Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: Know the Difference
According to the dictionary, justice is, “behaving according to what is morally right and fair” or “just behaviour or treatment.” Justice is inseparable from morality. As a Jesus follower, I base my decisions that are moral on what I see in the scriptures. I look for how justice and morality are displayed by Jesus. I’ve chosen to view God as the ultimate moral creator and giver. Who else should we look to for guidance in this area? When I allow the gospel to determine my understanding of justice, my definition of it changes.
The United Nations defines social justice as “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” The National Association of Social Workers states that “social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.”
Culturally and generationally, we correlate the term social justice with economic opportunity, access to resources, and equity in treatment. These are not “bad” things whatsoever. In fact they can reflect very Biblical values.
But Christians cannot allow their understanding of justice to be rooted in society’s definitions. Our foundation and compass when approaching the topic of justice must begin with the heart and Word of God.
We live in a society where everyone makes their own decisions on what justice is and all that it entails. Hot topics and controversy tend to lead these conversations, and we have a tendency to let “justice” become an excuse to point fingers at each other. Each culture and generation define social justice in their own way, forever adjusting implications and expectations. Social justice, especially in the age of social media, can elevate someone who has experienced an injustice to a hero status, glorifying victim identity. Do victims deserve recognition, healing, space, and platform? Absolutely. We must listen to those who have been wronged in order to make changes. However, there is a pattern of idolizing victims, which enables a cycle of pointing out injustices without providing solutions to root causes. This is exacerbated by the speed of every news cycle, and noise made on social media…Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok are platforms that offer very limited understanding of the extensive context of each issue. Context that is desperately needed to accomplish sustainable change.
God recognizes that each individual requires different amounts and types of resources, assistance, and tools. His mercy and goodness to us are as unique as we are. Today’s version of social justice tends to make blanket statements and sweeping judgements. One size does not fit all when it comes to true justice. Biblical justice holds space for every circumstance to be unique and complex.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
What is Biblical justice?
I would like to come at this from an angle like someone who is in full-time Christian ministry at YWAM Asheville, fighting human trafficking on a global scale. It can be very easy to be pulled into the emotions of things that I see in moments of cruelty, trauma, and even restoration. A sense of anger can arise when I hear first-hand accounts of neglect and severe abuse.
In these moments, I am given the opportunity to let Jesus expand my understanding of what justice is. He invites me to move forward with the intentional response, rather than the compulsive reaction.
Fighting injustice with intentional response might look like this:
-generosity and care
-walking committedly alongside the individual
-and together pursuing a place of wholeness and wellness.
It can also mean making sure that perpetrators, if possible, are held accountable for their actions. Biblical justice does include standing against evil in all forms. But it doesn’t stop there.
Often we feel that justice has been served in completion when the perpetrator is in jail…or a sum of money has been paid, or something stolen has been restored. Rather than letting it end there, we should look to follow through in every situation with grace. Grace is not at odds with biblical justice. It is a paradox, but one we must embody as Christians.
The Difference between Social and Biblical Justice
Biblical justice goes the extra mile, and then some. True justice walks in forgiveness towards the perpetrator, tries to break the mold of generational abuse, and brings reconciliation. Social justice often falls short by treating a symptom, whereas Biblical justice seeks to treat the root cause; the heart.
Many perpetrators of injustice behave as they do because they are themselves victims of injustice. Yet society expects them to be an upstanding citizen with morals and use common sense. This is a vicious cycle that won’t be stopped by simply having someone declared as “guilty” by a judge and serving their sentence. There is a deeper, heart-level cause that needs to be addressed for Biblical justice to prevail.
As a teenager, my family experienced devastating trauma and injustice. It wasn’t until many years later that I truly chose to walk in forgiveness, which allowed my heart to move forward in freedom in an indescribable way. The people who created the pain will likely never know that I have forgiven them…but if there were ever a time that I was to be face to face with them, I know how I plan to respond. It’s shown me that healing can be possible at every level, and God has used this event to carve love and compassion for offenders in my heart.
Are you quick to write off those who have inflicted pain? Or would you be willing to spend your time with the “sinners” of society, those who cause pain? When Jesus came, he came for the lost, the brokenhearted, the perpetrator.
I pray that believers living in 2021 learn to focus on grace going hand in hand with justice. Our society has often decided that they don’t belong together. But that is who Jesus is. Mercy and truth. Grace and justice. Lion and lamb.
YWAM values training every student who comes to a Discipleship Training School about the true meaning of justice. Everyone who does a DTS at YWAM Asheville will receive teaching on justice, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion…and have the chance to demonstrate the beauty of Biblical Justice to the world around them. If you’re ready to take your understanding of justice to the next level, join us for the next DTS! Apply in just minutes for free.
“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?”