The Glory of God, the Gospel and Christian Justice, 4: Conversion and Justice
American Christianity faces a terrible dilemma: how to affirm the faith claims of those who so grossly violated the dignity and justice due others. It’s no easy dilemma to resolve. What do you do with a Jonathan Edwards, for example? He was arguably the greatest Christian theologian America produced. Yet he owned slaves. How can one so obsessed with the glory of God be so blind to the oppression of neighbor? Can his claim to love the God he has not seen be substantiated when he failed to love his neighbor he saw everyday? ()
Much of the evangelical world resolves the problem by resorting to an emphasis on justification by faith alone. They remind us (rightly) that we can never be justified before God because of our works. As they do so, however, they come perilously close to arguing we are justified by faith that is alone, a faith that does not require “performing deeds in keeping with repentance” ().
On the other hand, some argue that our faith must be proven or shown by our deeds (). They maintain (rightly) that a changed heart should manifest itself in a changed life. However, as they emphasize the importance of fruit, they come perilously close to a works-righteousness which also forfeits the gospel.
Neither error is superior to the other because both are errors. They divide the baby of salvation into two halves, doctrinal and ethical. But babies should be kept whole, and we should hope to see them grow up into their adult selves, robustly doctrinal and dutifully ethical. In our day of unrest, protest, injustice and suffering–when Christian witness and presence are interrogated and suspected–insist that saving faith and Christian justice remain joined. A truly converted person will increasingly become a truly just person.
Conversion and Justification
We believe that apart from Christ, all persons remain spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (). We believe spiritual death ends in an eternal death at the judgment of Christ (). We believe this already-pronounced condemnation hangs over the heads of all (; ) until and unless God graciously rescues the sinner through Jesus Christ.
We believe God’s rescue of sinners requires the sinner’s conversion, wherein God raises the sinner to new life in Jesus Christ (). This new creation (; ) or new birth (; ) includes as grace gifts to the sinner repentance from sin and saving faith in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior (; ). This conversion and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life produces the obedience that comes from faith (; ; ).
We believe that justification or right standing with God comes to the sinner by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ alone (). We believe justification is a forensic or legal verdict by God wherein God imputes or credits the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the sinner given faith (; ).
We deny that any good work or act of obedience can save a person from God’s judgment and eternal condemnation (; ). We deny that seeking justice provides any grounds or warrant for claiming God’s mercy and acceptance. Yet, we believe genuine faith and repentance toward God manifest themselves in part in restitution for wrongs done to others, as with Zachaeus (). Those who are genuinely forgiven by God in turn forgive those who have wronged them (; ; ). Those who have been shown mercy must also show mercy (; ; ; ; ). When our Lord challenges a religious person wishing to “justify himself,” He demonstrates that a justified life looks like mercy and justice to ethnic, religious and foreign “others” ().
We believe the nature of the new birth or Christian conversion and justification require the posture and practice of biblical or Christian justice. Unrepentant practice of injustice falsifies claims to personal justification. The perpetuation of oppression and mistreatment belong to the old life, the old man, and the old creation; the opposition of injustice belongs to the new life, the new man, and the new creation. Those truly converted to Christ cannot live any longer in such sin (; ; ) without conviction and chastisement from their loving Heavenly Father ().
The real question is: What about us? Are we any better than Edwards–either in terms of the genuineness of our profession of faith in Christ or in our love for neighbor and striving for justice? Does our faith express itself in love for neighbor, in Christian justice for all?
Other posts in this series:
Part 1: Revelation
Part 2: The Trinity
Part 3: True Humanity
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (ESV)
20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. (ESV)
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (ESV)
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (ESV)
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (ESV)
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (ESV)
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (ESV)
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (ESV)
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1 Peter 1:23
23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (ESV)
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. (ESV)
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (ESV)
5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (ESV)
21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (ESV)
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (ESV)
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (ESV)
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (ESV)
4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (ESV)
5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (ESV)
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (ESV)
27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (ESV)
9 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, (ESV)
36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (ESV)
30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (ESV)
13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (ESV)
6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (ESV)
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (ESV)
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (ESV)
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.” (ESV)
4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (ESV)