›

The theme of social justice that Luke carries is again brought up in the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. The story goes just as it sounds, there is a judge who is selfish and unconcerned with others' well-being and there is a widow who continually returns in hopes to be given justice.

What does the Bible say about truth and justice? ›

Jeremiah 4:2.

In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.”

What does the Bible say about fighting for our rights? ›

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

What is the relationship between Christianity and human rights? ›

Second, Christians argue that humans have rights not because they are part of the natural order, but because God created them. [21] Hence, Christians claim that human rights cannot be justified on the basis of natural law but rather must be grounded in God.

What do Christians think about human rights? ›

The human being has supreme value with infinite worth; he is not a bearer of borrowed values. So the Christian understanding of human rights is entirely a function of the value divinely granted to humans through Christ. pre-exists any social differences, all are seen as equal, and as a result the value is universal.

What is the meaning behind Matthew 25 35 40? ›

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 (NIV) God wants our lives to overflow with mercy, love, and compassion — the marks of His kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we have a choice: respond to unsettling realities in fear and withdraw, or follow Him in responding to the greatest needs of our day with love and hope.

What is the golden rule for Christianity? ›

Golden Rule, precept in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .” This rule of conduct is a summary of the Christian's duty to his neighbour and states a fundamental ethical principle.

What is the meaning of Matthew 25 29? ›

Explanation and Commentary of Matthew 25:29

The meaning of the life in Christ of an image-bearer of God is found in making the most use of what we have been given. It is a fruitless waste of time to compare what you have with others or to worry about what you do not have.

What does Luke say about justice? ›

A story in Luke 18:1-8 tells of a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people (a description in which the judge of the story even uses of himself). He is a person of power who is wearied by the cries of a widow who comes to him continually seeking justice and begging for help.

What is the great omission in Luke's Gospel? ›

In so doing, Matthew reproduced almost all the contents of Mark; Luke however omitted one large block of Marcan material: Mark 6.45–8.26. Luke may have omitted this section because his copy of the gospel of Mark was lacking this section, or because, although he knew this material, he chose to omit it from his gospel.

What is socialist justice system? ›

Social justice is a political and philosophical movement aiming for a more division of resources and opportunities. By addressing historical injustices and directing resources to underserved communities, social justice advocates hope to establish a more fair and equal society.

How does God show justice in the Bible? ›

The Lord's justice is also retributive. He not only establishes justice for those who have been wronged and mistreated, but he also metes out punishment to those who have perpetrated those wrongs. He “does not spare the wicked” (Ezekiel 7:4, 9, 27; 8:18; 9:10).

What do the Lord require of you? ›

Micah 6:8, the "Micah Mandate," gives a balanced answer to today's spiritual and political questions. "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

What does seeking justice mean Bible? ›

Pursuing justice does not mean enacting revenge. We know that God is the only true judge of hearts and actions. In our pursuit of justice, we must acknowledge that God is ultimately in control, and trust that he will have the final say in all matters of injustice committed in our world.

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