We can be certain that there are only two points within the entire span of time when perfect justice will be reified among men. The first is in the atoning work of Christ. Christ died the “just for the unjust” in a redemption designed to give perfect execution of God’s wrath for all the sins of all his elect. The last farthing was paid and those who are thus ransomed certainly will come to repentance. It is this certainty that explains the present patience of God with the moral tailspin of the world (2 Peter 3:9). He will rescue the righteous man and “hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:7-9). Believers are received as just, though we are unjust, for perfect justice has been done by God himself in bruising his Son for our iniquities.
The second point of perfect justice will occur when the final judgment comes and many will hear, “Enter into the joy of your Lord,” and others will hear “Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” Paul was confident, in light of the perfectly just operations of the covenant of redemption, he would be given a “crown of righteousness” by “the Lord, the righteous judge,” along with all “who are unflinching lovers of his appearing” [my translation]—both his humble appearing for redemption and his glorious appearing for the perfect consummation of all things (2 Timothy 4:8). Peter gives more detail to this manifestation of perfect righteousness in depicting it as “the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men,” the meltdown of this present heavens and earth, and the presentation of a promised “new heaven and new earth in which righteousness makes its abode” (2 Peter 3:7, 12-13). I agree with the vision perceived by Eric Mason in his Woke Church when he wrote, “We can’t let these issues of race make us forget that Jesus is coming back. We may think anger, and picketing, and legislation, and hashtags change things. But there’s a real revolution coming. He will set all things in order. . . . Yet here we’re seeing the equality of all people who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb and made worthy through Christ to be able to stand before God. They’re not standing in themselves; they’re standing in the Lamb. They’re not proclaiming how great they are or what they did for Christ. They’re standing and they’re showing how worthy Christ is!” (168, 171).
In between these two perfect displays of justice, how should Christians look at the principle of justice and righteousness revealed in Scripture? The standard of righteousness, and therefore of justice, is divine law. Because righteousness is impossible without the love of righteousness (the crown of righteousness is given to those whose affections are constantly set on his appearing), the highest form of purely just living is to love God with all of our being. As the greatest of beings who is infinitely worthy of praise and whose goodness is immutable, God stands as the object of supreme love, both of benevolent love and of complacent love. To love him constitutes, therefore, the first and greatest commandment. Righteousness and justice find full exhibition in love for God. Precisely this constituted Jesus as the exalted Savior-King in the Hebrews application of Psalm 45: “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore, God your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’” (Hebrews 1:8, 9).
The second commandment also calls for love of the righteousness that it expresses: ”Love your neighbor as yourself.” John gives a perfect correlation to love and righteousness in saying, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). We are not allowed to bless God but curse men, for humankind is made in the image and likeness of God (James 3: 9, 10). Even within the commandment of love for neighbor, we find a hierarchical application of the duty related to divine righteousness as Paul relates the work of the Spirit to the moral love intrinsic to the law. He expounds love for neighbor as doing “good to all people as we have opportunity, particularly those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). This point is precisely what Jarvis Williams affirms in saying, “Practicing racial reconciliation means that I regard a white Christian as my brother (remember that I am an African-American), but not an African-American who is a non-Christian. Hence, my love and service to my Christian brothers and sisters should transcend any love, affection, favoritism, devotion and service that I offer someone from my race, because Christians are part of the family of God. Membership in the Christian family is much more important than association with any ethnic group or club” (One New Man,136).
The second commandment, therefore, is to be kept purely and conscientiously, with both benevolent and complacent love. Because the beings loved, however, are finite both in nature and being, loving them is dependent on the Being and excellence of God himself. Their excellence, even if sinless, is less glorious than that of God. Both benevolence and complacence toward them, therefore, arises from their own relation to God. Jesus introduces us to the intensified covenantal love when he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34). Omitting any discussion as to how “perfect hatred” (139:22) is a proper response to God’s enemies and a reflection of God’s own moral perfection (Psalm 5:5; 11:5; Malachi 1:2, 3), we must recognize that sometimes love for God will result in separation from and resistance to fellow creatures (cf. Luke 14:26). The regard we have for their ways compared to the moral imperative of knowing, following, and loving Christ will seem like hatred.
These relationships—justice, righteousness, and love [with its perfect corollary, hatred of evil]—inform us as we seek to investigate how the Christian responds to injustice in the world, both toward himself and toward others. Does Scripture guide us to fitting responses when we are treated unjustly? In writing to slaves about unjust treatment from brutal masters, Peter said, “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” When Paul was imprisoned, it certainly was unjust, but he prayed that “utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). He told the Philippians that his imprisonment “had turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). He requested of the Colossians to pray “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ for which I am also in chains” (Colossians 4:3). He invited Timothy not to be ashamed of the “testimony of our Lord nor of me his prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Paul expressed nothing but confidence in divine providence in these situations.
When James preached strongly against wealthy farmers who fraudulently withheld wages from their workers, he warned them that the cries of the oppressed would certainly come to the Lord of Hosts. This fearlessness in oppression was the spirit of personal indulgence and love of position that consummated itself in the killing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The only righteous one was subjected to their perversion of justice. In light of that he told those who were mistreated so to “be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. . . .Do not grumble against one another. . . .Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience (James 5:1-10). When a thing reaches the ear of the Lord of Hosts, it certainly will be set right.
How do we respond to the theory of social justice and the remedies it sets forth for seeking just resolution of its perceptions of injustice? In what way does gospel justice form the response that a Christian has to unjust situations in the world? How should admonitions of patience and submission to providence inform the Christian response to the principles of social justice? How do we evaluate terms of repentance when we believe we have been wronged? How do we decide that we have been on the receiving end of injustice? Is it godly admonition, or even our prerogative, to regulate the terms of sufficient remorse and repentance from supposed oppressors? Should Christians encourage other Christians to work out some way of vengeance, a way to identify and isolate oppressors and demand compensatory action as a remedy? How should we act when certain aspects of injustice are within our reach; how should we respond when others are beyond our reach? Does the gospel reality that we already have received perfect justice in the framework of infinite mercy in God’s gracious provision of his Son as Redeemer and that he himself will execute perfect justice on wrongdoers influence our perceptions of how justice is defined and sought in secular culture?
These questions were dealt with at the 2019 National Founders Conference – The Gospel and Justice. You can watch the sermons here.