Justice and the Christian: Part 1, A journey toward justice

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Smith Hopkins | January 18, 2018

"The arc of the moral universe is long," Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "but it bends toward justice." I hope the same is true of the arc of my short life.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Growing up I took an interest in matters of justice. Politics were intriguing. Philosophy was riveting. I spent many hours in reading and conversation about justice. I ended up adding a philosophy major in college. During these years, my sense of justice was connected to one central idea: personal responsibility.

The embedded idea went like this: your choices largely determine your lot in life. I knew that if I worked hard enough, performed well enough, and avoided foolish choices, then, in the end, I would come out on the right side of justice. My success or failure before God and others, in other words, would largely come down to me. 

Now, it's a little embarrassing to look back. It’s amazing how quickly we can change. Like you, I've done a good bit of growing since my formative years. One area in particular is a growing awareness that my successes in life before God and others are not due to my responsibility but because of gracious opportunity and generosity. Yes, I’ve often worked hard. But even my work ethic, I've come to realize, was a gift I didn't choose. It came from Christian parents and a network of supportive voices. Yes, I’ve often performed well. But my capacity to do so was also a gift from God and others. I imagined that my successes before God would come down to me, but I’ve come to realize that my standing before God is in no way a credit to me; it is a gift of grace. On my own I would never, could never, come down on the right side of God’s justice. Could I have been more naive?

My standing is not rooted in my choices or responsibility but in God, whose mercy has absorbed his judgment in the loving death of Jesus at the cross. Don't miss this connection between God's grace and justice. Do you see it? Timothy Keller puts it well in his book Generous Justice, “...there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.”

there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.
— Timothy Keller, Generous Justice

My growing awareness of God’s grace and generosity has led me to a growing conviction. If I’m a recipient of God’s grace, then I am called to be a steward of his gracious, generous justice for the world. This conviction took another step over the past year or so. Our leadership at Oliver Creek went through many months where we studied and discussed God’s mission for the church. The mission of the church is to be a people transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. If this is true (and it is, Rom 8:29; 12:1-2), then justice is an essential part of God’s mission for the church. That’s because justice is an essential part of God’s nature, of Christ’s ministry, of his kingdom, and his call. We cannot be the church and carry out the mission of God unless we practice justice. And so my growing conviction as a Christian is that I am called as a steward of grace and justice, but I’m realizing that this call is not just for me; it is for the church. My calling as a minister is not just to do justice but to equip the saints for the work of justice ministry.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
— Romans 8:29

In the months since clarifying God’s mission for us at OC, we are slowly reevaluating what we do in light of it. One area was particularly convicting for me: parenting. I taught a series called Missional Parenting where we looked at parenting through the prism of God’s mission to transform us and our children into the image of Jesus Christ. At the end of the series, my wife and I were evaluating how we were doing in some of the core areas (identity, holiness, vocation, community, service, gospel testimony, and justice). We realized we were doing well in some areas. But when it came to justice, we were not cultivating it in the lives of our children, because it was not an important part of our lives. You parents know that justice is hard to embody in a regular way. It’s hard to have regular habits of justice, especially when you include young children in the mix. You know, the very children that we hope to shape into women and men of God who do justice. Moving the parental goal post from safety to sanctification has been disorienting. What can we do? What should we do? We are on a journey to find out. 

And so, for me, an interest in justice has grown into an awareness of grace. My awareness of grace has grown into a conviction to do justice.  And that conviction is now large enough to share with others—especially my children and the brothers and sisters at Oliver Creek.

In this space over the next few months I plan to explore a biblical view of justice and how it relates to Christians today. These are summaries of my teachings on the subject in a series over at Oliver Creek during Winter 2018. Perhaps you too could benefit from some biblical reflections on God’s justice and the Christian over the next few months. If so, I invite you to join us on a journey toward justice.