I don’t think it needs to be stated that some of the most important issues to many people in our decade are related to matters of justice. The abortion debate has broken out onto the national scene. The debate over whether you can identify as homosexual/lesbian and be Christian has broken into some more staunchly conservative churches. And the point where things get messier is that injustice has often happened in churches and has not always been dealt with appropriately.
One of the first principles that I turn to in understanding justice is the fact that God is just. While man has a sense of what is just, his heart is inclined towards injustice. When we consider the mess that this world is, we can cling to the fact that God is just. The Lord states in Isaiah 61:8 “For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” We also read in Psalm 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”
Because the Lord loves justice, the Scriptures are full of commands for His people to love justice. He lays out the plan for His people in Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Of course, the sinful inclinations of His people lead in the opposite direction and He must call them back: “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?” (Mic. 6:8)
Of course, God never gave His people an airy sense of justice that doesn’t touch down and take shape in this world. If you read the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, they lay out a pattern for dealing with the summary statements of God’s law in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). You find case laws against abortion (Exodus 21:22-25), against rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), etc.
Some will draw a line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, in the Old Testament we find that Church and State (to use modern lingo) are very closely connected. Nevertheless, we do find that principles from Old Testament case law do extend into the New Testament. Which also apply to the modern day State as the Church disciples the nations.
As the primary vehicle of the kingdom of God (Matt 16:19), the Church must promote justice. Consider the work of the Apostle Paul in the City of Corinth and how he unequivocally condemns the act of incest in chapter 5, moving to the act of excommunication. The Apostle Paul writes: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (I Cor. 5:4-5)
In all of the judicial assemblies of the church, Old Testament principles of justice must be taken into account. In II Corinthians 13:1, the Apostle Paul draws on the principle of 2 or 3 witnesses to establish a case (see Deut 19:15 and Numbers 35:30). This was a safeguard put in place in the case of the lying witness (Deut. 19:18-19). It also falls in line with the teachings of Jesus concerning the bringing of charges against a brother in Matthew 18: 15-20.
Of course, there are times when people do not see proper justice take place. In a world where the state doesn’t hold to Biblical principles of justice, and injustice has also crept into the church, and even in the case where a matter can lie buried under lies and confusion, there is still justice that we can look to. God tells Christians not to take justice into their own hands. God Himself will repay the wickedness of men (Ecc. 3:17, Heb. 10:30, Rom. 12:19).
None of this is at odds with Biblical principles of forgiveness, loving ones enemies, and seeking the conversion of the enemies of God. Sometimes God brings about justice through conversion. Consider the prayer of the Deacon Stephen when the Apostle Paul stood watching the clothes of those stoning him: “Lord, hold not this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) It is when we pit these principles against each other, that injustice gets a stronger foothold.
The reason that we don’t have to pit these principles against each other, is because both of them were at work at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice and mercy met together, so that the infinite debt of man’s sin and injustice and mercilessness could be paid. Yes, there are still worldly consequences for sin, which should be pursued where possible. But even the criminal on death row, even the thief on the cross, can know the power of Christ through faith in Him. In this way, the cross of Christ realigns our disordered understandings of justice and mercy, and recreates the image of God in fallen man.