What Does the Bible Say about Justice?
- Jeannie Myers Author
- 2021 1 Mar
The Lord loves justice (Psalm 33:5). All His ways are just and true (Revelation 15:3). Psalm 89:14 tells us that righteousness and justice are the very foundation of His throne.
When God lists the actions of a just man in Ezekiel 18:5-9, He tells us that such a person does not oppress anyone or seek to take advantage of them to make a profit. A just man judges fairly, obeys God’s laws, and provides food and clothing for those in need.
Micah 6:8 makes it clear that justice is key to obeying and worshipping God.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
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What Is Justice?
Justice is behavior or treatment that is based on what is right and fair. Just behavior acts according to what is right. Just treatment of another person means to treat them in a manner that is fair.
How do we determine what is right and fair? Secular scholars have debated this for thousands of years. Does a society or culture decide their own standard? When groups or individuals with different standards are in conflict, how do we know what is just?
The Bible measures right and wrong by God’s standard. God created the world and owns and rules it (Psalm 89:11), so what He calls just is the definition of justice. He never changes (Heb. 13:8), so the standard He set at the foundation of the world is unchanged and will remain unchangeable.
Scripture is clear that a person’s dignity and worth is not based on their ethnicity or nationality or gender or background or wealth or position or abilities or contribution (Acts 10:34-35, Leviticus 19:33-34, Galatians 3:28, Romans 3:10-24, James 2:5-9, Ephesians 6:9, Leviticus 19:14, 1 Corinthians 12:4-26). Every person has equal inherent value because we were all created by God and bear His image (Genesis 1:27). People should therefore receive equal treatment, unless they are different in a way that matters in the question at hand.
For instance, if one person works 40 hours and another works 20, it is just for them to receive different wages. However, it is unjust if two people do equal work and receive unequal pay because they differ in gender or race or some other aspect unrelated to their job.
On the other side of the coin, God instructed the Israelites to intentionally leave the edges of their grain fields unharvested so that they could be gleaned by the poor and foreigners (Leviticus 19:9-10). It is just for some to receive something different than others because their need is different.
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What Are Different Types of Justice?
If one person commits a crime, it is just for that person to receive consequences that others do not receive. It is not just, however, for him to receive a harsher sentence than the judge’s brother-in-law or the biggest donor to the mayor’s re-election campaign. Those differences are irrelevant in determining a just punishment. The Bible repeatedly condemns this brand of favoritism in the courts (Deuteronomy 16:18-20) and calls for justice from employers (James 5:1-5) and governments (Isaiah 10:1-2).
Scripture further calls for personal justice – for people to treat each other fairly in their day-to-day lives. James 2:1-4 hits on the subtle favoritism seen every day in the workplace, schools, neighborhoods, and churches.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
Few of us would be so blatant as to rush to a wealthy-looking newcomer at church and escort her to the best seat. But if a dirty, foul-smelling man slouched in late and slumped in the back pew, would you be as enthusiastic in welcoming him as you would a smartly dressed family with well-behaved children?
Might you be quicker to help a stranger if they looked and talked like you? Do you ever find yourself affording more respect to your boss than to a coworker with a lower-paying position? We all catch ourselves judging people based on their appearance or status or possessions. God, however, looks on the heart (1 Samuel 6:7).
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Where Does the Bible Talk about Justice?
Proverbs 9:10 declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” The first step in understanding justice is to study what the Bible says about the character of God.
God Is Just
When God describes Himself, He often mentions justice as one of His core attributes. In Jeremiah 9:24, He says, “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” In Isaiah 61:8, God declares that He loves justice and hates wrongdoing.
God is perfectly just. He never fails to administer justice, never commits injustice Himself, or makes a mistake in determining what is right and fair (Zephaniah 3:5).
Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
Jesus Will Bring Justice
We often struggle to reconcile God’s perfect justice with the evil we see in the world around us. Why doesn’t God DO something? Thousands of years ago, the writer of Psalm 73 felt the same way as he watched the prosperity of the wicked embolden them.
“Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence” (Ps. 73:6).
“This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth” (Ps. 73:12).
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Ps. 73:16-17).
Jesus will return as Conqueror (Revelation 19:11-16) and Judge (Matthew 25:31-46). Evil may appear triumphant now, but Jesus has already secured the victory.
