“Social Justice” versus the Bible

by Colin Eakin

Critical Race Theory. Intersectionality. Identity politics. Reparations. Wokeness. These ideas undergirding and framing the concept of “social justice”—so prominent in today’s cultural discussion—have in recent times even infiltrated the Church and begun to take root. Today, many leading Christian voices are becoming susceptible to these ideas and are even seeking to reorient the Church’s primary purpose and focus in these directions.  

But is this right? What would Jesus think about this trend? As the “social justice” juggernaut continues to batter the breastwork of the Church, it would seem to be a propitious moment to look deeper into what the Head of the Church thinks about the issue. Does Scripture give any insight into the thoughts of Jesus regarding the “social justice” movement? The answer is an unmistakable “yes,” and—to the likely surprise and consternation of those driving the “social justice” movement forward within the Church—His words should give them considerable pause.

Let’s start with the obvious: Jesus does not oppose justice. On the contrary, Jesus is the Originator, Definer, Overseer and Executor of justice (Matt 12:18, 20). With regard to human interactions, the Bible uses the term “justice” to denote the condition of being impartial, even-handed, and scrupulous, and Jesus explicitly supports such an ethic (Luke 11:42; 18:7-8; John 7:24). Another manner by which justice is understood is moral perfection, and on that score, Jesus is the supreme example (Ps 145:17). Further, the biblical concept of justice ultimately contends that all its supplicants will get exactly what they are promised, and Jesus guarantees that He will be there at the end, making it so (John 5:27-29; Rev 19:2).

So if Jesus is the Author, Champion, Living Exemplar, and ultimate Enforcer of all justice, He must be in favor of “social justice”—right? To get an accurate biblical answer to this question, we must understand how the modifier compromises and corrupts the virtue. The Bible never uses any modifiers for “justice,” let alone “social,” which in itself should deter those who would speak and reason biblically from use of this term (for this reason, throughout this article the term “social justice” is set off in quotations, to indicate its illegitimacy as a biblical term and notion). But because the undiscerning Church seemingly cannot resist the appeal of “social justice,” it is incumbent upon those who would claim to represent Jesus to understand and discuss its full portent.

For our purposes, we will use the following definition for “social justice”:

A philosophical and political concept holding that, because all people in this world should have equal access to wealth, health, opportunity and well-being, all people of this world are thus obliged to make it so.

You may ask, what’s wrong with that? All for one and one for all in striving for equality? Why wouldn’t the One who is ultimately bringing “justice to victory” (cf. Isa 42:1-3; Matt 12:20) support this effort? The Bible gives us four compelling reasons why He does not:

“Social Justice” Misapprehends the Eschaton
One text in Scripture giving particular insight into Christ’s perspective on the matter of “social justice” is found in Luke 12:13-15. It reads:

Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbiter over you?’ And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Here, Jesus is confronted by a man who has (in his opinion) been deprived of his fair share of an inheritance. From a “social justice” perspective, the man has been wronged, in that he believes he is owed wealth that has not been forthcoming. The man thus appeals to Jesus as an authority figure to find in his favor and correct the perceived injustice. This is a quintessential “social justice” scenario: resources have been appropriated in an asymmetric (therefore, unfair) manner, and the one deprived thus seeks redress.

But does Jesus give empathy and succor to the plaintiff? Does He commiserate with the aggrieved brother and come to his aid? Quite the opposite. In fact, Jesus gives the man a curt rebuke! He begins by asking the man why He should be a judge or arbiter in this situation. This response should arouse our curiosity, because as the Bible makes clear, Jesus knows His Father has handed all judgment over to Him (John 5:22, 27; 9:39). His response to the man is therefore puzzling. After all, with all judgment handed over to Him, why wouldn’t Jesus be the perfect judge in this, as in all, matters?

The answer is twofold. The first has to do with the ordo eschaton, the order of last things, or how the world is going to end according to the plan of God. Jesus is here giving a revealing (if indirect) eschatological lesson. Jesus knows full well His time for judgment is coming, when He will judge the entire world with perfect justice based upon the Word God has given (John 12:48). But He also knows from the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity (605 BC-586 BC) through His time upon the earth and right up to the present is described by God as, “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25). During this period of history, Jesus understands His Father’s plan is not judgment but salvation. Yes, Jesus is the final Judge of this world, but this comes later. For now, God is still graciously saving sinners through the narrow door of repentance and faith. In His rhetorical query, then, Jesus is deferring present judgment of earthly matters. His desire is for the man to forego the redress of an alleged earthly injustice, and instead prepare his heart through repentance and faith in anticipation of the judgment that is to come.

