Jesus and Social Justice In the Gospels
By J.R. Ensey
Many nominal Christians feel that the four Gospels are all we need to follow as Christians. If people live by the original words of Jesus only, will they not be saved? Do the books of the Bible that precede and follow the Gospels contain information essential for our eternal salvation?.
Thats the way it is with things that men make. The essential
power is not included. Thats why humanism, legalism, and other isms
dont achieve stated goalstheres no inherent power source.
The importance of the Gospels
We need the Gospels to unpack the eternal plan and the purposes of God. Without them we would not have a foundation for our faith. They inform us of the identity of Jesus, the Christ, the central figure of Christianity. They tell us the most important things He said and did, and why He came.
Matthew’s Gospel was primarily directed toward the Jews. Mark introduced us to a miraculous Christ, and leaned his pen in the direction of the Romans. Luke seemed to aim his words primarily at the Gentiles and John peered through the gates of Heaven to give us an up-close view of the Christ who came to save us.
In general, Christ’s hearers were instructed to place their faith in Him as Messiah, God’s anointed Son (Matthew 17:5). The narratives of the Gospels inform us of God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and that all men everywhere—not merely Jews—should recognize His desire that everyone knows how to be saved (Luke 24:45-47). His disciples were sent into all the world to preach the Gospel (tell the “good news”) of Christ’s substitutionary death for them (Matthew 28:19,20).
What the Gospels don’t tell us
In the Gospels, we are informed of the sinless blood Jesus shed for all people on Calvary, but the substitutionary aspect is not fully fleshed out. Faith and obedience will allow it to wash away our sins—if we know how to exercise our faith and what directives we are to obey. That is not spelled out in the clearest way in the four Gospels. The narratives end with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, followed by His visits with and instructions to the apostles before His ascension. Now what?
One disciple had been told personally that he must be born again (John 3:3-7). He was left with only a vague idea of how to assimilate that experience. How does it happen?
Perhaps we need to cease searching in the Gospels alone for the plan of salvation. It is a frustrating search for specifics of personal redemption. We have the story of Him who died to provide that salvation, but the details of how we Gentiles get grafted into the tree of salvation are not found there. Jesus is basically talking in the context of eliciting repentance and reformation from the Jews and motivating them to accept Him as their Messiah. Having said that, it is obvious that there are some good moral principles expressed in the Gospels. But if one is looking for how to be saved and live an overcoming lifestyle, it won’t be found in any developed measure in the Gospels.
That is why He told the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for “the promise of my Father” (Luke 24:49). Joining the light that comes with the baptism of the Spirit to the opening of their minds to the prophetic meaning of the Old Testament (Luke 24:45), it became crystal clear what Christianity was all about. Now we could get it directly from those who had been on both sides of the issues—the seekers and the finders.
Social aspects of the Gospels
The social message of the Gospels was aimed at those to whom Christ came—the Jews (John 1:11). It was part of their theocratic government, not just their religion. Christianity, however, is not a social construct. It is not entwined with an earthly government. It is based on a personal relationship with the Lord through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles dealt with many social issues in Acts and the Epistles that were not mentioned by Jesus. Why? Were the apostles just a troupe of old characters who weren’t in step with the culture? Were they merely trying to burden the new believers with a lot of non-essential, man-contrived traditions? If Jesus didn’t say anything about the LGBTQ issue, for instance, why should we be concerned about it?
Jesus didn’t need to talk about that subject to the Jews, the people to whom He came (John 1:11). It wasn’t their current problem. Commandments about that issue were already in their laws (e.g., Leviticus 20:13). Acts of that nature were abominable in the sight of God and worthy of severe judgment. That which was morally abhorrent and detestable then was not suddenly made acceptable by Jesus through silence. Sexual perversion was still abhorrent in the sight of God as it also is today. That was made plain in Acts (15:29) and in the Epistles (Romans 1:26-28).
True, Jesus didn’t take time to discuss with the Jews in Jerusalem the intimate details of why same sex marriage would negatively impact their culture. His hearers would have laughed Him out of the synagogue. There was no issue in the minds of Jews about same sex marriage, abortion or homosexual practices. Jesus focused almost exclusively on societal relationships in His teaching since He was addressing citizens of a present theocracy, not the future church.
