Covenant Theology, the Law, and Biblical Justice

| September 21, 2018

You do not have to venture long into the Christian blogosphere before you find yourself immersed in the recent discussions regarding the role that biblical justice ought to have in the Christian life. This is an important and needed discussion. We live in an age that is saturated with the effects of postmodernism, intersectionality, and critical theory, and Christians have an obligation to speak into these theories and cultures with the sufficient and authoritative Word of God. With that being said, many of these discussions of biblical justice are missing the hermeneutic needed to get to the heart of the issue, and I believe that that hermeneutic is what we see in reformed Baptist covenant theology. There are many making arguments from positions of either dispensationalism or a leaky theonomy. Both of these approaches will miss the heart of the argument, as both sides insufficiently consider what God says regarding the nature of the covenants and the role of the law in the life of the believer. God’s progressive revealing of the covenant of grace, by means of His covenants of promise, greatly aids us in understanding the role that biblical justice ought to play in the new covenant believer’s life.

When many speak about the need for biblical justice in our broken world, they often rush to civil aspects of Mosaic law, such as Exodus 21-23, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 23-24. Micah 6:8 is used heavily as well. These are all important passages in our discussion of how the new covenant Christian ought to live as a child of God, but we must remember that these passages are to be interpreted in their own covenantal contexts. When we read these passages through the lens of covenant theology and New Testament priority, we see that the civil aspects of the Mosaic law have been fulfilled and abrogated in the person and work of Christ. Peter’s vision and experience with Cornelius in Acts 10 is a demonstration of this, as well as Paul’s letter to the Colossians, particularly Colossians 2:16. So when we use these passages in our discussions of what biblical justice is, we are to remember that those particular laws are not binding upon Christ’s new covenant people. We are a spiritual kingdom, and no longer a physical nation. The kingdom of God does not grow through physical expansion and the imposition of Mosaic law upon human society. The kingdom of God grows through the conversion of sinners into children of God. But even though the civil aspects of the Mosaic covenant have been fulfilled and abrogated through Christ’s ministry, these laws still have underlying principles that are important for new covenant believers to seriously consider.

It’s important to remember that the civil aspects of the Law were not thought of in a vacuum. The civil aspects of the Law were essentially the Ten Commandments (i.e. the moral law of God) applied to how Israel lived as God’s national people in contrast to the pagan peoples around them in the land. Thus, as we, reformed Baptist covenant theologians, rightly affirm the perpetuity of God’s moral law, we need to affirm that obedience to God’s moral law has implications for these discussions on biblical justice. Likewise, when we read the words of the prophet Micah against the idolatrous people of Judah, we are to take seriously the call to do justly. Judah had been practicing injustice against their own people and those around them. God, as perfectly righteous and just, hates injustice. God’s people are not to be those who practice injustice or silently allow injustice to take place around them as much as it depends on them. So, the question then arises, what exactly is biblical justice and injustice?

As I see the numerous blog posts, forums, and sermons about the need for biblical justice, I’ve yet to see many seriously engage with the Scriptures in order to answer the question of what biblical justice really is. Many are quick to haphazardly adopt cultural definitions or ideologies, without taking the time to consider whether or not that ideology or cultural term has a biblical warrant. Thus, I believe that when we look at all of the Scriptures through the lens of reformed Baptist covenant theology, we see that living justly is living out God’s moral law towards one’s neighbor. Likewise, biblical injustice is the failure to live out God’s moral law towards one’s neighbor. This can be done either individually, as we see with Zacchaeus in Luke 19, or corporately, as we see with the nation of Israel throughout the time of the prophets. These biblical definitions of justice and injustice are absolutely crucial to these conversations. Justice and injustice are not whatever we make them out to be. They have been biblically defined by God. We, as God’s people, do not have to sit around wondering about what is just or unjust. God has graciously gifted us with His Word to aid us in defining our terms, and in applying those biblical concepts to our own lives. We can look out upon the world, and our own lives, and see clearly through the lens of Scripture those actions which are just or unjust. I can hold up God’s moral law against the laws of my nation to help discern what laws are genuinely just or unjust. I can use the Ten Commandments to discern whether or not someone is genuinely experiencing injustice.

As I’ve thought through that last sentence numerous times in my head, here are some questions that I hope are helpful in recognizing biblical injustice in our world:

    • Is an individual, or an institution, provoking my neighbor towards idolatry (treasuring some created thing above God)? If so that is unjust.
    • Is an individual, or an institution, murdering my neighbor by committing that physical act of unjust murder, or by showing hatred or partiality against my neighbor? If so, that is unjust.
    • Is an individual, or an institution, stealing from my neighbor by either committing the physical act of theft, or by keeping my neighbor from what they’ve been given rights to by God? If so that is unjust.

These questions are not exhaustive, as there are many more insights that can be grasped from seeking to apply God’s commandments in our everyday life, but this can be a good starting place for us as we look to rightly discern what genuine transgressions against God’s law are.

God’s people are to be a justice-loving people, and it is God’s moral law that is the standard for righteousness. Biblical justice is not to be defined by the latest proponents of intersectionality or critical theory. It is to be defined by God himself in His Word. It’s easy for us to get caught up in our own experiences and feelings, but we must be a people of the Book. Our experiences and feelings are not our authority as to what biblical justice and injustice are, God’s Word is. The Protestant Reformers fought tooth and nail for the doctrine of sola Scriptura, and we must be diligent to keep fighting for the authority of the Word in such manner.