The world is a mess, you may have noticed. It’s been broken and aching for restoration since Genesis chapter 3. We see the brokenness everywhere, but the means for restoration often seems nowhere to be found—usually a result of looking in the wrong places. We, the Church, are the only institution with access to a Hope who makes things right, yet it seems we compound matters with our public disputes, divisions, and departures—departures from consistent and sound doctrine, from faithful practice, from community, and from the faith altogether.
Speaking to this reality, author and bridge-builder Latasha Morrison said well, “When the Church is in disarray, so too are the communities that depend on the people of God to be strong.” I often find myself confused by the chaos which inevitably leads me to wonder aloud, “What are we even doing?” It’s beyond mission drift; I’m wondering if we even believe the fundamentals of our faith. If we believe the gospel, where is the fruit? If we have been made right by Jesus, how can we not then be making things right in the world?
Gospel belief leads to gospel work, justice work.
Many seem to resist and reject unity by condemning any missional works of justice outside of their realm of familiarity. Often, they pontificate about a biblical call to “just preach the gospel” and about how “social justice” is a slippery slope birthed from a heretical and dangerous doctrine. Some are, no doubt, self-appointed arbiters of truth, and by their self-righteousness, they are conveniently removed from the messiness of a life on mission. There are some, though, who seem to have genuine concern that the power of the gospel is being de-emphasized. To those I’d say, it’s precisely the opposite. Many doing justice work have a conviction birthed from a profound appreciation for the power of a gospel that affects all of life. Gospel belief spurs the work of making things right, which is justice. Justice work is gospel work.
The Lord has called us to Himself, He made us new, and He sent us out into the world to be gospel people. We have been equipped and empowered by His Spirit to embody Truth in a world of lies, to burst forth as the Light into darkness, and to be active participants in His work of restoration, united as His body.
How can we claim to believe a truly holistic gospel yet not see gospel truth saturate all of life? How can gospel belief lead us to cherish some works of justice while demonizing others? I believe the answer lies in the reality that some seek to be “right” over being “righteous.” They aim to convince us they are godly, but we will know who is righteous by their righteousness not their right-ness.
What does it mean to be righteous and to do righteousness?
The Lord speaks often of righteousness in His Word (over 560 references in various forms and terms). We see it denotes a fulfillment of expectations in relationship with God, with individuals, and with society. It is occasionally described as a gift imputed to us, but most often righteousness is understood to be the fruit of being righteous, it is our doing. We are commanded to both “be righteous,” and to “do righteousness.” However, we can neither “be righteous” nor “do righteousness,” apart from the power of the gospel. It is gospel belief that gives us a new right being from which new right doing flows.
Often righteousness and justice go hand-in-hand, two sides of the same coin, and sometimes they are interchangeable in both Hebrew and Greek. Righteousness is accomplished through justice, and justice is accomplished by the righteous—they must go together. Biblical justice is both retributive and restorative. This was epitomized in the wrath-bearing death and the victorious resurrection of Jesus, but Jesus also modeled righteousness in the everyday doings of life.
He spoke the truth in love. He cared to listen and empathize. He never explained away the suffering of others. Even His rebukes were a compassionate call, not merely condemnation. Born into a marginalized society, Jesus still leveraged whatever privileges He had to engage and uplift those forgotten and disenfranchised by that society. He consistently and willingly laid His status aside—even the privilege of His deity—and submitted Himself to serve and suffer on behalf of others. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, spoke for the silenced, and sought out the overlooked. Jesus displayed His righteousness by making things right in His doing. The gospel is making us like Jesus; therefore, being like Jesus is our gospel doing.
The good news changes us. We are made new—our being, our thinking, our feeling—and we then join in on this transformative work. Right being and right doing are central to the mission as we move through the world as the Body of Christ.
Do we thirst for righteousness? Does brokenness bother us and leave us longing for restoration? Does what’s wrong in us and in the world make us eager to see things made right? Justice is the answer.
Making things right is the mission.
In Jesus, we are made righteous as He is righteous, and it is our practicing righteousness that displays it (1 John 3:7). It is not merely right things, but like Jesus, we are making things right. That is to say, Jesus became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God. Then, having been reconciled, we become ministers of reconciliation, and through us this mission continues (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
We belong to God, slaves to and instruments of righteousness. Alive in Christ, we are dead to who we were. We are His in our being and our doing—with our time, our money, our mind, and all our energy. We are to be devoted, all affection and all allegiance, to King Jesus. So our obedience looks like desiring to do what is right by virtue of our new nature, and it is proactively choosing to do what is right as living sacrifices in spiritual worship.
This gives significance to both our being (righteous as He is righteous) and our sacrificial doing (giving of ourselves to make things right). We actively worship God with our being righteous and in proactively doing righteousness, as living sacrifices. This transformative work is all according to the mercies of God and puts His perfect will on display (Romans 12:1-2).
This righteousness is done in community.
With humility and faith we come together to carry this out as the body of Christ. We should not be able to conceive the mission of God, our righteous actions in this world, apart from community. We need each other in this work. That’s God’s design.
The mission of the Church is not merely seeing the souls of individuals redeemed by faith in right doctrine. God’s plan has always been to unite His people in the work of bringing restoration to all of His creation. The hands and feet of the beautifully diverse and uniquely gifted body of Christ carry out this mission in unity (Romans 12:3-8).
If we find ourselves bothered by the injustice in the world and disarray in the Church, we ought to be about making things right. Like Jesus, we ought to be present as a community to listen, to lament, to celebrate, and to bless those we engage with the Hope of restoration. Then we gain the opportunity to do righteousness without the burden of having to prove we’re right. Rather, by our righteousness we point to the Righteous One who makes all things new.
Where do you need to repent, believe the gospel again, and fix our eyes on Jesus today?
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