Social Justice Defined
“Social justice” is a term often thrown around, but very rarely defined, explained or even clearly understood in daily discourse. Yet a clear definition of this concept is necessary because there is indeed a such thing as social justice - and then there is justice. Contrary to popular delusion, there is a difference between the two, for if they were indeed one and the same, the term “justice” would be sufficient. No qualifier or modifier would be necessary. But I've found that most often conflate these two concepts, which causes much confusion, contention and debate amongst Believers regarding our charge as Christians. One might argue that it’s just semantics, but I’d passionately beg to differ. And I am sincerely alarmed when professed Christians not only claim “social justice” is what the Body of Christ is charged to pursue, but that they’d dare argue it’s what Jesus preached or supported during His earthly ministry.
According to Merriam Webster, “justice” is the impartial administration and maintenance of what is just. It involves “righteousness” “equitableness” (fairness), “impartiality” and “moral rightness”. We see justice demanded of God's people in Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:8-9, Exodus 23:1-9, Leviticus 19:15, James 1:27 and elsewhere in the Scriptures.
Merriam Webster formally defines “social justice” as “a state or doctrine of egalitarianism” which is the notion that all social, economic and political “inequalities” must be removed from society. According to Dictionary.com, “social justice” is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. THIS iteration of “justice” is NOT commanded in Scripture.
Justice pursues what is right according to an absolute, impartial standard. Social justice pursues what is believed to be lacking for some based on what is believed to be possessed by others. Justice is driven by what is morally acceptable, or what God says is right. Social justice is driven by what is socially acceptable, or what the people say is right. Justice is objective. Social justice is subjective. Justice involves matters that can potentially impact anyone. Social justice involves matters that are believed to only impact specific groups.
With these clarifications in mind, it is obvious that upholding justice most certainly IS the Church’s charge. Yet, here is why Jesus didn’t pursue nor should the Church fight for “social justice”.
Because “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4)
From its formal definition, it’s clear that social justice deals with the affairs of this life. Social, economic, and political matters are an ever-present reality of the human condition. Whether real or perceived, assumed inequalities in these areas are byproducts of sin and will never be remedied as long as we dwell in a fallen world populated by carnal men at enmity with God. Jesus, Himself, said the poor will always be among us (Matthew 26:11). This isn’t to say the Church is to turn a blind eye to the legitimate needs of the less fortunate. But it is to say that our focus isn’t and has never been to fight for the ultimate resolution of their earthly needs, and it is especially not our charge to take on social issues born of nefarious agendas (more on this later).
There are professed Christians who erroneously argue that social justice was at the heart of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Yet, Jesus repeatedly said He was about His Father’s business.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” Jesus said (John 6:29). His mission, to call sinners to repentance, is a spiritual one (Luke 5:32), and His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
The Jews thought Jesus came to overthrow the Roman government and re-establish Israel’s earthly kingdom at that time. But that didn’t happen. They thought Jesus came to grant them earthly justice from their earthly oppressors. But Jesus told them to “render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar” (Matthew 22:21). Instead of charging His fellow Jews to #resist, march and protest, Jesus told them to pay their taxes. No worldly pursuit of “justice” they thought to ascribe to Jesus would stick. He instead corrected them about His mission and made His rounds only speaking and doing the will of His Father.
And we, the Church, are also charged to only speak and do the will of God. There are detractors who undermine this charge - to preach the Gospel, to pray and to pursue righteousness through Christ - by characterizing it as apathy, “doing nothing” or insufficient. But those who know Christ and His Word are well aware that the Gospel is the POWER of God, and it that deals with the very source from which the issues of life spring: the hearts of men (Proverbs 4:23); that spiritual warfare is FAR from an apathetic feat (see 2 Corinthians 10); and that our good works in the world come as the FRUIT of our saving faith, not as a prerequisite for it (Ephesians 2:9). Because we believe on Christ - because we are born again of the Holy Spirit, God works in us to will and to do for HIS good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Society doesn’t guide our activities, the Holy Spirit does. The Church is here to be salt and light that we point others to Jesus Christ. Our great commission is to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20). We care for and extend compassion to those who suffer, but we aren’t here to eradicate suffering in the world. Our ultimate battle is not against flesh and blood, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We are soldiers in the army of the Lord. As such, we do not war according to the flesh and the weapons of our warfare are NOT carnal (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
Because Social Justice Perverts Justice
Since our charge is to “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17), an earnest pursuit of it exposes social justice as a hindrance to our ability to do just that. Even as there are legitimate causes lumped under the social justice umbrella, there are many that actually contradict the will of God. Again, social justice pursues the absence of inequality in society. Not only is this never going to be achieved but, unfortunately, mankind has also found a way to pervert the meaning of “equality”. All mankind were created equal in value to his Creator. God is no respecter of persons - He does not show favoritism but welcomes all who fear Him and seek HIS righteousness (Acts 10:34). But mankind is not guaranteed nor promised anything in this life, except trouble and a natural death (John. 16:33; Hebrews 9:27). Our economic, social, or political standing is NOT guaranteed. Some the Lord wills to be rich, some poor, some male, some female, some Black, some White. That’s not inequality. That’s DIVERSITY. Should we ignore the legitimate needs of others or take advantage of, abuse or oppress one another? Absolutely not! But is each person owed what another has for equality sake? Absolutely not!
