Which is more political: paying three pounds join the Labour Party, or God placing his Spirit in a person? The prophet Daniel saw sections of a statue that represented past political power1.History suggests that they include Babylonian, Mede-Persian, Greek and Roman power. Evidently, it’s iron and clay feet were were a mixture of Roman and Jewish power that God’s Son landed on. God’s Son, a rock not cut by human hands2, smashed the statue and grew into the mountain of His Church sent into all the world3.
The Church may be inclined to seek the welfare of populations and cities4; it is also to get out of Babylon5 and be a city on a hill6.
How did the apostle Paul honour the Emperor7? He appealed to Caesar as a prisoner on trial for spreading the gospel8. Paul intended to explain the gospel to Caesar as he had to Felix, Festus and King Agrippa9. His appeal could make Caesar accountable – just as Nebuchadnezzar and Darius were made accountable when God sent Daniel and friends as a witness to them. Having been made accountable, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius wrote letters to the whole world that declared God’s rule10.
Accountable governments can be God’s instruments for justice and just wrath11; Paul acknowledged Caesar’s responsibility to deliver a justice that seeks the good of his people12. Paul also said that, where possible, the Church should try to live in peace with all people13 and should pay taxes as an act of justice14. This desire is set alongside the warning that we are not to receive the mark of the beast15 (without which a public will not be able to buy or sell16). Our opposition to the beast will involve obeying God’s commands which includes putting faith in Jesus Christ17.
While the head of state is not to avenge18, God will avenge sin through the exercise of the state’s justice19 (which is informed throughout history by God’s revelations, such as those recorded in Genesis 1 which includes the command to be fruitful20). Where there is injustice, God tends to prompt prophecy, as he did through Nathan to King David21, Isaiah to King Ahaz22 and Jonah to Nineveh23. Some states are weighed in the balance and found wanting24.
Isaiah chapters 49-66 contain many descriptions that grow in amplification over time. Isaiah speaks of God’s people not fleeing but deliberately going out from Jerusalem with God as their guard25. God compares their travels to His protection of Israel during the exodus26. This was fleshed out by Jesus asking his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit who then inspired their mission out of the city and into the world27.
Jesus declared to people in a synagogue that part of Isaiah 61 was fulfilled through His words in their hearing28. It is natural to think that the rest of the chapter would apply to a time after His crucifixion. Peter’s description of our identity as a nation of royal priests29 indicates that the latter part of Isaiah 61 and chapter 62 are in some way descriptive of our current situation (even if its prophecy overflows into the new heavens and new earth). The Church can certainly relate to its descriptions. These are chapters in which God speaks of his love of justice and a hatred of robbery. They speak of God’s people as restorers who repair cities30. Jesus gave His disciples the great commission; disciples who are to be transformed and inspired by the Holy Spirit are commissioned to do the “greater works”31; they will invite the peoples into their new humanity32. Isaiah 32 clearly ties in with what Jesus accomplished; 32:15-20 speaks of the Church’s growing establishment of a shalom in which there is justice; a place of peace in times of calamity.
Everything is made through the Word33, any word describes and all description is based on judgement, so everything is made through God’s judgement. Creation happens because judgement happens. In accordance with God’s justice, the Word made flesh gets to be judge of all mankind34. Justice does right and treats one as one should be treated35.
Justice is reasonable in that there is a reason to have it as a consequence. The divine justifier36 who gives gifts, when giving gifts in response to a person’s deliberate action, expresses pleasure and gratitude in the object He is judging. Such gratitude is borne out of love; in a love for the person who loves God with justice (which is expressed through the parable of the prodigal son)37.
Nicholas Wolterstorff has highlighted the fact that doing justice is a kind of love. Clearly the Father loves His Son38 and makes Him humanity’s judge, in creation, not merely because He is the judge of all creation but because, as a man, He treated everyone He met as they should be treated; He fulfills God’s law and is subsequently the rightful judge of all39.
What does our judge require of us? He commands us to love justice with kindness and to walk humbly with Him40. God meets him who does what is right, who remembers God41. It is right that we are humble before God, partly, because when we reach to out to Him, we bring our sin before Him42. If we are too proud to bring our sin before Him, then He will oppose us but He will give grace to the humble43; it is right to be humble before God. To be humble before God is a righteous, just act of fondness polluted by the sin we have indulged44.
When Isaiah saw a vision of God’s glory in the Jewish temple, He was humble enough to despair because of his sin and his participation in a sinful culture45. Then it was declared to him that there was a sacrifice that took away his sin46.
