It has been said that the biggest problem on earth is not too little democracy, or too much poverty, or too few anti-viral AIDS medicines, but the fact that two-thirds of the world’s population live outside the protection of the law. A lack of justice has a terrible effect on many of the world’s poor.
The themes of justice and grace flow through the Bible. We cannot fully understand grace without understanding justice. One definition of grace is ‘undeserved love’. There is a mnemonic used to explain grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. We see today how Jesus Christ makes just grace available for you and me.
The vital importance of justiceProverbs 17:15-24
In numerous countries of the world, the guilty get away and often the prisons are full of innocent people, many of whom have never even been tried or convicted. ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both’ (v.15). Both are terrible forms of injustice. They are abhorrent to God and have a damaging impact on society.
A great deal of the problem is caused by bribery. ‘The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice’ (v.23). One lawyer in a developing country told me that if you want a case to get to court faster than the usual approximately ten-year delay, you have to ‘oil the wheels’; a euphemism for bribery.
The struggle for justice is a serious responsibility. It requires hard work and could easily lead to burnout. The book of Proverbs is full of balanced wisdom.
It reminds us of the need for family and friends: ‘Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble’ (v.17, MSG). Do all you can to avoid petty arguments. ‘The one who loves a quarrel loves sin’ (v.19). Unnecessary quarrelling can separate families and even close friends.
As well as family and friends, fun is important: ‘A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired’ (v.22, MSG). Don’t take yourself too seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves. Laughter is like an internal workout. It exercises your soul and keeps it healthy.
Lord, show us what you want us to do as individuals and as a church to make justice available to all. Help us to keep balance in our lives, taking our responsibilities seriously and still finding a place for family, friends and fun.
The abundant provision of graceRomans 5:12-21
How do you see yourself? What do you believe about yourself? How do you think God sees you? What do you imagine he feels about you?
Grace means God sees us as righteous – ‘in the right’ (v.19, MSG). Righteousness is a free gift that comes from God’s grace. Our sin ‘doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down’ (vv.20–21, MSG).
Paul begins to unfold more of the wonders of grace. He portrays two realms – Adam’s realm and Christ’s realm.
Naturally, he says we are all part of Adam’s realm. Sin, death and separation from God entered the world through Adam (vv.12–14).
Yet Paul also describes a new realm that Jesus has brought into being through his death and resurrection. The amazing thing is that you are transferred from Adam’s realm to Jesus’ realm, not by earning your way into God’s good books, but simply by accepting the gift of God’s grace made available through Jesus.
Paul starts to compare the death that came through Adam with the life that came through Jesus Christ, but his key point is that ‘the gift is not like the trespass’ (v.15). Ultimately, they can only be contrasted because the gift of life is so much greater than the trespass.
The only similarity is that both affected many. Your choices to obey or not to obey not only affect you, but many others as well. As a result of Adam’s sin, many died. But Jesus’ obedience enabled many to have access to the grace in which you stand and to receive the free gift of justification. And the free gift is not like the sin. ‘The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence’ (v.16, MSG).
As a result of Adam’s sin, death reigned. But the one man, Jesus Christ, has reversed the process to bring justification as a free gift and enable you to stand in the grace of God. Instead of death reigning, you ‘reign in life’ (v.17).
Adam’s sin means that we all stand in the dock condemned. Jesus’ act of righteousness on the cross makes it possible for God to count you righteous also and to give you life. Jesus’ righteousness leads to your righteousness. ‘More than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right’ (v.19, MSG).
Jesus, through his death on the cross, has made God’s grace and his gift possible (v.15). The result of our sin is judgment and condemnation (v.16). If we relied on justice and justice alone, that is what we would receive. But since Jesus died in your place you can receive the gift of justification.
God can be just and still acquit you. There is just grace. Jesus made possible God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness (v.17). You receive justification that brings life (v.18). You are ‘made righteous’ (v.19). You receive eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (v.21).
All this is by grace (vv.15,17,20–21). Allow these truths to sink deep into your heart. See yourself as God sees you – as righteous in his sight – and believe that, because of what Jesus has done for you, when God looks at you he is pleased with you.
Lord, thank you so much for the death of Jesus on my behalf. Thank you that although I deserve judgment and condemnation, you have made it possible for me to be justified and to receive the righteousness from God by grace as a gift.
The God of justice and graceAmos 8:1-9:15
Amos again speaks out against injustice:
‘Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak,
you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming
so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend
when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much,
and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them –
and then, when they’re used up, you discard them’ (8:4–6, MSG).
The condition of the people was not unlike the condition of the people that we see in our society today. People are dying of spiritual hunger. There is ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ (v.11). People are searching – they try drugs, alcohol, sex, or power. All this is an attempt to satisfy that deep hunger, but they do not find spiritual food (v.12).
The intention of the covenant law was to protect the disadvantaged. But, as is often the case today, the poor were not receiving justice. They were being trampled upon. They were being cheated. The Lord hates dishonesty because he loves us and he loves the poor. Injustice and dishonesty were at the heart of Israel’s sins. As a result of all this Amos says, ‘Judgment Day is coming!’ (v.11, MSG). Israel will be driven into exile (9:1–10).
Yet, the book of Amos does not end on this note. It ends with the promise of restoration: ‘I will restore David’s house that has fallen to pieces... Everything will be happening at once – and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills. I’ll make everything right again for my people Israel:
They’ll rebuild their ruined cities.
They’ll plant vineyards and drink good wine.
They’ll work their gardens and eat fresh vegetables.
And I’ll plant them, plant them on their own land.
They’ll never again be uprooted from the land I’ve given them’ (vv.11–15, MSG).
The ultimate future of God’s people is beyond your wildest dreams. Even sin and injustice cannot ultimately derail God’s plans of blessing. It is the same dynamic as we saw in our New Testament passage. God’s grace and mercy far outweigh our sins. Jesus ultimately makes it possible for both justice and forgiveness to go hand in hand.
Thank you, Lord, that you are a God of justice and of grace. Thank you that through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we see an in-breaking of that future now. May justice triumph. May the new wine of your Holy Spirit and a great outpouring of grace drip from the mountains.
‘Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.’
The Message translates this ‘but sin didn’t, and doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace.’ I think that is why in prisons we often find so much faith and love; and transformed lives. The darker it is, the brighter the light shines.
Verse of the Day
‘A friend loves at all times…’ (Proverbs 17:17a).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.