JUSTICE: What does the life of Jesus tell us about justice?

If we could earn our salvation by good works and moral effort, righteousness would belong almost exclusively to the able, the competent, the accomplished and the privileged. But that is not the way of the gospel. Jesus’s offer of salvation by grace through faith favors the failed, the outsider, the weak and the disadvantaged. If anything, those who have be given much find it more difficult to receive God’s mercy and inherit his kingdom. Tim Keller writes, “The Bible does not show us story after story of ‘heroes of the faith’ who go from strength to strength. Instead we get a series of narratives containing figures who are usually not the people the world would expect to be spiritual paragons and leaders.”[1]


Jesus’s own life demonstrates this. He came not as a wealthy, powerful, entitled king, but as an infant born into a poor family, the child of an unwed mother. Again, Keller writes, “He lived among the marginalized and outcast. His trial was a miscarriage of justice. He died violently, naked and penniless. The Son of God knew what it was like to be a victim of injustice, to stand up to a corrupt system and be killed by it.”[2]


Again and again in his teaching Jesus emphasized not justice, but generous grace. His way contrasted with the way of the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day who were sticklers for the letter of the law. When he healed on the sabbath, they accused him of lawbreaking. When he cast out demons, they questioned his authority to do so. When he forgave sins, they called him a heretic. The Pharisees demonstrated for us what a life committed to meticulous law-keeping (or human justice) can do: they become self-righteous and cruel in their passion for legal justice, particularly regarding those they saw as “less than” themselves.


In his mercy, God saved us from our sin and from ourselves. Through the just sacrifice of the cross of Christ he broke the bonds of our oppression caused by sin, and through his generous mercy he saved us from our own self-righteousness: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”[3] Because sin lies at the root of all human injustice, only when we are free from the strangle-hold of sin are we free to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God.”[4]


[1] Ephesians 2: 8-9

[2] Micah 6:8

[3] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Penguin Publishing, 2016), 208-209.

[4] Ibid, 209-210


Supporting Scripture  

Romans 3:23-25 

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.


Psalm 146:7-9

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.


Isaiah 1:17  

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.



Notable Quotes

“God’s justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the Creator God who has yet to complete his original plan for creation and whose justice is designed not simply to restore balance to a world out of kilter but to bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that he made in the first place.” ~N. T. Wright, “Evil and the Justice of God”


“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream and Other Great Writings


>>Go to the Justice episode and more resources