Yet the latter is what social justice battles tend to encompass. It is the leaven that leavens the whole lump. The plight for all things being equal has gotten so perverse that society is allowing even that which undermines the “common good” to be legitimized. Aiding the less fortunate with their basic needs to survive (food, clothing and shelter) is a just cause. Rebuking a professed Christian for his individual display of clear, undeniable racism is a legitimate reproof. But advocating for one’s “right” to sin is just evil. In the name of “equality”, PASTORS have urged Christians to support same-sex marriage. In the name of “fairness,” there are professed Christians who march for a woman’s “right” to abort her unborn child. In the name of “justice”, there are professed Believers willing to defend clear criminals just because they share their skin color or gender. In the name of “doing what’s right” we legalize and normalize gender confusion and demonize (and will soon criminalize) those who call them what God created them to be! Jesus did NOT die for us to fight these earthly battles, and He most certainly didn’t die for us to fight in favor of sin and perversion.
True justice is doing what is right before God, and God tells us not to imbalance the scales or justify the wicked (Proverbs 17;15; 20:23). We should not show favoritism to a “poor man” simply because he is poor (Exodus 23:2-3), nor should we call evil “good” and good “evil” (Isaiah 5:20). But this is precisely what social justice does. It encourages and enables a “Robin Hood-esque” application of “justice” and doing “good”, which the Lord never ordained. While some see “social justice” as merely “justice”, it is clear that its application is wholly unjust, unfair, entails group/identity politics (partiality) and promotes wickedness in society. The scales of justice become imbalanced because now the plight is for some typically nefarious “right” for a given group by demonizing another group. Rather than looking at individuals and specific details on their own merit, social justice rewards or punishes us simply for belonging to a given social group. It is impossible to ensure “justice for all” under this perverted application.
Because Christ Suffered Injustice for the Gospel + God's Glory
If social justice were the ultimate justice Jesus came to fight for on earth, He undermined His own mission by subjecting Himself to suffer an unjust and inhumane crucifixion. After all, Jesus was an innocent Man. Pilate, the Roman governor who presided over Jesus’ case, declared Him so (Luke 23:13-16).
Still, in THE MOST grievous act of injustice ever known to mankind, Jesus was arrested and delivered to the Jews. He endured an unfair trial. He was mocked, flogged, made to wear a crown of thorns, made to carry His own cross, nailed to said cross, and scorned until He hung His head and died. Certainly, on the third day, He rose to victory, fully vindicated. But it wasn’t because of the actions of men, but by the power of God.
Indeed, if social justice were Jesus’ charge, He would have neglected the cross altogether to instead focus on delivering the Jews from the Romans. With the exception of the few who exercised discernment, the Jews were expecting Jesus to come as their earthly King and free them from oppression. But instead of leading a resistance and establishing His kingdom on earth, Jesus walked around performing miracles and preaching about a Kingdom in another realm.
“Are you the King of the Jews,” Pilate inquired of Jesus during His trial.
“My Kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied. “If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here” (John 18:33-37, my emphasis).
If social justice were His cause, Jesus could have led the greatest social justice mission known to men during His earthly ministry. But He chose to pursue a justice of heavenly proportions with eternal rewards. It undoubtedly would have been great for the Jews to be delivered from the hand of their oppressors. But Jesus was offering them and others eternal deliverance from the oppression of sin and death as well as the ultimate justice due us all, which is the wrath of God! Thankfully, as He passed on the social justice cause that seemed pressing to His contemporaries, Jesus remained focused on making a Way for eternal justice to be established between God and man.
Because Social Justice is NOT a “Gospel Issue”
Believers are to seek first the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Yet, those fighting for social justice often find themselves seeking first the cares of men and their own self-righteousness. They fight for what THEY believe is right. Because if social justice is, indeed, the Church’s duty and “a Gospel issue” social justice proponents need to explain why our Chief Cornerstone, on multiple occasions, didn’t do what THEY might think is right, expedient or even just.
They’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus” didn’t allow justice to be served when He prevented the Pharisees from stoning the adulteress they were well within the rights of the Law to condemn (John 8:7).
They’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus” thought it a better deed that His body be anointed with expensive perfume than to sell it and give the money to the poor (Matthew 26:6-13).
They’d need to explain why Jesus rebuked Martha for what they’d call “taking action” while He praised Mary for what they’d describe as “doing nothing” (Luke 10:38-42).
They’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus” worked a miracle to give Peter the money he needed to pay the temple tax, (Matthew 17:24-27) but Peter had not a dime to give the lame beggar asking for change outside the temple (Acts 3:6).
