Is Social Justice at the Heart of the Gospel?
Mark D. Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, author of books like Can We Trust the Gospels?, and a prominent blogger at MarkDRoberts.com:
Evangelistic and social justice ministries are both essential components of full-orbed Christian mission. Both express the grace, mercy, justice, and love of God. Both are grounded in God's work in Jesus Christ. Both are commended and commanded in Scripture.
Evangelism is announcing the good news (euaggelion in Greek) of what God has done in Jesus Christ. This gospel centers in the fact that Christ died for human sin so that we might be reconciled to God both now and forever. But the eternal salvation of individuals is not the whole point of the good news. In Ephesians 2, for example, the gospel has both personal and corporate dimensions. Because of God's rich mercy in Christ, individuals are saved by grace through faith (2:8). But there is also an interpersonal, social impact of Christ's sacrificial death. He brings peace that tears down the walls of division between Jew and Gentile, and by implication, between all peoples who are separated from each other because of sin (2:11-22). Thus there is an inherently social dimension to the saving work of God in Christ and the announcement of that work.
Jesus conveyed the whole good news by announcing the coming of the kingdom of God. This was not just an invitation to a post-mortem life of bliss, but also a summons to live now under the reign and for the purposes of God. So Jesus taught his disciples to pray: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10).
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus enabled us to begin to live in God's kingdom now, even as we wait with anticipation for the fullness of the kingdom that is still to come. In the meanwhile, we follow Jesus by announcing the full good news of God, inviting people to receive the free gift of salvation so that they might join the fellowship and mission of kingdom. Christians incarnate the will of our King by caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting free the oppressed, and sharing the good news of Christ. We believe that our acts of compassion and justice are received by Jesus as gestures of love and worship, even as they reflect and demonstrate the presence of his kingdom (Mt. 25:31-46).
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