what is justice?
Open Your Bible
Matthew 20:1-16, Psalm 146:5-9, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Psalm 33:4-5
BY Guest Writer
Text: Matthew 20:1-16, Psalm 146:5-9, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Psalm 33:4-5
Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
– Deuteronomy 16:20
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
– Isaiah 58:6
I’ll never forget the moment when I first encountered the part of Isaiah 58 that talks about breaking the chains of oppression and setting the captives free.
Isaiah 58 first came into my life as a powerful statement of promise to me personally. If there was anything I longed for most at that point in my life, it was freedom. Freedom from the chains of my own sin that seemed to choke my spirit. Freedom from the sin of others that left me carrying a load of shame I could not shake. Freedom from the oppressiveness of my fears that seemed to cripple me. As I read Isaiah 58, the words came at me like gale force winds of the Holy Spirit, reminding me that Jesus came to set the prisoners free.
These words of truth changed me.
But about two years after I was first so deeply affected by the Scripture, I began to see that Isaiah 58 was meant to be more than a spiritual metaphor for me—it was a command for all of the people of God and spoke to a reality of literal slavery and oppression. The prophet Isaiah was indicting Israel for the physical captivity and oppression in which they were complicit; most importantly he was connecting their lack of justice to their false worship before God.
Seeking justice—bringing right order and exerting life-giving power to protect the vulnerable—is a command that the God of justice gives to us all.But, fighting injustice—the abuse of power that oppresses the vulnerable through violence and lies—can be excruciatingly hard work. It can be exhausting. So, seeking justice begins with seeking our God who created justice; our God who longs to use us, every one of his children, to bring justice; our God who offers us the yoke of Jesus in exchange for things that otherwise leave us defeated. He offers to make our burdens light.
The gospel is about spiritual freedom from sin and reconciliation to God through Jesus for eternal life, and it is also about bringing physical freedom for those suffering abuse and oppression. Our lives are meant to proclaim that Jesus has broken our spiritual chains, and in this proclamation we join Jesus in seeking justice for the oppressed.
When we understand the reality that God sees injustice and calls his people to act, we will grow to see that our own personal freedom and reconciliation in Christ is not the end of the story. We are free so that we can be part of God’s work of setting others free.
The questions we find ourselves asking as we meet God in his Word are ever changing and ever expanding. But what is most important is that we continually put ourselves in front of God’s Word, to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us—this will draw us ever nearer to understanding justice first in the heart of God and next in our own lives.
Bethany Hoang is the Director of the Institute for Biblical Justice for the International Justice Mission. She is a member of the Advisory Board for U.S. Lausanne and served as a Delegate for the 2010 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. Bethany holds a B.A. in Religion and History from Miami University of Ohio, and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of Deepening the Soul for Justice.