A few summers ago, I decided that I’d read my Bible front to back and cut out every verse I found about justice. I work for Just Love – a movement raising up a generation into a whole-life, life-long pursuit of Jesus and His justice – so I figured it would be a useful thing to do. What I ended up with is a Bible that is shredded, a demonstration that discipleship without justice is full of holes.
Justice is, unavoidably, a huge and consistent theme throughout the story of the scriptures. Central to the big story of the Bible is God’s mission to restore the shalom of Eden, to renew the ‘very goodness’ of creation, to put right all that has been broken by sin. The Hebrew word tsedeqa, which usually gets translated in our Bibles as righteousness, is all about God’s powerful action to put right all that is wrong in creation, and it can equally be translated as justice.
'Is following Jesus making much difference to the way we live?'
But my experience growing up in the UK church, and then heading to university, was that the practice of justice was generally treated as an optional extra in discipleship.
Critiquing the watered-down form of Christianity exported by western missionaries and colonisers over the 20th century, Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole says that the most pressing question facing the church in the twenty-first century is ‘what difference does Christianity make to people’s lives?’¹
In our UK student Christian context, is following Jesus making much difference to the way we live? Does the world – addicted to consumption, greed, self-fulfilment, competition, status and affluence – encounter a radical alternative when it sees the church? Or have we learned ways of reading the scriptures and worshipping God that have domesticated the message of Jesus and prevented the gospel from making much a difference to the way we live? Like my cut-up Bible, have we conveniently ignored all of the stuff about living justly?
By all accounts, our generation of students is more globally aware and more passionate about justice than any before it. To what extent, though, is this passion informed by God’s story and rooted in the church community? We have an incredible biblical story to tell about justice that is holistic and hopeful and redemptive and empowering and fundamentally about self-giving love. It is a story that the world desperately needs to hear and a story that will be told best by the practice of ordinary disciples choosing to live lives of radical service, hospitality, generosity, simplicity, advocacy, and solidarity with those on the margins.
At Just Love we want to do some research to better understand how Christian students are engaging in social justice today. If you’re a Christian student, we’d love you to help us by filling out this survey. It will take you 10-15 minutes and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a £100 Know The Origin Voucher or a £50 voucher for Tony’s Chocolonely.
We’re excited about this research, because we’re excited about seeing our generation engage whole-heartedly in Jesus’ justice.
Imagine if we listened to Katongole’s challenge. Imagine a UK church where following Jesus made a radical difference to how we live, not just what we believe. The gospel propelled the early church into forming vibrant, spirit-empowered communities of a new humanity – where divisions of class, status, wealth, ethnicity and gender were blown out of the water by a grace that all were equal in not deserving and all were equal in receiving. Imagine a UK church that looked like that. Imagine a church that serves its local and global neighbours not with tokenistic charity, but with deep, costly, Jesus-shaped love.
I believe that all of that is possible. But to get there, we can’t treat justice as an optional extra in discipleship. Biblical justice is a posture, not a gesture. It is a way of being to be lived out in community. Pursuing justice is hard, complex and inconvenient. It will challenge us deeply and change us and cost us. It will humble us and confront us with our own sin and complicity in systemic sin. But all of that is part of what it looks like to disciple under Jesus, to grow in holiness, to become, together, who we have been made to be.
Written by Josh Smedley, CEO of Just Love
¹Emmanuel Katongole with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith After Genocide in Rwanda (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). 85, 109