Week #8—What Christians Should Ask of Government: To Do Justice


Editor’s note: This is a manuscript from Jonathan Leeman’s class “Christians and Government,” which he is currently teaching through at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. There will be 13 weeks in the class. Here is the course schedule, to be published as it’s taught.

What Christians Should Do For Government

Week 1: Love Your Nation, People, or Tribe
Week 2: Obey Scripture, Get Wisdom
Week 3: Be the Church Together 
Week 4: Be the Church Apart
Week 5: Engage with “Convictional Kindness”

What Christians Should Ask of Government

Week 6: To Not Play God  
Week 7: To Establish Peace
Week 8: To Do Justice (manuscript below)
Week 9: To Punish Crime, Tax, and Defend the Nation

Week 10: To Treat People Equally (Justice and Identity Politics)
Week 11: To Provide Space for True and False Religion
Week 12: To Affirm and Protect the Family
Week 13: To Protect the Economy

* * * * *

Politics is a tough topic for a number of reasons; among them, it raises many morally, spiritually, and pragmatically complex questions.

  • Does a wealthy nation have a moral obligation to provide universal health care?
  • I see the God has given the sword to the state, but does that mean we should support capital punishment if there are demonstrable racial inequalities in the penal system?
  • Must I vote Republican because they are the pro-life party? What if I agree with the other party on every other matter of justice?
  • To what extent can I work for a politician, a lawyer, a lobbyist with whom I disagree on a significant minority of the issues?
  • Does affirmative action respect individual rights by equalizing the starting point between different groups, or does it transgress those rights by knocking qualified individuals out of contention?
  • What about ethnic profiling at the airports and being sure to screen certain ethnicities?
  • With illegal immigrants, how do we balance the seeming tension between the rule of law and humanitarian concerns?
  • Where is the line between encouraging hard work and personal responsibility, and protecting the people who have been institutionally disadvantaged?
  • When does the tax rate become unjust? Can they tax me for 40 percent? 60 percent?

I’m not going to try and answer each of these questions. First, because I don’t think there are easy answers. Second, because I want to give you the beginning of a framework for how to answer them yourself. All of them revolve around the idea of justice, which is what we’re going to think about today.

These days, “justice” and “social justice” do seem to be increasingly popular rallying cries among the politically engaged younger generations. And praise God for the burden to pursue justice. At the same time, there are at least two questions we should ask ourselves:

  • Does my understanding of justice root in a certain ideology or in biblical principles?
  • Does my pursuit of justice account for a right anthropology of sin and fallenness, or could it be that I’m trying to bring heaven to earth now? If so, we will create other justices in our pursuit of justice.

Last week, I built a Christian doctrine of government off a number of texts, but most foundationally Genesis 9:5–6, where God says he will require “a reckoning” for the life of a man. The text does not use the word “justice,” but I think that’s what he means with the term “reckoning.” God requires a reckoning. He requires justice.

The primary goal of government, we said, was to seek peace by doing justice. Several times I’ve mentioned 1 Kings 3:28, which gives us the political philosophy of the Bible in a nutshell: “Israel stood in awe of the king [Solomon], because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” We need wisdom for the sake of pursuing justice.

So what exactly is justice? That’s what we’re going to consider in today’s class.


1. It is the goal of government.

  • 2 Samuel 8:15—So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and righteousness to all his people. (See also 1 Kings 3:28; 10:9; Ezek 45:9)
  • Pslam 72:1–2—Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!
  • Proverbs 29:4—By justice a king builds up the land . .  (see Ezek. 45:9).

2. God is just, and his governance is just.

  • Psalm9:7—But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.
  • Psalm—89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (see Is. 5:16; Jer. 9:24; Zeph. 3:5).

3. Justice on the earth ultimately comes from God.

  • Proverbs 29:26—Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice. (see Prov. 28:5)

4. It is a requirement of righteousness. 

  • The word “justice” is used in 133 verses in the ESV. It’s used together with “righteousness” in 52 of those verses. We see this in the examples of above. It’s what rhetoricians would call hendiadys.

