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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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God is a God of justice; it’s a core aspect of His character. So, as people made in His image, we innately desire justice and can usually recognize when injustice has occurred. But here’s the thing: Because we live in a sinful world, our definition of justice is often significantly different from God’s and even from other people who may see the world differently than we do. What’s worse is that so often in our culture today, we tend to confuse feeling offended with suffering injustice. So, with so many different versions of justice out there, let’s break down what God’s version looks like and how we can live it out.
The biblical ideology of justice is primarily captured in two Hebrew words—tzadeqah and mishpat.
Tzadeqah: This word can be translated as “being just or righteous.” It refers to a life of right relationships or relational justice (or just-ness).
Mishpat: This word can be translated as “treating people equitably—in a fair and impartial manner.” At its core, it’s rectifying justice.
Over and over again in Scripture, we’re shown that tzadeqah and mishpat must go hand-in-hand. Think about it: If we walk in tzadeqah with one another, we would have no need for mishpat because everyone would be living in right relationship with everyone else. Mishpat is only necessary because of sin. It’s only when a violation of right relationship against yourself or others has taken place that the desire for action—for protection, defense, restitution, or retribution—comes about.
So, the biblical definition of social—or societal—justice means to treat all people equally and in a right and just manner. It’s a combination of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV, relational) and “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1 ESV, societal/rectifying).
The term social justice carries a lot of connotations today. Depending on where you land from a political perspective, it can either be championed or condemned. The biggest problem is when we allow the media, popular trends, political agendas, and institutions of power—on either side of the pendulum—to shape our perspective on justice. But we can’t allow ourselves to be moved; we must come back to God’s definition of genuine biblical justice.
Because the truth is, the intention behind “social justice” for most people is not too dissimilar to this tag-team of tzadeqah and mishpat. It’s where relational justice and rectifying justice meet. And when removed from any political or cultural influences and motivated by a desire to see God’s work accomplished in the world, it’s part of holistic godly justice.
So, regardless of whether you call it “social justice” or not, Christians who advocate for issues such as pro-life, caring for the poor and marginalized, racial reconciliation, religious liberty, civil rights, and sex trafficking are actively engaged in this tandem of tzadeqah and mishpat.
This biblical fight for justice is made clear in the Book of Micah where we’re commanded to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8 NKJV). Did you catch that? Biblical justice involves humility before the Lord, knowing we’re no better than anyone else and equally in need of His grace, goodness, and guidance. And we live out the gospel when we live amongst others in a way that defends their dignity and seeks peaceable, right relationships with everyone.
For more on the topic of justice, mercy, and the Christian response to current issues, visit Resources.CalvaryFTL.org.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.