There is a growing trend in evangelical circles to re-brand mercy ministries as justice ministries. I recently came across this reality when I was asked for church recommendations in a different area. In my research, I came across a church with a justice ministry. Under this ministry there was everything from feeding the poor to adoption. Such ministries were once identified as mercy ministries, so why relabel them as justice ministries? What does this shift reveal about us?
You may be wondering if this is even a big deal, and that’s a fair question. With the rise of social justice in our culture, mercy has taken a backseat. It is very hip to advocate for justice, and as Christians, we certainly should promote justice biblically defined. That’s the problem, much of the modern thinking around justice is manifestly unjust. Within Christianity, the problem is more subtle as we have blended mercy and justice together as evidenced with the current re-branding of mercy ministries.
Justice and mercy are both important to Christians. We must advocate for both without collapsing them upon each other. Justice is giving someone what they have earned, what they are due. Justice is based on merit.
Conversely, mercy forgoes merit and gives good to those who are undeserving. In a very real way, the two are opposites. It was only through a supernatural act of God that both justice and mercy were meet at the cross (Rom. 3.26). To make it plain, justice is something we can demand while mercy is something we have no right to whatsoever. It is the ability to demand justice which makes it more appealing today.
If we make feeding the poor an issue of justice instead of mercy, then we are saying the poor have the right to demand satisfaction. Moreover, they have the right to demand they receive what belongs to others. They can demand it be taken from others and given to them. Such an action violates the eighth commandment and is therefore unjust. Feeding the poor and adoption are acts of mercy, and there is nothing wrong with calling them that. We must remember, not all poverty is caused by a manifest injustice. It is true that some people become poor because of injustice, but it is also true that they may be poor because justice has been executed. Some people are poor because that is what they have earned (Prov. 6.9-11; 24.30-34). In a broken world, things are broken. Justice and mercy are both virtues Christians should support, but we must keep them distinct. If we confuse mercy and justice, we lose both.
What does this trend of mercy ministries becoming justice ministries tell us about ourselves? First, we have become bored with mercy. This is a dangerous place to be. We look at mercy and think it isn’t nearly as appealing as justice. Claims of justice have power behind them today, while mercy is swept aside. One reason for this is mercy requires transformed hearts who have tasted the mercy of God. God’s mercy motivates our mercy. Mercy appears more challenging than justice because we cannot demand it from others. Our indictment is that we are bored and uninspired by God’s mercy. We would rather demand justice than do the hard work of promoting mercy through transformed hearts. We are in a perilous place when we neglect mercy for justice, as our standing before God is based wholly on his grace given through Christ.
Second, this trend reveals our self-righteousness. When we cast out mercy and replace it with our redefinition of justice, it reveals a hideous self-righteousness. When mercy ministries become justice ministries, it reveals that we think we are the just ones who have the right to make outrageous demands on others. In a very real way, much of the modern social justice movement is fed by a modern-day Pharisaism seeking to keep the new woke-laws. We all feel our need for righteousness, and our inability to get it. This leaves us with only two options. We can either seek that righteous through our own ability, or we can receive it through God’s mercy. Too many evangelicals are infatuated with achieving a moral standing by meeting the demands of the woke-laws of our day. But these will never satisfy. We need an alien righteousness which comes from outside of us. We need Christ’s righteousness and we can only get that through the mercy of God.
Christians must be careful how we think and talk about both mercy and justice. Both reflect the character of God, but the two are distinct from one another. We must also ask ourselves, “Where am I seeking to get my righteousness from? God or man-made laws?” If we are truly finding our standing in the work of Christ, then mercy will become so much sweeter to us. Christians can and must hold onto both mercy and justice as distinct and wonderful reflections of the character of God.
By: Levi J. Secord