God does not want to live in harmony with sin but does want to share His life with people47. With our sin we cannot please God no matter how righteous we are because our righteousness cannot undo our unrighteousness48. So, in love God sent Jesus, His Son, who agreed to be a sacrifice that was worthy enough to remove our unrighteousness49 – by performing a righteous life50 and by suffering the punishment of death-designed-to-condemn-sin51.
Jesus said that people are by nature evil; He said that evil people can ask for the Holy Spirit52 (who is not evil). As it is right to honour God for condemning our sin53 and offering the Holy Spirit to help us54, it is right and good to ask for the Holy Spirit through a faithful hope in Jesus Christ55. The plea for the Holy Spirit may sometimes correspond with the initial faith of a believer; an initial faith which results in the removal of the faithful’s sinful clothing and the application of priestly garments56.
Before Jesus death and glorification, the Holy Spirit gave particular people urgent messages57 which provided them with a basis to perform specific tasks58; He also gave His chosen ones power59. The judges – such as Moses, those mentioned in the book of Judges and Samuel – were encouraged by the Spirit to exercise justice in relation to domestic60 and foreign policy61; after Jesus was glorified the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the whole Church, to help them with every decision they face62.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would persuade people to shun evil and would prompt them to do what is right63. Asking for the Holy Spirit is an act of humbleness before God64; it is a righteous cry for help65; the one who asks for the Holy Spirit is aware of a contrast between their life and God’s life66; they long to live in harmony with God.
The Church who is indwelt by the Spirit is asked to offer God’s Spiritual reconciliation to the outside world67 (who are confronted with the contrast of the Church68) through a loving appeal to repent, trust in Christ ( and His instruction69) and be baptised70. So the Church is inspired with words of evangelism71.
John records how Jesus met a man born blind who wanted to see72. Jesus drops his spit to the ground and mixes a mud with it (like the incarnation drops God who mixes with humanity), Jesus put this mixture on the blind man’s eyes (which resembles how Jesus deals with our sin), the muddied man who hears Jesus instruction to go to a pool and wash has faith in Jesus and goes, washes (which may represent repentant baptism), then sees for the first time73. Jesus said to Nicodemus that a person cannot see the kingdom of God unless they are born again74.
There is an apparent link between the man born blind and the blinding of Saul on the road to Damascus75. Saul closed his eyes during a revelation of God, he heard Jesus’ instruction, and while he thought about it he was blind. Saul’s repentance was borne out in an obedience of faith in that He goes to wait in the city and in the fact that he prays and fasts. Ananias then prays for him. Subsequently he receives the Holy Spirit and his sight at the same time76.
These facts collectively suggest that the Holy Spirit is given to the man of faith in order to give him a new appreciation, a kind of ‘seeing’ which enables him to grasp how he should act in the Kingdom of God. An analysis of the scriptures tells us that when the Holy Spirit regenerates a person who has faith in Jesus, He writes God’s law on their heart77 – which gives them an appreciation of how Jesus wants them to love-in-the-world into which He has sent them78, an appreciation that overflows into the new self’s actual loving desire in an agreement with God79. As well as instilling a profound reconciliation, His inspiration has a strategic direction and purpose in God’s history80.
John tells us that to those who receive Jesus and put there trust in Him, God gives the right to be children of God, not born according to bloods, the will of flesh or the will of man, but born of God81.
(A man’s faithful trust in Jesus is the will of man, a man being born of God – in the sense of being born again – has nothing to do with the will of man. God has declared that it is right for a person who has faith in Jesus to become a child of God; it is a loving act of justice82 (that is enabled by the judgment of sin executed on the cross83). It is an intimate reconciliation84 in which the Holy Spirit transforms us by writing God’s law on our hearts85).
It is the people walking in darkness that saw the light of the God-child and they put their hope in Him86. When He grew He declared that some; having been confronted with Him, prefer the darkness87. We who have been reconciled with God are inspired to be God’s light in the world; we display His radiance with unveiled faces in accordance with His deliberate display88; the veiling of the gospel is subsequently an act of those who prefer the darkness; they have been persuaded by the evil one that God’s light of life is to be avoided; they prefer to side with the evil one89.
Jesus asks the thirsty to come to Him90 and commands people to follow Him91. Saul-Paul identifies faith in Jesus as an act of obedience92. Saul-Paul and John warn the reconciled in that in some respect, they are the same as everyone who suppresses a knowledge of God93; evidently they can be appealed to with the revelation of their letters94, just as the gospel appeals to those walking in darkness95. God’s revelation, therefore, puts someone who has suppressed their knowledge of God in another position of responsibility in which they can either suppress further96 or in which they can repent97 and obey what is being commanded98.
