Why Gospel Proclamation Includes Justice System Transformation
What is Biblical Justice?
We mention it occasionally on this blog and elsewhere when promoting appeals or projects. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “justice” as the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. Put simply, it’s the systems designed to make sure bad actions incur negative consequences and good ones are rewarded. Biblical justice then means these systems are informed by the truths found in the Bible.
But Biblical justice is more than just the ideal justice system. It’s also actively working to transform current justice systems to bring freedom, healing, and justice to the oppressed.
This week, the FAIR team wanted to share some thoughts from Joash Thomas, the National Director of Mobilization and Advocacy at FAIR’s partner organization International Justice Mission (IJM) Canada. We hope that you will find it challenging and encouraging.
“Did I preach the Gospel? Did I preach Christ crucified and resurrected? What does the Gospel have to do with Justice?”
I found myself wrestling with these questions one evening after speaking at a North Carolina church five years ago.
I had just started working for International Justice Mission (IJM), leading our Advocacy and Mobilization work in the U.S. Southeast region. I came to IJM U.S. from the political world and from our Advocacy Team in IJM South Asia so, I had the advocacy part of my job locked down.
But mobilizing everyday Christians and church leaders to pray, give, and advocate for justice as an expression of their faith in Christ was new to me. And despite this being my job, I struggled to find the right words to articulate how the hope we have in Christ applies to broken justice systems.
“How is the Good News of Jesus also good news for people living in injustice and oppression? How is the Gospel of Christ good news for the millions of people in slavery? How is the Gospel good news to the thousands of children stuck in the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines right now?”
These questions haunted me. And they haunted me enough to make me pursue a dual Master’s degree in Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary over the past four years.
In the same time, over the past five years, the International Labour Organization now reports that the number of people in modern slavery globally has increased from 40 million to 50 million people. That’s a 20% increase of 10 million over the past five years – mainly due to COVID, conflict, and climate change.
So the bad news of injustice has gotten worse. But the Good News of Christ continues to remain good. And it continues to remain good enough to completely obliterate the bad news.
In Luke 4:18-19 (CSB), Jesus says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Here's a question for us: What if Jesus’ “good news” (or “Gospel”) is truly good enough (just as Jesus claims) to bring freedom to people who are poor in captivity and oppression? I believe it is.
Over the past 25 years, our IJM teams globally have helped local authorities rescue more than 76,000 people from slavery and violence. In the Philippines alone, because of partnerships with FAIR and Fellowship churches like Village Church, Flamborough Baptist, and Community Fellowship Baptist, we have helped rescue more than 1,000 children from being sexually exploited online.
But it’s not just important to support local law enforcement in rescuing people from slavery. It’s also important to build systems of protection so that women, girls, and families are never subjected to violent exploitation in the first place.
Rescuing and restoring individuals will always be a priority. But strengthening and transforming the justice systems that allow impunity and injustice to take place must also be a priority for the Church. Because the Gospel is ultimately good news for all of creation – including our weak justice systems. Because the Gospel is both personal and cosmic in its dimensions.
As Christians, we do this work of transforming justice systems to display to this world what Jesus will one day do when he returns to fully establish His just Kingdom – this Kingdom where every tear is wiped away, where all oppression shall cease, where every child is protected from sexual exploitation, and where God’s justice is fully restored – on earth as it is in heaven.
What God did for Jesus at the resurrection, He will one day do for us. And what God will do for us at the resurrection of life, He will also do for all of creation – including the justice systems that don’t currently protect their vulnerable from violence.
So how do we seek systemic justice as a church? I’d like to leave us with three tangible next steps: Encounter, Explore, and Engage.
Encounter: I often tell Canadian pastors that for our congregants to understand the goodness of the Good News, they must first come to terms with the depths of the bad news in the world — specifically the bad news of injustice. IJM has many testimonies and reports on our website that show the reality of online sexual exploitation in the Philippines, and the link to content-consumers in Canada.
Explore: Explore with your church leadership and members how God might be calling your church to join this fight against modern slavery with FAIR and IJM – with your prayers, giving, and advocacy. Spend time prayerfully discerning what that next step of engagement looks like. Perhaps it’s hosting a Freedom Sunday. Perhaps it’s funding the equivalent of a rescue operation in the Philippines (approximately $10,000) and giving that gift (or whatever your church raises) to FAIR’s Together for Freedom appeal.
Or perhaps it’s committing to fund one or two rescue operations per year by becoming an official church partner of the IJM Philippines Team. Field partners get exclusive prayer requests, justice discipleship content, and quarterly reports, in addition to having exclusive trips/drop-by opportunities to visit the IJM office with which your church partners. To learn more about partnering with an IJM field office, you can email me.
Engage: Resist the temptation of “analysis paralysis”. Definitely take the time to Explore but make sure you move to Engage. Because there are millions of people waiting for your church to join in this fight alongside God, FAIR, and IJM. So, after you’ve prayerfully discerned through the above opportunities, Engage.
I’ll never forget meeting Ruby, a survivor of online sexual exploitation in the Philippines. She tells us her story of going to bed in captivity one night screaming, “God if you’re real, get me out of here!”
The very next day, IJM staff showed up with local police to rescue Ruby along with four other children. Your church getting involved can be the difference-maker on whether children in the Philippines like Ruby remain in captivity or experience the freedom that God always intended for them.
Here’s what I’ve come to learn from my theological studies, our work at IJM, and our partnership with FAIR and Fellowship churches as it relates to the Philippines: the Gospel is indeed good news to people in oppression. And slavery will come to an end one day.
But it’s going to take all of us – especially your church.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7 CSB