5. It characterizes the messianic kingdom as well.

  • Isaiah 9:7—Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (See also Is. 16:5; 32:1-2; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15)

6. It involves the implementation of impartial and fair judgments.

  • Deuteronomy 16:19–20—You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow . . . (Ex. 23:2, 6; Ps. 99:4; Prov. 16:11; Lam. 3:35-36; Ezek. 18:5-9)

7. It upholds the cause of the weak and disadvantaged.

  • Psalm 140:12—I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. (Deut. 24:17-18; Ps. 10:19; 82:3; Is. 1:17, 23; 10:1-2; Jer. 5:28; 22:13-16)
  • Psalm—103:6: God works righteousness and justice for the oppressed.

8. God expects and requires it of his model people.

  • Isaiah 1:17—Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (see Is. 1:23; Jer. 7:5-7; Ezek. 22:29)

9. It is predicated of institutions and not just people.

  • Isaiah 10:1–2—Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

10. Blessings and prosperity come through it.

  • Proverbs 29:4—By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. (Ps. 106:3; Prov. 2:9, 21:15; Eccl. 5:8-9; Is. 32:1-2)

11. It gives life and is accompanied by mercy.

  • Psalm 119:149—Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life (see Ps. 112:5; 146:7; Prov. 8:20-21; Is. 30:18).

12. It accomplishes redemption.

  • See messianic kingdom verses above. Also…
  • Isaiah 1:27—Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. (see also Is. 30:18; 42:1,3-4; Hos. 2:19-20; Matt. 12:18) 

13. It results from rightly ordered love. 

  • Isaiah 16:5—Then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. (See Ps. 37:28; 99:4; 119;149 Hos. 12:6)

14. It requires wisdom.

  • Proverbs 8:20–21—[Wisdom calls aloud…] I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. (See Prov. 2:9; 1 Kings 3:28) 

15. God requires it of his people.

  • Micah 6:8—He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (See Prov. 21:3; 28:5; 29:27; Amos 5:22-24;)
  • Matt 23:23–24—Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

16. Injustice is common; justice was denied to Jesus.

  • Ecclesiastes 3:16—Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
  • Acts 8:33—In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation?

I hope this biblical review does several things for you. Three practical take-aways:

First, know that your God is a God of justice—and worship him for it. Know that he is a God of justice. I hope you see what a big deal justice is in the Bible and what a big deal it is to God. It is a desire of God’s heart, and the foundation of his throne.

  • Psalm 89:14 does not read “Liberty and prosperity are the foundation of your throne.” No, it says “Justice and righteousness are the foundation of your throne.”
  • Isaiah 5:16 does not read, “But the Lord of hosts is exalted in free markets, and the Holy God shows himself holy in maximizing happiness.” He is exalted in justice. He shows himself holy in righteousness.

Praise God for his justice.

Second, pursue God-like-ness in your private life by seeking justice.

Third, frame your thinking about politics around the idea of justice. When it comes to politics, Christians should be passionate firstly not for free markets or a rising tide of prosperity or equal rights or liberty, but firstly for justice. “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,” says Proverbs 29:27. The primary goal of government, biblically speaking, is not to facilitate wealth creation or freedom. God established it for the purposes of justice. These other values must be secondary for us.

I think this third point offers a helpful corrective to those who say Christians should just get out of politics altogether. Today’s younger generation of evangelicals especially point to the excesses of the Religious Right, to the capitulations and social gospel of the Christian Left, so they want to declare themselves post-partisan. Young evangelical voices advocate leaving the culture wars behind by transcending the partisan and political fray.

I understand aspects of what these voices are reacting against, and am somewhat sympathetic. At the same time, I don’t think this course of action is right, among other things, because God’s people should care passionately about justice.

Now, two cautions are in order. First, Christians should not submit their loyalties blindly to any party. Operatives in both parties want nothing more than your blind loyalty. I do think it’s possible to maintain some type of party affiliation, but we must do so without succumbing to what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat calls “the partisan mind,” in which people are always having to demonstrate their credentials to their fellow party members by never criticizing the party too much, lest one’s fellow party members worry that one isn’t really on “the team.”[1]

Caution number two: we certainly shouldn’t pursue justice in the public square with utopian, heaven-on-earth hopes. Christians have in the past, and this often leads, ironically, to injustice, as the saga of a millennia and a half of Christendom taught.

Bottom line: members of the church, God loves justice, and he finds injustice, which predominately visits the defenseless, an abomination. God’s special people should share that love and passion. The love of justice and righteousness should characterize you more than anyone else in Washington, DC. And therefore, you should seek to “do justice,” as Micah 6:8 puts it.