God judges the desires of our hearts and has condemned the human inclination to sin on the cross99. It seems, then, that the mark of original sin has power before re-birth to incline our hearts towards suppressing revelation100. The mind, before new-birth, entertains this suppression but can over-rule suppression in the light of further revelation should we prefer the light to the darkness we are familiar with101; this could take place in a simple situation such as a parent asking their child to share or in a revolutionary situation when the declaration of the gospel offers the Holy Spirit.
Renewal by the Holy Spirit inclines our hearts towards obeying God102 but the old-sinful-self remains dislocated without its previous power103; it remains and reminds us of our option to disobey God; we may wish that it were cut off completely104. The prayer “Lead us not into temptation” before renewal expresses a discontentment with sin in view of the light of revelation105; the prayer “Lead us not into temptation” after renewal expresses a discontentment with sin because it is not of us106.
Whilst talking about the law, Saul-Paul said that the mind set on sin is hostile to God because it does not submit to His law107. James said that if we break any of the law then we have become accountable for breaking all of it108. Evidently, we should not take Romans 8:7 to mean that all sinners are hostile to the offer of salvation, but it has sometimes been preached as if that is what it says.
Saul-Paul understood that because God persists in revealing Himself to sinners, they are in fact able to seek Him in response109. This is demonstrated when He calls110. So when Saul-Paul quotes the poetic line “no man seeks God”111 it should not be taken at face-value but understood as a reference to the fact that as humans grow, they deliberately suppress their knowledge of God112 – this is the situation into which God speaks and offers salvation113.
Any grace which passes over sin because of a sacrifice is a gift and by grace we have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ114. To be saved is to experience grace as a gift115 that took a lot of effort to prepare. The gift that Jesus made of Himself116 brought about the possibility of the gift of salvation117. Salvific grace then, has a double gifted quality; it is personally given and before that, it was prepared. Salvation is not earned by our works but is earned by Jesus (whose life is credited to us)118; grace is given as a gift to the humble119 who are thankful for opportunity to be given a gift120; the opportunity to knowingly put faith in Jesus gift is also a gift121; so Salvific grace has at least a triple gifted quality.
Wolterstorff has distinguished justice as dynamic between primary justice – where people relate to each other as they should, and second order (or criminal) justice which occurs when primary justice breaks down. With this distinction in mind, we can see that primary justice requires voluntary effort to maintain a flourishing peace (in which people are treated as they ought to be treated – with love)122, so any primary justice is a gift.
God commands particular kinds of voluntary action, which (Wolterstorff notes) God summerises as loving God with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbour as ourselves123. So any act of obedience in accordance with His commands is therefore an act of primary justice in love.
Mercy occurs when a punishment that would serve criminal justice is lifted or prevented. One can imagine scenarios in which mercy would serve justice or other scenarios in which it would be, itself, unjust.
Jesus loved primary justice (that is to say, loved people124) when He made a way to offer salvation to sinners who needed help125. This primary love motivates the claim that people should hear the gospel when the opportunity to hear the gospel is possible126.
God loved primary justice127 when he enacted criminal justice; He demonstrated his wrath against a disregard of primary justice by crucifying it on the cross128 – in the midst of His righteous sacrifice, which was made to save and offer salvation to people129. We therefore understand that God values primary justice because He is loving. God’s primary enacting of criminal justice is, as well as an expressed judgement130, a gift, because we would be profoundly hurt if God had shown contempt for primary justice (that affects all of us). So salvific grace has at least a quadruple gifted quality. Contempt for primary justice exists when people do not rage against its disregard; but God rages131.
As it is right to be humble before God because He is our Creator, Father and Righteous Saviour132, being humble before Him is a matter of primary justice and His response to our humility is a matter of primary justice133. So it can be said that Salvific grace has a quintuple gifted quality. His salvific love is, in part, a just gift for the humble whom he loves to salvation. God is not bound by justice but is just. And all of His primary justice is a gift of love (because God is love134)135. We are His workmanship136 – given a place in His creation of primary justice (which includes His execution of criminal justice). As God has judged us into existence He has contextualised all humanity’s decisions with primary justice137 – so that, for example, the faithful are rewarded with their new creation in Christ to perform good works that God had prepared for them138.
The cry “Jesus save me from my sin” is not a boast, it is a plea that hopes in the existence of a gift that consists of graceful mercy enriched with justice. Graceful mercy only seems to be in danger when we deliberately suppress a knowledge of God139. Which implies that those who die before they suppress a knowledge of God (such as the very young or very simple) are substituted with Christ (who has dealt with their criminal justice)140; their deliverance is a matter of primary justice as is any deliverance141.
