By Tripp Prince
Jesus came to deliver us from every source of oppression, both spiritual and physical. It seems that we as Christians struggle to hold fast to this truth, instead finding comfort in one extreme or the other. How do we bring them together in our lives, our giving, and everything we do?
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
– Psalm 72:1-4 (NRSV)
We say Jesus came to save our souls, on the one hand, focusing fully on the internal and invisible reality of salvation. Some stop there and forget about putting those saved lives into action. Others in the Christian family tend to focus almost exclusively on social transformation, with little mention of the evangelical power of God to renew and refresh our inner being.
But we’re supposed to be reaching the ends of the earth, seeking and saving, healing and transforming. Physical and spiritual justice must intertwine. We must understand that all things (physical and spiritual) fall under the Lordship of Christ (Hebrews 2:8).
Though it can be hard for our modern minds to grasp, these truths go together. They are never found to be in conflict with one another in the Scriptures, and neither should they be in conflict for us.
If our hope is purely spiritual, then the bodily nature of Christ’s redemption becomes unintelligible. If our vision is only of societal transformation, our hopes are not set on high with the Lord and his heavenly kingdom but are limited to the structures of this world and human ingenuity.
As is always the case, we are kept from these errors by looking at the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus. In the Incarnation, we see God bless the physical world with his very presence. Christ’s birth is an inescapably human and earthly reality. Similarly, his years of public ministry saw the fulfillment of the vision of Psalm 72, bringing hope for the poor and sight for the blind.
The physical victory of Jesus invites the world into eternal communion with God. Jesus is deeply concerned with your current struggles and battles against injustice, both for yourself and for others. Indeed, justice in the present is a foretaste of the perfect justice of his kingdom.
We can and should commit ourselves to building an ever-more-just and merciful society. Yet we must never lose sight of the fact that our ultimate hopes rest upon the transforming power of God as he establishes his kingdom in our midst.
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth: Set up your kingdom in our midst. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: Have mercy on me, a sinner. Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: Renew me and all the world. (The Jesus Prayer, as adapted by N.T. Wright)
How do you hold together a commitment to justice in this life, while also hoping for eternal life in the next?
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