“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:15–17)
Some might argue that the two important biblical themes of justice and grace are like oil and water: Justice is giving people what they deserve; grace is “unmerited favor” – giving benefits that are UNdeserved. The two seem polar opposites, but the cross reminds us that justice and grace DO go together. Jesus fulfilled the Law by dying on the cross and paying the penalty for human sin. Jesus met God’s demand for justice on that cross.
The prophets (like the example above from Isaiah) also showed us grace and justice go together. They saw justice as a heart analysis…doing justice is a sign of true faith. When people involved themselves in religious activities and prided themselves in biblical knowledge, but looked the other way at oppression or did not care for the vulnerable in society, their walk with God wasn’t just insufficient, it was offensive to God.
Jesus said as much about the people of his day when he quoted Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) A just people share the heart and values of a just God.
Justice is not one more thing that should be added to our religious resume. A lack of justice – or not caring about justice – is a sign that the worshiper’s heart is not right with God. If we don’t care about what God cares about, then that’s a problem. It is a sign that our prayer, fasting, biblical knowledge, and religious observances are full of pride and self.
It’s also a good sign that we don’t understand grace.
Let’s talk about it Sunday in my sermon series “And Justice for All.”