In the last chapter of the Bible, He vows, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).
The thing is, our sin—for we are all sinners (Romans 3:23)—qualifies us to receive the reward of the wicked, which is eternal death and separation from God.
Lest we all be swept away at the Judgement, Jesus took our punishment for us, that we might be reconciled to God and spared the death we deserve (Colossians 1:21-22). God is therefore both just—sin is punished without fail—and the justifier of those who put their trust in Jesus.
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We Are Called to Justice
When God tells His people to be just, He is asking us to mirror His justice to a world who desperately needs Him. Our Father is inviting us to work with Him, doing what He does.
God never lies, says Titus 1:2, and He commands us to be honest with each other in personal relationships (Ephesians 4:22-25) and in our business dealings (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).
God lavishes His riches on us with astounding generosity. Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, He directs us to share that wealth with the poor.
God cares deeply about the oppressed, those treated unjustly by a more powerful person or institution. He is a refuge for the oppressed (Psalm 9:9), executes justice for the oppressed (Psalm 103:6), and clearly and distinctly condemns oppression. God frequently urges His people to join Him in advocating for the oppressed (Psalm 82:2-4, Jeremiah 22:15-16).
Does God Care about Justice?
Through the prophets in the Old Testament, the Lord often expressed frustration with people who participated in worship services while dishonoring Him by tolerating or perpetuating injustice.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river.” (Amos 5:21, 23-24a).
Over and over, God says that what He really wants is justice. He tells them to stop putting on a show of loving Him—singing and praying and fasting—while breaking His heart by hurting people or ignoring their suffering.
“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? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
Jesus had a similar message for the religious leaders of His day who measured out the correct percentage of their garden herbs to offer to God but neglected the poor (Luke 11:39-42). In another telling of the same interaction, He names justice, mercy, faithfulness as the most important parts of God’s law (Matthew 23:23-26).
Related: Listen to our podcast Faith Over Fear, and our episode on The Courage to Stand against Racism:
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Should Christians Pursue Justice?
Yes, out of love for and obedience to the God of justice. Jesus said that He was just because He sought to please God the Father, not Himself (John 5:30). To seek justice is to base our behavior and treatment of others on what God says is right and good, to prioritize God’s desires over our own.
When you see favoritism in your thoughts or actions, rather than ignoring or justifying it, acknowledge it. Treat it like any other sin: confess it to God and receive forgiveness (Proverbs 4:23), replace the lie with Scriptural truth (Psalm 25:5), and make amends if you have hurt someone (Matthew 5:23-24).
Choose to prioritize what is right and fair over gaining in wealth and standing. Complete and total honesty may not net you the most profit or land you the position you want, but it will honor your God by bringing about a just result (Proverbs 16:8, Matthew 5:14-16).
Approach negotiations—not just at work, but at home over who is doing the dishes tonight—as opportunities to seek justice. Instead of fighting for the best outcome for yourself, aim for a fair agreement that benefits everyone involved.
Build the pursuit of justice into your life as a primary goal, not an afterthought. Consider whether your budget and schedule align with God’s priorities. Spend time talking with God and your family about how you might set about to seek justice (Proverbs 2:6-9).
God may lead one family to adopt, another to provide loving foster or respite care, and yet another to come alongside adoptive and foster families to provide support. He may lead one person to volunteer at a food pantry, another to build a relationship with a neighbor struggling to feed his children, and another to give regularly to an organization that feeds the hungry.
Advocating for Justice
The pursuit of justice will require sacrifice, the exchange of what is comfortable for what is good and right. If you speak out about injustice, you are likely to experience criticism and contempt from those offended by your stand. Jesus did.
God calls us to speak the truth in love, with humility and gentleness and patience (Ephesians 4:2-3, 15). A bold stand can bring great glory to God and bring about real justice only if it is rooted in love for God and people.
Ask God to reveal false motives such as self-promotion. Do your research rather than relying on hearsay so that you are speaking truth into the world instead of adding to the confusion. Do not let fear silence you when God has called you to speak (Matthew 10:28-39).
Seek Justice by Seeking the Lord
Though we live in a world rife with injustice, we can look to God with hope. He is just, and He sees every act of oppression. Jesus has promised to return and bring justice once and for all. Until then, God commands His people to pursue justice by treating others fairly, caring for the needy, and standing up against oppression.
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