You should be righteously outraged by the various injustices which characterize the neighborhoods and homes and offices of this city. You should desire to see justice done.

That brings us to our second question for the morning . . .


Admittedly, this is difficult question, and answering it, in fact, requires much wisdom. Remember the description about Solomon with which we began? “Israel stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” I believe it takes wisdom just to discern what justice is and what it requires.

What does it mean? The first thing to notice is that the Hebrew word for “justice” is used interchangeably with the word judgment. But it’s not just any judgment . . .

Definition: Justice means judgment in accordance with what is right.

Primarily, justice is an activity. We speak of doing justice. It’s the activity of prosecuting judgment—of discerning or discriminating between right and wrong, and declaring on behalf of the right for the sake a reckoning. (Not impartiality, per se. Impartiality is one quality of characteristic of this activity.)

Secondarily, justice a quality. We speak of a law as just or a court verdict as just, by which we mean something accords with a right discrimination and declaration.

Notice, then, that true justice always has two things in view. It always has law in view, since law distinguishes between right and wrong. And in Scripture it always has God in view. Some human laws, of course, can be unjust. But divine law never is.

Now I’m going to get a little complicated, but this might help you understand our present American culture wars. There is a long tradition of defining justice as “giving people their due/right,” (going back to third-century Roman jurist Ulpian). And I think this way of thinking about justice is very attractive to the contemporary mind, including among thoughtful evangelicals. The emphasis here is on my inherent worth and my inherent rights. This worth and these rights precede the law. In fact, this worth and these rights created the law. The law exists to protect my worth and my rights. Laws exist to ensure I receive what is due me, due me not as a consequence of the law, but what is due me as a consequence of my own inherent worth.

So in the first description of justice I gave you, murder would be considered wrong because it’s a violation of law; in this second description, it would be considered wrong because it’s a violation of one’s right to life and one’s worth.

The Western democratic rights tradition emerged out of justice conceived in this way. We’re all born with certain “inalienable rights”—among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as Jefferson famously put it. And as you may have heard other say, much contemporary politics in the West is simply about the assertion of our rights and a battle of whose rights should be recognized. On the right of the political spectrum, the rights’ emphasis focuses on religion and money. I have a right to religious freedom, the right of property, the right to keep as much of what I’ve earned as possible. On the left side of the political spectrum, the rights’ emphasis focuses on rights of equal opportunity and moral definition. Or, to put it another way: the political right is happy for government to intrude in certain so-called moral matters, while the political left is happy for government to intrude in economic matters. Yet both sides are building on the same platform: a concept of justice as giving people their due.

Now, let me summarize the larger conversation: The difference between the biblical view and the Western democratic view (whether on the political right or left) of justice can be summarized with a single letter—justice as right versus justice as rights. The Bible says we do justice by doing what’s right. The Western democratic tradition says we do justice by respecting people’s rights. Now, the biblical view of justice also believes in rights! But those rights are built on the foundation of what God says is right. Rights are the flower; what God says is right is the root. After all, what makes rights right? Because God says.

I think this is exactly the relationship between primary and secondary we see in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,
 for God made man in his own image.” The murder is declared wrong here because of the inherent worth of being a human being—we’re made in God’s image. But we know this because God has declared it as a law! He is declaring what’s right. Three times in verse 5 alone, God says “he requires it.” In Genesis 9:5–6, rights are declared right.

Here’s the problem: the Western democratic tradition insists that, in a pluralistic society, we cannot agree on what makes something right. I have my god; you have yours. So let’s just agree on rights; never mind any conversation about what’s right. Let’s take the flowers, forget the roots.

And that works . . . for a little while . . . so long as everyone basically embraces a Christian morality anyway . . .like Americans did until the 1960s, and still do in so many ways. Flowers in a vase do last for a little while, after all.

But how long do those flowers last? Apart from God’s law, defining justice as giving people their due according to their own worth and rights is the essence of idolatry: you must treat me as I deserve, not because God’s law says, but because I’m worth something! But do you see? This has become idolatry. That is, the human being as his own standard of worth.

Notice the massive challenge here for contemporary political argument: two and a half centuries of American political culture has learned to view justice entirely according to giving people their due, not in terms of judgment in accordance with what is right. That latter definition, in fact, sounds almost totalitarian to the American conscience: “Who are you to say what’s right?!”