Many evangelicals who pander to ideas of “social justice” operate from an erroneous postmillennial or theonomic eschatology. To their way of thinking, the earthly kingdom Jesus is promised to bring (2 Sam 7:12) has already been inaugurated with His first appearance, and it is thus up to His followers to implement its form. And when one convolutes the Bible’s prophecies regarding the present and future ages in this manner, the fallout is a naturally erroneous fixation on the redress and reparation of inequalities in the here and now. But that is not what the Bible says about God’s intent in the present, nor in the future. God will indeed bring to fruition the promised earthly kingdom of Christ (Rev 20:1-6), but He will do it without need of any human partnership (Acts 17:25), and only when the sum of those who are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48). For now, Jesus as Judge and Arbiter of the world is on hold, being mercifully delayed, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom 11:25). Jesus’ just judgment of the world is coming, but—in God’s inexplicable and extraordinary love, mercy and grace—He continues to delay that day, such that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2; 2 Pet 3:9).

“Social Justice” Often Arises From Sinful Impulse
The second reason why Jesus defers to judge in this man’s case is found in the continuation of Jesus’ remarks to the crowd: “And He said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15). Here, Jesus unambiguously ties concern over earthly inequalities with the potential for sin—the sin of covetousness. And His implication is blunt: the focus upon earthly inequalities, even with the intent of their amelioration, by its very nature introduces the possibility of covetousness. Jesus is saying that those obsessed with rectifying worldly inequalities as they pertain to themselves should first reflect about a possible covetous impulse.

James then elaborates on this idea:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel . . . You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy with God.

James 4:1-2, 4-5

So, Jesus claims that those obsessing over their unfair or unequal treatment in this world must guard against covetousness, and the Spirit through James says covetousness lies at the core of fights and quarrels as to who has what and who does not. This link is no mere coincidence. The rancor and invectives that so often attend plaintiff demands for “social justice” lie in stark contrast to the fruits of the Spirit-led life, as laid out in Galatians 5:22-23, and this passage in James identifies the core reason for this. The Bible is clear: whenever there is a focus upon remediation of earthly inequality, covetousness may very well lie at the source, and when it does, acrimony and outrage are the typical byproduct.

In addition, note how the Spirit through James goes on to associate covetousness with friendship with the world. This also is no coincidence. Not only do the evangelical champions of “social justice” often carry with them a misguided eschatology, but also quite commonly a penchant for the favor of the world. In fact, when one looks out over the sea of modern evangelicalism to those at the helm of the S.S. Social Justice, one finds a remarkably common deference to culture and desire for its approval. Today’s most prominent evangelical crusaders for “social justice” almost always seem to be those most eager to be received well by the secular procurators of modern-day politics, academia, business and social media, and this passage from James helps to explain why.

“Social justice” Misconstrues Human Nature and its Fundamental Need
There is a third reason Jesus opposes “social justice,” and that is its failure to apprehend the Bible’s description of human nature. In Luke 19:10, Jesus declares, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” And who are the lost? Jesus’ answer is clear: they are the spiritually “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36; Mark 6:34). They are the spiritually poor prisoners, blind and oppressed (Matt 5:3; Luke 4:18). And from the days of the early Church until recently, it has been understood that the manner by which Jesus saves the spiritually lost is through gospel evangelism by those whom He has already spiritually saved.

But all this is now being challenged on the evangelical “social justice” front. No longer are the “lost” being defined on a spiritual basis, but on economic and/or sociological terms. And no longer is the manner by which Jesus saves the “lost” through a call to “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47), but rather through His purported desire that earthly injustices be remedied, including (and perhaps preferably) through governmental policies and programs. This is exactly how neo-Marxist dogma is now being foisted upon an unsuspecting Church under the guise of “social justice.”

A natural corollary of this development is that those to be involved in “evangelism” no longer must be “born again” in a “saved from sin” sense. Rather, they must merely exhibit interest in bettering the material and social conditions of the disadvantaged around them. Whereas in the past, people were required to “believe in order to belong,” it is somehow suggested that now they might “belong” regardless of belief. But Jesus knows the heart of the unredeemed is, “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9), that the mind of the unredeemed is, “darkened in [its] understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Eph 4:18),and that the will of the unredeemed is to, “do their father’s [the devil’s] desires” (John 8:44). Given all that, Jesus knows that the real need of the unregenerate sinner—regardless of race, wealth, or any other earthly designation—is heart, mind and will transformation via “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47); in a word—salvation. Not only that, given that salvation only comes from belief, under no circumstances could an unbeliever ever contribute in a positive sense to the saving work God is doing in the world today.

One passage plainly detailing the above is John 7:38-39, where Jesus declares: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (emphasis added). Here, “rivers of living water” is participation in God’s work in the world, about which Jesus stipulates the following: penitent belief yields the indwelling Spirit, which in turn yields power for the spiritual work God is doing. Only in that order. One’s position in Christ establishes one’s practice for Christ, and never the reverse.[1] Given this, how then could Jesus back a movement that obsesses over the material and/or sociological condition of the sinner but cares little for how that sinner might be forgiven and granted eternal life?

