“It’s All Greek To Me: Justice”

At Gateway Church in Austin we concluded our new series called “It’s All Greek To Me: Understanding Ancient Truths”

We protest for justice. We work and pray for social justice. We watch movies about the Justice League. What actually is justice? According to the Scriptures, justice originates from God and His righteousness. We can discover how to bring God’s kind of righteousness and justice to earth without being “self-righteous,” “judging others,” or hypocritical. Instead, we can bring healing to our world.

Message Discussion:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner,  life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Next Steps

Message Video:

Message Notes by Eric Bryant and Carlos Ortiz:

This week we’re going to dive into the word dikaiosuné (Dik-ah-yos-oo-nay), which can be interpreted as Justice and/or Righteousness.  

The reason why these Greek words are of major importance is because it forces us to talk about ourselves in light of God.  

If we are not careful, because we have good intentions, we can easily misinterpret our good intentions with being lined up to who God is and His intentions.  

Once we get into the habit of always thinking we are right, we then cut corners and begin to make decisions on what is right and wrong based on the eye test.  “It looks good to me.”

I shared this story with the parents who came to the support group we have for parents of teens once a month. When she was in Middle school and high school, our daughter  Trevi was resistant to us and to God and to church. Cannot skip church on Sunday just like you cannot skip school on Monday. She tried week after week after week.

Before we both went through recovery, we would get into disagreements which turn into several days of silence. The crazy thing was it was our kids who would start it!

Trevi would do something bad. Deborah would discipline her.
Trevi was rude to her mom and my wife didn’t respond the way I wanted so I would jump in and overreact.
Then Deborah would be made at me instead of Trevi! 

In 2018, I went on a 2 month sabbatical. I started writing to my daughter in a journal in which she could write me back her questions and doubts and feelings. This allowed us to have meaningful conversations without getting triggered. I would go on 40 day fasts from sugar to pray for a breakthrough in her heart and in our relationship.

On one of those Sundays she didn’t want to be here, something amazing happened. She experienced God’s love. Right over there in our student room. God spoke to her. She reconnected with Him. She didn’t tell us all that was happening in her heart until we were all stuck in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. We learned a lot of things about her during that time!

At first, the resistance to coming on Sundays disappeared. We argued less.

She wanted to go to youth camp. She went on a Go Team trip to Puerto Rico. These experiences and being involved with our youth group and youth leaders broke through!

You can only imagine our surprise when she started talking about becoming a gap year missionary. She’s been an au pair for a family with 3 kids – ages 2, 4, and 8. The kids parents are a mom with a physical disability and the dad is the pastor of the church where Trevi is an intern and part of the choir. It’s been a stretching year as you can imagine it would be watching 3 kids! But she’s also having an amazing time! She got to go snow skiing for the first time in her life in the Alps! She’s gotten really good! Here’s a video of her with Matthieu, her host dad adding the narration.

When things are not right in a relationship, we know that is not how things are supposed to be. Deep down, we know we want things to be right.

Too often we value being right more than the relationship.

This way of looking at life or situations is very self centered, similar to what John spoke about last week.  So if last week we worked to not be so self-centered, then this week we are going to address avoiding being self-righteous and perverting justice to fit our agenda.  As we dive in, let’s cover a few facts about this word and why it is important:

  • Dikaiosyne is used 92 times in 85 verses in the New Testament
  • More than ⅓ of those references come from the book of Romans
  • Every chapter in the book of Romans has a reference to Dikaiosyne

The Three Main Truths About Justice (Righteousness)

God IS Love

It’s important for us to understand that in this case and with this word, God is at the center of deeming what is righteous, and what is just.  So when we say, God IS love, I want you to soak that in.  He isn’t just emoting love, receiving love, artistic about love and all of its expressions…God literally IS love, and as the creator of LOVE he is armed with righteousness and justice, it is just who he is.  

There is no group think or consensus to decide

There is no jury who gets to assist God in determining what is right or wrong

Who do we think we are to think that God needs our help? Psalm 89 says:

Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.

This righteousness/justice is who God is, it is the basis for His throne and it is doused in love for people.

God’s entire purpose for acting righteously, and filled with justice and mercy, is to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.  His being righteous rectifies the situation, even as we diligently and royally work to mess it up.

We Fall Short of Perfection

I know this may come as a shock to some of us, but we are not perfect…we are FAR from perfect.  I know you and I think we are right most of the time, and I know we are always right on social media platforms, but the truth is, we are flawed.  Our love is flawed, so then our truth is flawed, then our view of justice can be flawed and our righteousness stinks to high heaven. 

Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Embracing our imperfections is a sweet fragrance to heaven, because it humanizes us, and it begins a journey of bringing dignity to others, because we know that we have been in need of a gracious God who poured out his righteousness on us through the love of Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness is only found in relationship to God.  Our “righteousness” is self-justifying and causes all our human problems.  So we NEED God’s righteousness to actually be right with God and walk with God in a new way.

Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

God’s Justice Flows Through Us

There’s a humble righteousness we receive from God that helps us NOT be like the “self-righteous’ Pharisees who judge others by their own standards, but fail to see themselves as needing God’s mercy for their own breach of God’s justice.

Learning to walk justified by God, and in His righteousness, then allows us to bring God’s kind of righteousness and justice to earth without being “self-righteous” or “judging others” or hypocritical, and that can bring healing and change.

Romans 3: 9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11  there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13  “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”14  “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Let’s move on to verse 22…

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

It’s because of Jesus that we are made righteous out of an act of justice.  We may not be able to BE Love, to BE Righteous, to BE Just on our own, but we can clothe ourselves in who Christ is:

Romans 13:14 – Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ

Job 29:14 –  “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; My justice was like a robe and a turban.

Isaiah 61:10 – I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness

Psalm 132:9 – Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, And let Your godly ones sing for joy.

Let me share with you a video that summarizes what we are talking about so well. It’s the last 2 minutes of the video on Justice from the Bible Project. We will post it in our Facebook group so you can watch it all later, but for now, watch this:

Many of us struggle with this idea of a God of justice..
For me, I have had a hard time reading the prophecies in the Old Testament with all the warnings and woes and prophecies of coming judgment. 

For the last 3 years I have been doing a deeper dive in my personal devotional time with God. I have these colored pencils. 

  • Purple is when God is speaking or when I am discovering more about God’s character. 
  • Green is what we are supposed to do. 
  • Red is what we are not supposed to do.

Something really cool has emerged. God’s judgment is almost always just allowing what those who are rebelling want. God’s punishment is allowing us to reap what we have sown. God’s punishment is actually simply put: the consequences of our actions.

Now what is amazing is how God can use the evil choices of others or even the consequence of our own evil choices to bring out good when we turn back to Him. Sometimes He protects us from those consequences.

Today I just so happened to finish my journey through the Bible in this way. The last book I needed to read was Zephaniah.

Zephaniah was was a prophet in the time of Josiah. After Zephaniah spoke out about the evil in Judah, it was not too long later that the people of Judah turned back to God in one of my absolute favorite stories from the Scriptures in 2 Chronicles 34-35.

Even crazier, Zephaniah shared his message after a crisis in his nation. A Scythian army came from Southern Russia and devastated the land including Judah.

These last few weeks seeing the devastation in Ukraine and hearing of buildings bombed even with the word “children” – something within us knows this is not right. That something must be done! And then when the one who started this devastation quotes Jesus as support of what he has done as Vladmir Putin did this past week, we know that this is a wrong that must be made right. Sending Russian troops to their death and killing Ukrainians for more power or out of fear or whatever motivation.

For any of us, who struggle with the idea of a God of justice, even when I have struggled with the idea of God’s justice, I have found comfort in knowing that God is a God of justice. 

Would He be truly loving if He wasn’t?

And what we learn from the prophet Zephaniah who lived when chaos reigned, even still he finds comfort in a loving God.

The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail… Zephaniah 3:5

Or look at this beautiful passage.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

And so should be our response?

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility…. – Zephaniah 2:3

God is so good, that despite our flaws and sin, God desires for us to line up to His righteousness and justice, and when we do that, we are now able to make a difference wherever we go.  

God is love, God is what we clothe ourselves with, God is the one who has gone before us, he is our Champion, and we can find rest and peace in allowing God’s strength to be made perfect in us.  

In essence, first God wants us to be in right relationship with Him so we can help make things right in our world. To bring more of heaven to earth everywhere we go. 

Maybe your first step is to connect with God personally through Jesus.

Like going on a plane, put the oxygen mask on yourself so you can then help others.

Breathe in the forgiveness, peace, and goodness of God so you can breathe out that same love and kindness and righteousness to others.

What are some wrongs around you that God has made known to you to make things right?

Maybe it’s speaking up on behalf of people who are overlooked at work by addressing biased hiring practices, standing up for a fellow student who may be bullied, taking a Neighbor out for lunch to hear what’s happening in his life, volunteering with one of our networks serving kids or teens or others who have had a tough time during the pandemic…

So what is your next step? Let God heal you and bring healing through you to others.

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