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“What’s the relationship between the Gospel and social justice?” That’s a question I’ve been asked many times over the last few years. It’s one of those hot-button issues that we Christians can get riled up about fairly quickly, regardless of where we come down on it. Unfortunately, discussions about the relationship between the Gospel and social justice also tend to muddy the waters rather than clear them up. What I would like to do, then, is give us a good look at the Gospel and social justice from 40,000 feet. I have found that getting an aerial view of this issue before we wrestle with particulars on the ground is essential. So here’s the Gospel and social justice from 40,000 feet:

social-justiceThe Gospel is about a past achievement. Social justice is about a present work. The Gospel is about what Jesus accomplished (past tense) for our redemption some 2,000 years ago in his life, death, and resurrection. Social justice is about bringing (present tense) Jesus’ redemptive achievement at the cross to bear upon the injustices that exists in our world.

Think about it this way: on the one hand, the Gospel is about vertical justice. At the cross Jesus satisfied the holy justice of God against us and our sin in order “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20). Not only is the cross the place where guilty sinners are forgiven, it is also the place where the restoration and reordering of the created order was guaranteed and made possible. This is the Gospel in a nutshell. The Gospel is not about what we have done or even will do; it’s solely about what God has done in Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection. As Martin Luther once said, “The only contribution we make to our justification is our sin which God so graciously forgives.

On the other hand, social justice is horizontal and flows out of the vertical justice that Jesus satisfied and the reconciliation that he accomplished in his redemptive mission. We pursue horizontal justice (for the oppressed, poor, widow, orphan, etc.) because God first achieved vertical justice (cf. 1 John 4:19) at the cross and thereby guaranteed the eventual renewal and reordering of all creation when the sons of God are revealed (Romans 8:19-23). It is critical that we recognize that the horizontal work of social justice is made possible and empowered by God’s vertical achievement of justice in the Gospel.

  • http://Website John

    Great explanation Dan. We’ve got to keep this relationship right or we’ll undermine both the Gospel and social justice.

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