5 basic truths about biblical justice

December 7, 2021

​​Eight-year-old Secoriea Turner was shot and killed in Atlanta, July 4, 2020. 

Three weeks earlier, a 27-year-old man had died at the same location during an altercation with police. In response, armed protesters blocked the intersection, and cries of injustice filled the night air. On July 4, one driver saw he couldn’t pass through the blockade and tried to turn around in a parking lot. A man opened fire and Secoriea, who was in that car, died at the hospital.

“Justice for Secoriea!” is not hard to understand. What justice means in that earlier police altercation is far more complicated. For many, their vision of justice is informed by worldly ideas directly at odds with God’s intentions. Others pervert the biblical truth of justice to advance a social or political agenda.

Our society is utterly confused about what this word means, yet many are eager to share their thoughts. If we want to understand and have wisdom regarding justice, we should not consult celebrities, activists, or propagandists. Instead, we should look to the Creator’s Word.

Let’s look at five basic truths about biblical justice.

1. In the beginning . . . 

God created a world in which justice reigned. Life in Eden was just as it should be. Surely wolves lived peacefully alongside lambs, as Isaiah 11 promises they one day will. The Creator pronounced it all “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

God designed his world to work a certain way. He set but one restriction — a single tree from which Adam and Eve were not to eat (Gen. 2:16-17). Yet restrictions always seem to inspire rebellious desire. Adam and Eve chose to disrespect God and do what they wanted. Peace and harmony were destroyed. Injustice soon seized power, and the first son murdered his brother (Gen. 4:1-8). The injustice multiplied, and all creation began yearning for the day God would free it from “the bondage of corruption into glorious freedom” (Rom. 8:18-23 HCSB).

The Bible makes it clear: God hates injustice in both personal lives and the public square (Prov. 6:16-19). He punished his people when they practiced injustice or were simply complacent about it. On top of that, God required his people to “do justice” (Micah 6:8). 

“Justice” means different things to different people. For some, it’s taking wealth from those who have “too much.” For others, it means “I’m not getting what I deserve.” To many, justice is just bad people being punished.

Biblical justice, however, is about restoration — trying to put things right, the way the Creator intended.

2. Justice is hardwired into God’s righteousness

If we separate “justice” from the context of God’s righteousness, the word loses all objective meaning.

Ray Stedman, long-time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, points out that the word “righteousness” in the Old Testament (tsedeq – Strong’s H6664) means bringing something into conformity with the character of God, and “justice” (mishpat – Strong’s H4941) is the practical application of righteousness. 

In the New Testament, the two are even more tightly intertwined. The word dikaiosune (Strong’s G1343) means, broadly, that life is, as it ought to be, characterized by integrity, virtue, and right behavior. In a narrower sense, it refers to giving each person what he is due. 

Jesus commanded his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and his dikaiosune” (Matt. 6:33).

3. The gospel is about justice that restores

Eternal salvation does not stand independently of justice. Jesus said he came so those who place their trust in him will never die (John 11:25-26). Yet he also said he came to bring abundant life to those who would step into God’s kingdom (John 10:10).

It’s not so much that justice is part of the gospel, but that the gospel is about justice — restoring God’s original intention for his creation. 

Our mission as believers is to join God in restoring his “already, but not yet” kingdom as fully as possible in this broken world, pending its complete restoration when Jesus returns.

4. Jesus did justice for you

The gospel binds personal salvation with social justice. One can find no more clear example than Jesus’ atoning death in substitution for our sinful souls.

In death, Jesus was “doing justice” for us all. Our rebellion had made us God’s enemies (Romans 8). We were enslaved, and Jesus paid an awful price to set us free.

Resurrection Sunday was God “doing justice” – for every sinner and, eventually, all creation (Romans 8:19-22). By his grace, reconciliation and restoration finally became possible.

This ties biblical justice to the very heart of the gospel. Moreover, reconciliation and restoration inevitably hold social, as well as individual implications. 

Nowhere is this more true, relevant or complicated than our society’s current tensions regarding race issues. Though critiques of America’s founding as a racist project are overstated, only a fool would deny that overt legal racism utterly ravaged generations of Blacks. One of the results of our sinful nature’s tribalistic impulse is the racist tendency to elevate one race over another. However, God’s justice calls us to confront ethnic bias of every sort and devote ourselves to helping neighbors find their way toward restoration, both individually and as communities.

As individuals are rescued and transformed, those who walk in God’s ways serve as light and salt in a dark, rotting society. Disciples who experience divine justice inevitably work to set others free and lead them into abundant life.

5. Making disciples multiplies justice

Popular misconceptions must not be allowed to define “social justice.” We must not be deceived into supporting any agenda at the expense of God’s kingdom. What we must do is lead people into new-birth relationships with Jesus and teach them to walk in God’s ways (Matt. 28:18-20). 

As we experience Jesus’ restoring justice, we instill that desire into newborn disciples, who in turn multiply it into the lives of family, friends, and co-workers. Our personal experience of God’s restoring justice ought to give rise, by degrees, to greater social justice, until the day Christ returns to establish it completely and permanently.

In our complex world, the specifics of “doing justice” and “social justice” are multilayered. Treating them as simplistic slogans — either advocated or dismissed — is itself an injustice. But we must harbor no doubt that divine justice carries social implications, and that God’s people must pursue biblical justice in every arena of society.

Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and host of a podcast at godsrevolution.org. He has written several brief books, including Journey into Justice and Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The End of Christian Apologetics. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24