Gospel and Social Justice…is it one or the other? – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 1

When my wife Michelle was running Imagine Goods, she made about 30 trips to Cambodia, primarily to work with women who were survivors of trafficking, helping them have employment as seamstresses, thus lifting them out of the precarious economic and cultural situation that initially made them vulnerable to being trafficked. Every now and then when she would return home and tell the stories of the work in Cambodia, people would ask, “But when did you share the Gospel?” 

Over the last few years I’ve heard Christians make bold comments about the intersection of the church and social action.  Some have said that if your pastor preaches about social justice, leave the church immediately.  Some have said that if your pastor doesn’t preach about social justice, leave the church immediately.  Those who think that a pastor should not preach about social justice believe that the focus should be the Gospel.  A pastor should preach the Gospel, they say.  Those who think the pastor should preach about social justice believe that the way we live our lives is the best preaching, very similar to the classic phrase, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” 

Is it one or the other?  And what am I talking about when I use these words, “social justice” and “Gospel”? 

Each and every Christian should be able to tell the story of the Gospel and how it matters to your life and to the lives of every human.  Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, and read it.

There the Apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, which is a word that means “Good News!”  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there is good news for all that believe and become his disciples.  The message is such good news because it not only gives us the hope of eternal life, but also, as Jesus himself promised in John 10:10, we can experience eternal life now.  He called it abundant life.  Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  And that is what leads us to think about the next word, “social justice.”

Social justice is what happens when the Kingdom of God comes on earth now.  Social justice is when people experience abundant life now.  It is the overturning of injustice so that God’s justice and righteousness reigns in places and lives where God did not previously reign.  That is also good news.  Christian preaching, then, is both the message of good news for salvation to eternal life, and also the message of good news for justice now.  The way I have described this over the years is that we preach good news in word and deed.  Biblical preaching includes both the Gospel and social justice.  We see this very clearly in the ministry of Jesus who not only proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in his preaching, but also lived out the good news by changing lives in his miracles and in his discipleship. 

But don’t take my word for it. Instead allow God’s word to guide us as we evaluate these important questions.  In other words, what does the Bible say?  As we continue our study through Ezekiel, we are studying a section that I think will help us answer that question.

Last week in the previous 44 verses of chapter 20, David preached about the unique history of Israel presented in that chapter. 

This week we finish chapter 20, and we find that the Prophetic Stare is back.  God has asked Ezekiel once again to set his face against something.  You can imagine Ezekiel walking out of his house, and his neighbors turning to look at him, thinking, what would this strange man do now?  Ezekiel turns to the south and stares.  The neighbors roll their eyes and say, “Oh, there goes Ezekiel staring again.”  I wonder how long Ezekiel held the stare?  I wonder if people came up to him and said, “What is this time, Ezekiel?  What are you staring at now?” 

In the next post, we’ll find out.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

6 thoughts on “Gospel and Social Justice…is it one or the other? – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 1

  1. Joel, I agree that both salvation through Christ and doing good works that follow salvation are a central part of a Christians life. However, I’m confused by your use if Social Justice. To better understand your article, how do you define Social Justice?

    1. Thanks for asking, Tyler. I attempt to view social justice through the lens of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. For example, his ministry of healing, as well as his many statements about reaching the least of these. Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is a primary example. Hope that helps. In Luke 4:18-19, his statement that Isaiah 61:1-2 was fulfilled in him helps us understand the heart of his thinking and ministry. That passage includes both word and deed. Social justice, then, includes a Kingdom-focused attempt to do the deeds of the gospel. Further, Micah 6:8 demonstrates the balance of justice and mercy inherent in social justice. Mercy flows from God’s heart to help those in need, while justice flows from God’s heart to eradicate that which systemically marginalizes people. See my post about the classic Babies in the Water story (which does not originate with me).

      1. Joel,

        I think the definition you have is what Dr. Ronald Nash is his 1983 book “Social Justice and the Christian Church” calls Universal Justice. Universal Justice applies to all people, in all times, and is what people would define as being just or as you stated, “a Kingdom-focused attempt to do the deeds of the gospel” and “the balance of justice and mercy.”

        However, from my understanding, Social Justice is a type of Particular Justice, which is applied differently based on the circumstances or situation. Dr. Nash lists three types of Particular Justice: Commercial Justice, Distributive Justice, and Remedial Justice.

        Social Justice is synonymous with Distributive Justice. It deals with the distribution of resources within a society. Any unequal distribution would be considered unjust. This is where many get the idea that any disparity between groups of people in society are an injustice. Further, this is where we are getting the idea of “equity” vs “equality.” This is seen in Webster’s definition of Social Justice as a “doctrine of egalitarianism.”

        And as Dr. Nash highlights the problem with trying to achieve equity, is you have to “treat people differently. But if the egalitarian abandons his quest for equal results and concentrates instead on equal treatment, he must then be content with the unequal results that will follow.”

        In my mind, understanding when to apply Social Justice is key. As a form of Particular Justice it does not apply in all situations as Universal Justice does. For example, not all disparities are unjust. If a student in a class works hard and receives an A for their work, that is a just grade. But if in the same class, an individual does not apply themselves and earns a D, then a disparity has been created, but it is not an unjust disparity, as it is based on merit (Prov. 6:6-11, 14:23; Matt. 25:1-30). If a person applies social justice in all circumstance as Universal Justice, then this situation in class would be considered unjust, as it is not an equitable outcome.

        Something to consider brother. Since at least 1983 the Church has been debating the application of Social Justice in a biblical manner.

        Thanks for the engaging conversation.

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