Which means, no longer can you walk into America’s public square and talk about “right” and “wrong.” The only moral language we’re allowed to use in the public square is the moral vocabulary of “rights.”

Sure enough, we live in a day and age where sexual freedom and rights are beginning to trump religious freedom and rights. And within the conception of justice agreed upon by the political left and right—giving people their due—there is no rebuttal. The game is set and the outcome is fixed because the very terms of justice (giving people their due) offer no way out. Defining myself according to my sexual preferences is my right, my due, just as much as you defining yourself according to your religious preference is your right, your due. All we have left, then, is a shouting match. Who can get the most votes? Who can get the most Supreme Court justices on their side?

To put it another way, in a pagan culture, sexual freedom is religious freedom.

Here’s the irony: when you try to build a society on a concept of justice as rights instead of justice as right, all rights become utterly equivalent. And so, ultimately, might makes right. I can use the media and popular culture and my Twitter account and a majority in the Supreme Court to smear you and make you look irrational and dangerous.

Christians must understand this: when it comes to defining justice, God’s law is primary; human worth is secondary. (Incidentally, the opposite is true of God himself. Because he is the creator, the starting point is his own worth and glory. The law is then the expression of his glory, and protects his glory.)


1. Recognize that all justice comes from God. There’s not some religiously neutral brand of justice, which any of you who went to law school or were political science majors would have been taught in your political philosophy course.

2. Recognize that different spheres call for different kinds of actions. Doing justice means one thing for executing laws that exist. It requires executing them impartially. Doing justice means another thing when creating laws. It means creating laws in accord with God’s law, laws that treat people as God-imagers.

Suppose, for instance, that I don’t believe the present immigration laws are entirely fair or just. What does doing justice look like here? It might simultaneously look like three things according to three different domains. As a subject of the nation’s laws, I will seek to obey and enforce the present law impartially. As a citizen and voter, however, justice might simultaneously cause me to seek to change the law. As a human being, finally, I might seek to redress the injustices of the present law through acts of “charity” and personal help.

Now, in this last scenario, you might notice that I said, I might seek to redress the injustices of the present law through acts of “charity” and personal help. Why “might”? If something is a matter of justice and injustice, there’s no “might,” there are only “musts.” That’s true, but that brings me to the next point.

3. Recognize that obligations to “do justice” increase as proximity increases. The closer you are related to a situation of injustice—closer geographically, closer relationally, closer in terms of formal responsibilities—the more morally culpable you for ensuring that wrongs are turned to rights; for a reckoning.

We learn this from the example of Boaz at the end of Ruth. We learn this from Paul’s comments about a man’s responsibility for his family in 1 Timothy 5. We learn this at the end of the book of Judges where the whole Benjamite tribe is held accountable for not rectifying the sins of a few. 

If my kids and your kids are both hungry, I might be somewhat responsible for your kids and mine, but I’m certainly more responsible for my children, and you for yours.

Is proximity just an excuse to get out of our obligations? No, moral proximity is a concession to finitude and to limited stewardship. God does not have to worry about proximity because he’s omnipresent (everywhere) and omnipotent (can do all things so there’s no scarcity of resources). Not so with us. We’re forced to steward limited resources. Often, we’ll find ourselves faced with two injustices, but with the resources only to address one. Moral proximity helps answer the question I address. Which am I more uniquely responsible for?

4. Apply good laws fairly and impartially. At the very least, doing justice surely means, in Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s words, “equal treatment and a fair process. No bribes. No backroom deals. No slanderous judgments. No breaking your promises. No taking advantage of the weak” (146). Everyone should agree with this much. Do this first in your private life. Have you found it easier to be more unkind to your immediate family members? Your wife and kids? That is unjust. Have you ever done business with a fellow church member, and sort of expected them to give you a discount, or felt comfortable doing a half-hearted job? Have you ever hired an immigrant for a painting job in your house, and figured you could barter them down real low because, well, you know? Likewise, in our public life, we should execute the laws impartially.

5. A just person cares about lifting up the needy and afflicted as much as punishing the rebellious and unjust. You see this in Psalm 72’s description of the just king. In describing his justice, it says,

4 He will defend the afflicted [poor] among the people
and save the children of the needy;
he will crush the oppressor.

Justice involves crushing wrongful oppression—giving someone their just deserts. But justice also seems to be about defending the afflicted and poor—saving the needy and the children of the needy, these who are doubly helpless. Justice involves not just crushing the wrong, but lifting up those who have been wronged. It balances imbalances.