God’s mercy, therefore, deals with an individuals criminal justice through an appreciation of primary justice142. Controversially then, one might suggest that it would be a crime for God to not show mercy in accordance with primary justice. If God had created us inheritors condemned in our inclination without any hope of salvation, then God could be accused of neglect; but He has not neglected us143, He has sent His Son who offers His crucified and resurrected hand to help us out of the pit144; more than that He fetches those who don’t know what they are doing145.
Trusting Jesus with our sin is a loving acknowledgment of who He is146 and volunteers to fulfill His desire to save us147. As trusting Jesus Christ expresses a belief that He should flourish it is therefore a loving act of primary justice148. This fact is even framed for us by Paul who called it an act of obedience149 (evidently because Jesus calls us – and the nations – to follow Him and be His disciples150). We will eagerly obey someone because we think they deserve to be obeyed; when we obey in this way we demonstrate an appreciation, a loyalty, a preference and an external purpose151).
Jesus said that living water will flow out of the hearts of those who trust Him to quench their thirst152; living water that will cause life to flourish153. John identified this outpouring as the work of the Holy Spirit that came about after Jesus was glorified154. His statement (in John 7:37-39) draws a distinction between the influence of the Holy Spirit before Jesus’ glorification and the influence of the Holy Spirit after Jesus glorification.
Evidently, those who are transformed by the Holy Spirit after Jesus glorification can be described as a new creation, born again in Christ155. Before the glorification, John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb156, looked forward to the time when Jesus would baptise people with the Holy Spirit157.
Before Jesus glorification the Holy Spirit had come upon people to inspire a prophecy158 or to inspire a task that was performed mightily159; evidently such inspiration can take place in the life of someone whose heart is inclined to sin160; perhaps this is why John suggested that he be baptised by Jesus161. Pre-glorification, the Spirit of God departed from King Saul162 but, after Jesus was glorified, God the Father and Son make their home163 with the spirit of a Christian through an indwelling of the Holy Spirit – and Jesus indicates that they will stay with the re-born believer forever164.
After Jesus glorification, the Spirit has inspired Christian prophecy165 and mighty acts166 but does so alongside a heart that He has been inspired to the point where it is inclined to obey God167; such a heart has been baptised in the Holy Spirit168; such a minded heart is flooded with an understanding of God’s law that will inform the Christian of what he should do in the world169. The Spiritual life of born again people is an embodied reconciliation brought about by the finished work of Jesus Christ170. The Holy Spirit inspires their life so that they live it with unveiled faces in the watching world171. The Holy Spirit inspires people to live justly, which has involved the sharing of the gospel with prophetic words172, which is one way the Spirit convicts the world of guilt173 and a way in which the Father draws people to Himself174.
The Father has drawn people to Jesus through the Church’s revealed declarations175. (The Spirit also convicts our dislocated old selves – which are of the world – of guilt; such Spiritual struggle is a mark of a person who can be called a new creation176).
Humbleness is valued in Christianity and rightly so. However, with the intention of being humble, some have claimed that the initial faith of a believer is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is itself a mark of transformation. I think they have forgotten what it is like to live without the Holy Spirit (indeed the Fall has effected their minds, which remain tethered to this side of perfection177). They say that before Spiritual transformation occurs, the human inclined to sin was too proud to seek God. However Peter was sent by God to reveal the gospel to Cornelius because Cornelius had prayed and given gifts to the poor178; which displayed faith and care; it was through understanding the gospel that Cornelius’s house received the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Also Lydia, a gentile, worshiped God before she heard the gospel; after she heard it she was baptised179. Evidently, God, having made redemption possible, deemed that her worship, which displayed some kind of loyal faith, merited the revelation of the gospel which could offer her hope. The author of Romans, Paul, displayed repentance before he received the transformation of the the Holy Spirit180. Samaritans repented, were baptised in the name of Jesus and afterwards received the Holy Spirit181.
The idea that God does not establish faith as a basis for reconciliation, does not stand; it would suggest that faith has no role in the justice of reconciliation. It would put a question mark on why some people experience reconciliation with God and it would put a question mark on why some are not reconciled; some who think it declare God’s just election to be a mystery, that they want to trust Him with. Their misinterpretation of Paul’s poetic quote in Romans 3 leads to the idea that every human prayer has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some have come dangerously close to saying that their faith was God’s faith – which would fail to appreciate the holiness of God who is set apart from His creation by His judgement of it182. Their idea is evidently contradicted by John 1:12-13 through its segregations and the general Biblical account of God giving grace to the humble.
