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Are We Actually About Justice (Part 1) – Adam J. Chaney

Recently, I read through the book of James and I discovered something rather unexpected. As I read James’ letter, I began to see a serious emphasis on justice. Now, I must confess that I am always looking for passages that reveal elements of God’s justice and sometimes it is a struggle to not commit flagrant acts of eisegesis. However, I think there is a clear message of just living coming from James. James seems to paint a picture of justice like a balanced scale. On one side is the faith and beliefs we claim to hold and on the other side are our actions. The indictment is whether or not our claims of faith actually line up with the way we live our lives. Do we live what we believe? “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
Around the Elijah Rising community there is a constant discussion of justice. We sing about it, we pray for it and we teach on it, because there is a deeply ingrained desire to see the Kingdom of God brought to bear upon our sphere of responsibility. I assume, since you are reading this blog, you have a similar desire and motivation. You too may passionately contend for biblical justice to be made manifest. Good. We like you. Yet, James would ask you, would ask each of us, if our actions prove it.
Or are we just employing nice rhetoric? For James, the scales must be balanced for those who are citizens of the Kingdom; faith and deed must balance out.
Understand me clearly; I am in no way advocating some sort of works based righteousness. As well, I would argue that James is not advocating that form of redemption either. I disagree with beloved Luther who declared James “a right strawy epistle” during his reform of the church. Luther dismissed the book and convinced many reformers of its error in propping up works as an element of salvation. Unfortunately, Martin Luther failed to understand the deeper message of the epistle. If we contend for biblical justice, then we must live a just life in the image of Christ. Furthermore, our passion for justice must be backed with matching deeds.
Throughout his letter, James offers illustrations, parables and specific examples of injustices that go unchecked within the Christian community. For my next couple of blog entries I will look at some elements of James’ discourse, which include very specific unjust realities that many of us many commit.
James chapter one ends with a contrast between those who conceive of themselves as religious and those who actually are. (These days the term religious carries a very negative connotation. The scripture’s use of religion/religious does not carry the same negativity. The definition of religion is “a particular system of faith and worship or a pursuit to which an individual ascribes supreme importance.” In this case, in this blog, religion is not a dirty word. Consider it synonymous with faith/faithfulness). This is the same dichotomy drawn between those who just talk about justice and those who actually live justly. It is often said that, “true religion not only has right belief (orthodoxy), but also right practice (orthopraxy).” Basically, true religion does what it says it believes. According to James, in verse 26, those who just talk without any walk are worthless. So what is true religion? “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). We can talk about justice all day long, but if we are not actually reaching out to and rescuing the most vulnerable citizens of society while operating in purity, then we are not living a life of justice. Therefore, our ability to be conduits of justice is severely hindered. Faith must be balanced with deed. Talk must be backed up with action. Why? Because that’s how authentic faith works. Service is a natural over flow of faith.
So, beloved justice warriors, let us rise up and be the hands and feet of the King. Let us truly “learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, care for the orphan and plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). With my next blog entry, we will take a look at a couple of specific injustices that are committed within the body of Christ which hinder our ability to bring justice.