What office do you hold? The office of Senate staffer? Voter? Church elder? Teacher? Parent? What stewardships do you have? Do you use whatever office, whatever stewardship you have not just to oppose wrong, but to lift up those who have been afflicted? To defend the needy? Do you peel your eyes for such opportunities? Is that characteristic of you? Or do you have lots of excuses?

This is characteristic of King Jesus, whom Psalm 72 points toward.

This could be mistaken, but my sense is that the political right in America better understands justice as punishing rebellion, while the political left is better at understanding justice as lifting up those who have been at the receiving end of injustice. Both, therefore, might have something to learn from each other.

6. Seek laws that treat people as creatures made in God’s image. Insofar as we have different stewardships, not all of us are required to heavily get involved in the political process. At the very least it would seem to mean not putting your hand to anything that threatens to have a net effect of weakening a nation’s adherence to the justice and righteousness of God. Consider the “no fault” divorce laws first signed into California law in 1970. Political scientists today, looking at the data, say that this “led to a measureable increase in the divorce rate” (City of Man, 104).

Several Novembers ago, there were two measures on my Maryland state ballot that gave me the opportunity to render judgment in accordance with what is right and would treat people as God-imagers or simply as an amalgamation of appetites. Question 6 “Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allows gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license.” Questions 7 calls for “the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland . . . to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State.” (from Presidential General Election voters guide, dated Nov. 6, 2012). I voted against both of these measures because, I believed, they would weaken the adherence of Maryland residences to the law of God, the righteousness and justice to which all humanity, ultimately, are called.

7. Distinguish means and ends and the requisite flexibility. Sometimes justice requires a fair process, as in the courtroom where it calls for impartiality; sometimes it calls for an achieved result, as in overturning laws for abortion. When it’s the former, one cannot be flexible on means or process. When it’s the latter, one can be very flexible on process. Where this gets difficult, no doubt, is when a proposed law means improving an injustice slightly, but still affirming the bulk of the injustice. Do I affirm a law that entails a discriminatory practice, or that affirms abortion, but that improves the situation slightly? Or do I risk letting things remain as bad as they are because I will only accept complete eradication? Is there room, in other words, for incrementalism or not? I think the answer is, it depends. Further . . .

8. Recognize the inevitability of multiple completing injustices, and often the need for compromise. Politics is difficult because resolving one injustice often involves creating another. As you act to care for the disadvantaged, for instance, you risk transgressing personal responsibility or private property. As you act to care for the welfare of the whole, you often compromise the good of the few.

9. Remember that no one political party has a monopoly on justice. I don’t think all parties are equal in their moral bearing. But I do think that, according to God’s common grace, we can assume that some justice principle at least partially motivates both sides on any given political issue. Parties and politicians typically have a host of bad motivations, and a host of contradictory principles. But I think it’s good to assume that there’s something redeeming about the other side’s position—some principle of justice that invigorates them and that they are emphasizing more than your side is.

To that end, I think it makes you a better political player to look for the justice principle which informs the other side, and see whether you should accommodate it. I’m even willing to say that on most political debates, there’s something on both sides to discover. I’m thinking here of debates over universal health care, immigration, gun control, and more.

Furthermore, I think you’re a better member of your own party when, in addition to fighting for some of its causes, you’re willing to critique its excesses and misdirections. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). You’re a “friend” to your party when your can critique it.

Andrew Walker writes,

Read those you disagree with. Why? For a lot of reasons. First, you need to be exposed to a worldview other than your own so that you can learn to argue well. Secondly, sometimes those you disagree with will have something very thoughtful to say that you might agree with. This will help you learn that your ideological opponent is not an enemy nor are they are a horrible person as our culture so often suggests. Third, and I can’t emphasize this enough: YOU MUST DEVELOP EMPATHY as a political instinct. We live in a pluralistic world with diverse opinions. There are reasons why people hold the opinions they do, often for instinctual reasons they are aware or maybe not aware of. To get a hearing with the person you disagree with, it’s really important to understand as much as possible where they are coming from, and what in their past has helped shape them. You will never be persuasive if you fail to demonstrate empathy.

