God’s Redeeming Love and Justice

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Is justice intrinsic or extrinsic to the gospel of Jesus Christ?  In other words, is God’s justice an essential dimension of the gospel or a consequence—possibly an appendage, or worse, an intruder—to the gospel?  We are asking here a truth question, not a political one.  The answer rests not on our political party or social agenda but on the character of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, whom we worship and serve.

In the same way that the Scriptures affirm “God is love” (1 John 4:8), they likewise affirm that “God is just” (Deut 10:17, 32:4; Ps 89:14).  We are not given a choice between a loving God who makes us inwardly righteous versus a just God who makes us publicly responsible.  God’s essence, character, and actions include both God’s love and justice, and so should ours be.  The Bible makes clear that God’s faithfulness relentlessly pursues God’s image-bearers, amidst our lives of sin and death.  Our loving and redeeming God delivers us from all internal and external powers that unjustly abuse or diminish ourselves or one another.  Both Old and New Testament texts make this point again and again.

The Law is given as the Way to worship, that is, to live lives of worship that reflect God.  Our worship is a lifestyle to purify and display God’s just and loving character within and beyond the community of faith.  Isaiah 58 exposes the hypocrisy of claiming to worship God in God’s household without living lives that reflect the God we worship in and beyond the household of faith.  Catching God’s people in self-serving acts of injustice, especially toward the poor and vulnerable, God severely rebukes them for such false worship, and calls Israel to live its worship in ways that demonstrate the righteous and just character of Yahweh. “This is the worship I desire,” says the Lord.

Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4 continues the same themes and teaches those who are disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”  The ways of God are to be our ways.  Embodying God’s character is to be our character.  What is the mark of that reign?  Jesus, reading from Isaiah 61, says,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  (Luke 4:18–19)

This is the mission of Jesus, the evidence of the kingdom of God, and the fruit that is to be evident in the lives transformed by his teaching, life, death, and resurrection, as well as the fruitfulness of the Spirit.  Jesus’ ministry is comprehensive and holistic, individual and communal, personal and public.  This is the nature of God’s redeeming love and justice.

As Augustine, and so many since, have argued, God’s love and justice seek to transform a world of disordered love and power.  The full salvation of the Lord takes the spiritual brokenness, pain, and unjust suffering of the world with the greatest seriousness.  Human beings are body-souls, and the comprehensive nature of our lives in God’s image intrinsically matters because of how we have been made.  Our material, physical, economic, and social lives are all in view of God’s new reign in Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit.  God’s ultimate and just judgment will destroy all remaining destructive manifestations of evil and injustice, so that what is made new can be fully and eternally alive.

This all leads to the strong affirmation that justice is not extrinsic to the gospel but intrinsic to God—to the revelation of God in Jesus and to the manifestation of God’s loving and just reign through the new humanity of God’s people, the church.  To follow the God of redeeming love and righteousness is to follow the God of justice.

Mark Labberton

Mark Labberton, President

Is justice intrinsic or extrinsic to the gospel of Jesus Christ?  In other words, is God’s justice an essential dimension of the gospel or a consequence—possibly an appendage, or worse, an intruder—to the gospel?  We are asking here a truth question, not a political one.  The answer rests not on our political party or social agenda but on the character of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, whom we worship and serve.

In the same way that the Scriptures affirm “God is love” (1 John 4:8), they likewise affirm that “God is just” (Deut 10:17, 32:4; Ps 89:14).  We are not given a choice between a loving God who makes us inwardly righteous versus a just God who makes us publicly responsible.  God’s essence, character, and actions include both God’s love and justice, and so should ours be.  The Bible makes clear that God’s faithfulness relentlessly pursues God’s image-bearers, amidst our lives of sin and death.  Our loving and redeeming God delivers us from all internal and external powers that unjustly abuse or diminish ourselves or one another.  Both Old and New Testament texts make this point again and again.

The Law is given as the Way to worship, that is, to live lives of worship that reflect God.  Our worship is a lifestyle to purify and display God’s just and loving character within and beyond the community of faith.  Isaiah 58 exposes the hypocrisy of claiming to worship God in God’s household without living lives that reflect the God we worship in and beyond the household of faith.  Catching God’s people in self-serving acts of injustice, especially toward the poor and vulnerable, God severely rebukes them for such false worship, and calls Israel to live its worship in ways that demonstrate the righteous and just character of Yahweh. “This is the worship I desire,” says the Lord.

Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4 continues the same themes and teaches those who are disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”  The ways of God are to be our ways.  Embodying God’s character is to be our character.  What is the mark of that reign?  Jesus, reading from Isaiah 61, says,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  (Luke 4:18–19)

This is the mission of Jesus, the evidence of the kingdom of God, and the fruit that is to be evident in the lives transformed by his teaching, life, death, and resurrection, as well as the fruitfulness of the Spirit.  Jesus’ ministry is comprehensive and holistic, individual and communal, personal and public.  This is the nature of God’s redeeming love and justice.

As Augustine, and so many since, have argued, God’s love and justice seek to transform a world of disordered love and power.  The full salvation of the Lord takes the spiritual brokenness, pain, and unjust suffering of the world with the greatest seriousness.  Human beings are body-souls, and the comprehensive nature of our lives in God’s image intrinsically matters because of how we have been made.  Our material, physical, economic, and social lives are all in view of God’s new reign in Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit.  God’s ultimate and just judgment will destroy all remaining destructive manifestations of evil and injustice, so that what is made new can be fully and eternally alive.

This all leads to the strong affirmation that justice is not extrinsic to the gospel but intrinsic to God—to the revelation of God in Jesus and to the manifestation of God’s loving and just reign through the new humanity of God’s people, the church.  To follow the God of redeeming love and righteousness is to follow the God of justice.

Written By

Mark Labberton, President

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In her role as executive pastor at a church in East Harlem, Wendy Hu-Au works to cultivate hope and community in a dynamic neighborhood.