“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” — Isaiah 1:16-17
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” —Luke 11:42
“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” —James 1:25-27
Many years ago, a man came to my office to complain that he was offended that I had allowed a gay man to take communion. He said, “According to the Bible that man should be stoned to death.” I replied, “I agree. I think, though, that you should let him stone you to death first.” He sputtered, “What, why? What are you talking about?” I said, “According to the Bible you should be stoned to death because you are living in adultery.” Again the sputtering reply, coupled with indignation. “I am not!” “Are you divorced and remarried?” He nodded. “Jesus said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” (Mark 10:11). I continued, “And the Bible says that the adulterer should be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). He left my office shaking his head. Heaven help us if we get the justice we deserve! “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
It is because of Jesus and His work on the Cross that we can be justified and made right with God. Jesus showed far more care for the outcast, and reaching out with compassion to help those most often overlooked, than He did for legal retribution. Take for example the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The law said she deserved death. Jesus forgave her. In His earthly ministry, Jesus pursued justice. He physically and spiritually rescued those in need. He healed lepers, raised the son of a widow, restored sight to the blind, and fed multitudes of hungry followers. Our call is to fully embrace the cause of Christ. The end goal of biblical justice is seeing lives reconciled to God and eternally transformed.
But when and how do we “act justly” (Micah 6:8), or “give justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3)? The learning is in the doing. In Mark 9:39-41, Jesus said, “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” And St. James said in the quote above, “the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” We learn by doing, and we will be blessed in our doing. James concludes his thought with this exhortation: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The command is simple: we are to reach out to the least, the lost, and the lonely. We are to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
Do we ignore the Word, and turn a blind eye to those who disobey the Scriptures? Not at all. We show the love of Christ to them. We treat them with the fruit of the Spirit. We display God’s mercy for “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).