They’d need to explain why Peter healed the beggar in Jesus’ name and used that opportunity to share the Gospel instead of protesting against the economic and healthcare disparities that might have caused the man to become a lame beggar in the first place! (Read all of Acts 3).
They’d have to explain why Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:10-14), but later preached to them the following: “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (John 6:26-27).
They’d also have to explain why a “social justice Jesus”, Whom they say came to serve the marginalized in society, shared a lesson on how to love others using a parable of a marginalized man serving someone else (Luke 10:25-37). (Fun Fact: The “Good Samaritan” was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans were a marginalized race amongst the Jews (John 4:9; 8:48)).
Moreover, they’d have to explain why the parable of the “Good Samaritan” wasn’t a tale of the Samaritan bringing his “neighbor’s” attackers to justice!
They’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus”, who knew John the Baptist had been unfairly arrested, didn’t go visit John in prison or attempt to rescue John from his unjust execution, but instead kept traveling and preaching the Gospel (Matthew 11:1-6)!
They’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus” allowed Lazarus, whom He loved, to die from his illness and waited days before going to see about him (John 11:5-6).
Better yet, they’d need to explain why a “social justice Jesus” raised Lazarus from the dead rather than lobby the Romans for universal healthcare (John 38-44).
They’d need to explain a lot about Jesus, because these and other instances suggest Jesus’ actions weren’t driven by social justice but His Father’s business. Did that business include love and compassion? Indeed! But love and compassion did not obligate Jesus, nor does it obligate the Church, to pursue every cause man says is right. But it does require us to tell the world the truth, call men to repentance and declare that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Because We ARE TO Walk According to the Spirit, Not the Flesh (Galatians 5:16-26)
Though Christians are in this world, we are not of it. Thus, we aren’t to be conformed to it but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Our perspective of the world should be from an eternal perspective and we are charged to always look up that we are not overcome by the affairs of this life (Colossians 3:2; Matthew 6:33; 2 Timothy 2:3). With a mind stayed on Christ, we remain focused on His mission. With this mind, it is virtually impossible to be engulfed in fighting earthly battles. It is impossible to desire to fight for everyone to live an utopian existence here on earth when the Gospel says utopia is on the other side of this life, which is passing away, and will only be enjoyed by those who are in Christ. You can’t truly believe and understand what Christ teaches us and do the literal opposite.
Again, the Jews knew that Jesus was coming, but their understanding of his purpose was carnal. They were expecting Him to deliver them from other men. Instead, Jesus walked around for 3.5 years preaching the Gospel to deliver men from the wrath of God. Walking in the Spirit, Jesus was also able to subject Himself to the greatest injustice ever known to mankind that a greater justice would be established. Walking in the flesh, Peter attempted to prevent Jesus’s mission - not once, but twice. Acting out of carnal emotion rather than Spiritual discernment, Peter sliced off someone’s ear on one occasion and spoke under the influence of the Antichrist spirit in another. Jesus sternly rebuked Peter for both (Matthew 16:23-27; 26:51-53).
It could be argued that Christians focused on social justice are acting similarly to Peter before he was firmly rooted in his faith. They are quick to spring into action and may even mean well when they speak, but what they do and say are actually stumbling blocks to the cause of Christ.
Despite their best intentions, they are not mindful of the things of God, but of men. They may truly be zealous for Jesus and abhor legitimate injustices, but they are still a bit hot-headed and ruled by their flesh rather than discernment that comes from God’s Spirit. They may take up certain social justice causes that seem right to them, believing they are doing good. Yet, in truth, they’re a hindrance to the will of God. Either they take up a legitimate cause and push it with great zeal while neglecting to share the Gospel, or they take up a cause that utterly contradicts God’s Word believing they are being compassionate like Jesus. In either scenario, there is spiritual immaturity, compromise and sin at work.
Failure to exercise discernment caused Peter to resist the will of God. Had he not heeded correction, he would have certainly remained on a path of doing Satan’s bidding - even if he meant well. Believers who are married to social justice must examine themselves. They must determine why they are taking up the causes with which they associate themselves. Then they must determine whether the causes are just and if their methods for addressing them truly align with the Word and Spirit of God.
I Said all of this to Say…
I honestly believe I’ve said enough and, if it pleases the Lord, I pray I never have to revisit this topic here. The social justice debate frustrates me deeply. After I wrote this piece last November, I never published it in the secret hopes that this topic would just die already! Yet, nearly a year later, it’s sad to see that not only is it still going strong, it’s established even deeper roots in the Church! It’s such a frustrating display, as Satan’s hand in this debate couldn’t be more evident and otherwise solid brothers and sisters in the faith are being ensnared by it in droves! May the Lord open the eyes of Believers presently seduced by the social justice “gospel” and who are lending their hands and voices to the social justice movement. May their zeal for justice and doing good remain. Yet, I pray the Lord brings their understanding and execution of justice and good works (back) into alignment with His will and His righteousness as they increase in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Amen.