The condition of the unredeemed is described in the Bible (Rom 8:5-12) as living “in the flesh,” about which it makes the following clear and unambiguous designation (Rom 8:8): “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Ever. It is a travesty of Christ’s teaching that a church could lead its members in works of “social justice” without telling them of their need to be redeemed, and how this might be accomplished. It is a travesty of Christ’s teaching that a collection of earnest but unredeemed “Jesus-followers” might pursue good works to assist the disadvantaged, while at the same time have no clue as to how both they and those whom they serve might be saved from their sin.

“Social Justice” Conflicts with the Church’s True Task
A final and related reason Jesus opposes “social justice” is that it directly undermines the primary task of the Church. To see this, one must understand the overarching purpose of the Church is to declare God’s Word, and that the summary goal of all biblical instruction is the following: to present God’s righteous standard to all sinners (Matt 5:48), to drive those sinners to despair at their inability to attain the righteousness demanded of them by a holy God (Lev 11:44-45; Gal 3:10-11, 19-24), to have those sinners cry out for mercy to that same gracious God for a pardon from their sin (Luke 18:13-14), and to have faith that God will, as promised, apply to them the righteousness of Christ, who lovingly bore their sins upon the cross (Isa 53:10-11; 2 Cor 5:21). That is the crux of the gospel, the paramount message of the Church, and notice it hinges upon a requisite contrite spirit (Isa 57:15).

But when the Church reorients its focus to concerns regarding “social justice,” it short-circuits and inverts this entire process. No longer is the sinner a perpetrator; now he or she is a victim. No longer does the sinner plead for mercy to a gracious and forgiving God; now he or she is owed something from Him, or at least from the world He oversees. No longer are sinners “poor in spirit” and thus eligible for the kingdom of God (Matt 5:3). Now they are casualties of tyrannical forces that exploit and subjugate them in a bondage of oppression, against which they must rage until scores are settled. The upshot? Instead of sinners acknowledging and repenting of their sinful condition, they are now emboldened to seek recourse against as many injustices as they can identify. Gone is the meek and humble spirit that ultimately inherits the earth (Ps 37:5; Matt 5:5). In its place is a spirit of victimization, rebellion and retribution.

It is for this reason that, across the landscape of modern-day evangelicalism, one tends to find an inverse relationship between interest in “social justice” and interest in evangelism in its historic understanding. In a very real sense, the entire mission of the Church is being hijacked. Among those on the evangelical forefront of the “social justice” movement, the talk is no longer about how sinners might avoid eternal damnation in hell, but how they might gain temporal reparation for past and present injustices.

“Social justice” carries with it the implicit idea the sinner in this world is owed something by someone, but that idea is completely foreign to Jesus. Even among His redeemed, Jesus claims they are owed nothing in this world:

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink?’ Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

Luke 17:7-10

Jesus’ point is clear: if even those who are a part of His kingdom are mere “servants,” with no rights nor entitlements other than to consider themselves as ever-unworthy and thus duty-bound to their Master, how much more so would this apply to those on the outside looking in?

It has been written elsewhere that if the parable of the Prodigal Son had been set in the age of “social justice,” the son would have never returned home to his Father. And why should he have? Once apprised that he was not an ungrateful, impudent, hedonistic fool in need of repentance and humble submission to his Father, but rather a victim of external, impersonal, malevolent forces stemming from unfair societal arrangements, his path would have led not to the true home of his Father’s embrace and promise of eternal life, but rather to the false embrace of “social justice” promising entitlements to dampen his fall. Gone would be any notion of regret or remorse at his sin. In its place, as a result of his “social justice” reeducation? Only resentment, indignation, and perpetual rebellion.

Conclusion: What Does Jesus Offer?
With the biblical record so consistently opposed to the zeitgeist of “social justice,” it should appall the Church that it could be so easily and so harmfully beguiled as it has been. Jesus offers the sinner not a list of earthly entitlements to be pursued and defended at all costs, but rather inexplicable love and mercies despite that same sinner’s enmity (Lam 3:22-23; Rom 5:8,10; 8:8). Jesus doesn’t offer the sinner the right to claim victimhood and redress against earthly injustices, but only the right to claim eternal unworthiness for His promise of eternal life. The Church is called not to a mission of political and economic lobbying for the betterment of this world, but a mission calling sinners to repentance for their betterment in the next (Luke 5:32). As to worldly arrangements and the material goals of “social justice” devotees, Jesus asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matt 16:26)? May God raise up within His Church those who know the answer to this question, and from that answer might clarify the true gospel from its “social justice” corruption.


[1] John MacArthur, “The Body Formed in Eternity Past, Part 2,” Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, Jan. 15, 1978.  https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1903/the-body-formed-in-eternity-past-part-2