For example, I disagree with same-sex marriage as a moral and policy principle. But it’s really important that I understand why people think same-sex marriage is an appealing policy idea so that I don’t ignore or brush off their genuine opinions. Treating the person you disagree with as either a monster or an idiot will get you nowhere. This is a matter of common courtesy and vitally important for living in free, diverse societies. What’s more, this is a matter of Christian decency.

10. Employ unlikely alliances AND be willing to stand alone. I think Tim Keller is right when he says that “Christians’ work for justice should be characterize by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation” (158). It’s easy for Christians not to be humble cooperators because we disdain all non-Christian ideas of justice as useless; and it’s easy to fear being provocative, because we know the prophetic posture leads to persecution.

We can be humble cooperators and so engage in unlikely alliances because we possess a doctrine of general revelation and common grace. Romans 2 teaches that the requirements of God’s law are written on all hearts (Romans 2:15), while James 1 says that God scatters gifts of wisdom, goodness, and justice across all humanity (James 1:17). Humility means recognizing that sometimes we get it wrong, and that sometimes non-Christians get it right. That means we should be willing to listen, first of all. It also means that Christians can work with non-Christians, with Muslims, with secularists toward certain ends. There is a place for co-belligerence. Christians can form alliances with radical feminists to fight pornography or sex trafficking. There is a place to appeal to common values, even if those values ultimately root in different worldviews.

At the same time we humbly cooperate, we must respectfully provoke. We must be prophetic by shining the light on darkness. Christians will not always be able to overturn unjust laws, but they must be faithful to warn society of the dangers which lie ahead. It must present a witness. The writings of Os Guinness are useful here. Such a prophetic witness, of course, means earning the label of being fundamentalists, bigoted, even dangerous.

11. Be suspicious of your own capacity for injustice. As fallen sinners, we self-justify quickly. We excuse ourselves quickly. We tell ourselves that it’s not our responsibility or that we cannot do anything. Often this is laziness or selfishness. 

12. Pray for an outward-looking posture that seeks to correct injustice and that does justice. Pray for such love. I have an African American friend who saw another African American friend pulled over and being wrongly frisked. So he pulled up and just watched in order to let the policemen know they were being watched.

Did justice require my friend to do that? Perhaps, perhaps not. I do know he is a man who love justice, and seeks justice, precisely because he does things like that. I pray my heart would be so inclined, knowing that loving justice, in a fallen world, often risks sacrificing yourself.

13. Recognize the need for the organized church to step cautiously into these debates.

14. Hope in God. Prov. 29:26—Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice. We pursue justice because we love our neighbor as ourselves; we don’t want to see them suffer injustice. And the pursuit of justice is one of the most worthy pursuits a person can devote his or her life to. We don’t pursue justice, however, believing that, if only we can pass this law or elect this man, then there will be peace for all nations. Ultimately, people need Holy Spirit-indwelled hearts for that. They need to be born again. So share the gospel, and hope in God alone. It’s easy to let go of one side or the other: to say, “Pursue justice” while not trusting in the Lord for justice; or to say, “Justice will come from the Lord,” while not fighting for justice now. The goal is to do both.


Why is all this important? This is not just an academic debate.

1. It is our duty as Christians and prepares us for the final judgment.

This is important because the question at stake here is, what is our duty to do as Christians? One day, we’re going to stand before God and give an account for how we fulfilled our obligations: did we do everything we were supposed to do? Did we leave undone things we ought to have done? That’s why this is an important question.

Think of the conclusion of that scene of final judgment where Jesus is separating sheep and goats, and he tells the goats to depart from him because they did not minister to him:

Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matt. 25:44–45).

We don’t earn salvation by fulfilling our obligations. But one way to tell the difference between those are saved and those who are not is that the truly saved seek to discern and fulfill the obligations of justice.

2. It’s how we love our neighbor.

Hosea 12:6—So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice,

3. It is how we become like our Savior—Jesus

Isaiah 42:1, 3–4—(which is quoted by Matthew 12:1): Behold my servant…he will bring forth justice to the nations….he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.

It’s true that justice will ultimately come with the return of Christ. And that is one of the sources of our hope. But that shouldn’t keep us from trying to be like Christ.


[1] Matthew Lee Anderson, “Post-Partisan Evangelicals and the Culture Wars: An Attempt at Clarification” http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/post-partisan-evangelicals-culture-wars-attempt-clarification/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+MereOrthodoxy+%28Mere+Orthodoxy%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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