The first sermon of Jesus dealt with repentance, but the topic was not moral issues as much as social matters. “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). What He had in mind when He spoke of repentance was revealed in the subsequent “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7). In that message, He urged compassion for the poor and hurting, and those who needed justice and mercy. He went on to refer to matters contained in the Law—divorce, vows, anger, revenge, the needy, and prayer and fasting. He added finances, sabbatical practices, and tacked on a rebuke for breaking the legalities of their religion.
These were primarily issues that made Judaism what it was. Although many of the principles mentioned are good for anyone, He was preaching to the Jews. He followed this teaching with a show of miracles to undergird the claim of who He was. He added numerous parables that dealt with the future kingdom, including this stunning statement: “ I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43,44 NLT). When the chief priests of the Jews heard the parables, and especially this last statement, they were shaken for “they perceived that he spoke of them” (v. 45).
More parables followed with lessons about their taxes (22:1-22) and the virtues of serving others (22:20). He criticized the Jews for failing to meet the standard in social and legal matters (chapter 23).
Jesus’ focus on social justice was expressed in the story of the rich young ruler who came to Him wanting to know what good thing he should do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16). “Good deeds” and social justice were thought to be the earthly path to Heaven. Jesus knew his thoughts and said, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” Enumerating them—enumerating most of them. “Done and done,” the ruler replied in so many words. Jesus then dropped the bombshell: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” The young man turned and left; he had too much to give up. Some distill this story to make it say that good deeds and financial liberalism is the ticket to Heaven. So why even read further?
But was Jesus laying out the plan of salvation for the coming dispensation of the church? Parables like the Good Samaritan are often preached as though they were a pattern for us Gentiles to find acceptance with God. Being a good neighbor and showing compassion for others sounded like a great way to impress God. Why would such a person still be unsaved?
Today’s Gentile social engineers disdain Acts and the Epistles
That is probably because those parts of the Bible tell us that faith-motivated obedience is essential to salvation and Christian living. The Book of Acts details exactly what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus that he must be born again (Acts 2:38). The apostles explained in simple terms what repentance means (Acts 26:20; II Corinthians 7:9,10; Revelation 2:21,22), how to be baptized (Acts 8:16; 10:44-48; 19:1-6; 22:16), and what it meant to be filled with the Spirit (Acts 10:46; 19:5,6). They added lifestyle principles that glorify God as they are lived out (I Timothy 2:8-10; I Corinthians 11:2-16; I Peter 3:1-4).
“But weren’t the apostles men just like us? Perhaps they were just making up rules, traditions and ordinances as they went along, based on their own judgment about what was right or wrong,” some might ask. Paul answered those questions: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Corinthians 14:37). He added, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
Some continue to argue: “The word ‘homosexuality’ didn’t even show up in English translations of the Bible until 1946, so why do we say the Bible condemns it?” Because the four Gospels are not the totality of the Bible. Books before them and after them condemn homosexual practices as sinful. Of course, all thinking people recognize that other terms for those sins had been used in earlier English Bibles in place of the less sensitive language of our times. Similar arguments are put forth regarding other contemporary transgressions.
The Gentiles from other lands, Corinthians from Greece particularly, had to be instructed in the sinfulness of sexual immorality (Acts chapter 15). The tenets of the Christian faith and life had to be taught to them. They had no frame of reference to grasp the righteousness expected of Christian believers.
The family is the foundation of a stable society and culture. Destroy it and the superstructure will collapse. Social acceptance of the practices mentioned above will destabilize any nation: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The word translated “reproach” can be rendered “shame” or “disgrace.” The next verse tells us that the wrath of God will be directed toward those who “act shamefully” (NET).
The new covenant made effectual by His blood (Ephesians 1:7) did not obliterate God’s Old Testament guidance about immorality and other ungodly acts. Even though Jesus did not specifically address some hotbed social ills of our day, He inspired the apostles to do so (I Timothy 3:16). They were the men He called and commissioned to guide us toward a salvation experience that looks forward to eternal life with Him.