Ephesians 1 says that God predestined the Church for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has looked after us in the Beloved. I think this must be informed by the texts that Peter and James refer to when they say “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”183. So, we have in part, been predestined to praise God for giving grace to the humble – it’s a glorious thing He has done (and we will praise Him for the rest of who He is as well) which is also part of the value of His name184.
In another attempt to be humble, some have said that God chose a people for Himself, not on the basis of their foreseen faith but only on the basis of His perfect desire to glorify Himself in His Son by their redemption. In isolation, this idea does not glorify God for giving grace to the humble. It does not acknowledge God’s intention to produce a world that is about justice; a world in which God creatively deals with His concept of good and evil185 in a judgement that is articulated by His Son. We should not forget that God’s justice is part of His glory186.
For those who have deliberately suppressed their knowledge of God, who are aware of their surroundings, faith is an insufficient but necessary part of a necessary and all sufficient salvation187. This is because of Divine justice.
Walterstorff has pointed out that the Jesus command to love our neighbour, is as well as summation of the Law, a quotation of the Law188. Wolterstorff pays attention to the fact that in the New Testament the word “agape” used to articulate this command, describes a love that comes out of the Old Testament justice code189, a justice which Jesus fleshed out190. Love then, saturates God’s law. Wolterstorff reasons that justice is a kind of love and a kind of love that God loves us with; he described this love as the ground flora of a flourishing shalom that abounds in love. We should note that we are to love our neighbour with the same kind of agpe (Greek) ahab (Hebrew) love that we are to love God with; we should love God because He is God in all His glory and we should love other people with the same kind of love because God has made them to be loved as a particular image bearer of Himself191. (Birds, animals and fish are also to be cared for in accordance with all that God has said about them192).
Because Jesus has died for us, we find that we are able to trust Him with our lives and be inspired by the Spirit of justice. Because it is right (loving) to provoke further flourishing in a flourishing community, the flourishing itself is enriched with justice. Jesus as the prince of Shalom193 is the head of the body, His Church194.
Wolterstorff described the Biblical concept of Shalom as four dimensional – requiring a form of peace and harmony in which there is harmony, delight and flourishing in our relationship to God195, fellow human beings196, nature197 and ourselves198. The Holy Spirit inspired Jesus199 – who established the peace in which the Holy Spirit inspires the humble to love other human beings and nature in the satisfaction of their inclination to do so, thanks to the renewing of their minds through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the Holy Spirit inspires Shalom. The Greek word eirene, used to translate Old Testament uses of Shalom in the Septuagint, is used in the New Testament to name of one of the fruits of the Spirit200. Our present shalom is a flourishing of God’s commands to make shalom throughout history201.
As Jesus commands His gospel of Shalom to be spread throughout the world; it would be absurd to think that His Church does not have a political purpose. The Kingdom of God is not from this world but it is in it202. Of course the Church has political purpose; Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is at hand203 and shall be intimately experienced by those who are born again into the family of God204; a people who are encouraged to pray daily that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven205. The kingdom of heaven will overthrow all earthly power in the future206; it is also a kingdom whose law is to govern the hearts of an evangelistic207 international nation208 of royal priests209 who seek to build communities of Church210 in whom there are overseers211 who instruct structures of justice212 and mission213 as the Spirit of God leads them214. The apostle Paul appealed to Caesar to hear his gospel in the midst of his trial before political authorities215; in this way he honoured the emperor216 . Paul was inspired to continue the witness of God who is to be remembered throughout all the generations217. Paul’s witness to the political authorities218 kept them accountable to God who had given dreams to Pharaoh in Egypt and King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. To each of these, God gave one of His own people (Joseph and Daniel) to interpret their dreams in order to for the Kings to recognise God’s authority over them219. Through this witness God enabled Joseph and Daniel to have political oversight of the nations in which He had placed them220. Due to the faithful witness of Daniel, Hanania, Mishiel and Azariah during their political service and political persecution, King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius wrote letters addressed to all the peoples of the earth to tell them that God rules over them and that God’s kingdom will never be destroyed221. Through Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation, God has informed us that a rock, not cut by human hands, would smash a statue that encompassed historical political powers, a rock that would grow into a mountain that encompassed the whole earth; evidently any future political power would have to reckon with it; for it shall be foundational222. Clearly the Rock is Jesus who landed on a mix of Jewish and Roman power223, He is the stone the builders rejected who has become the corner stone of His Church’s Kingdom224.
God has consistently appointed prophets to encourage political leaders to rule in accordance with God’s shalomic justice225; and sometimes He establishes His people as political leaders226. When there has been governmental injustice, He has acted227 and has called people to speak out and act228. The danger for any political authority is that God weighs them in the balance229; some are found wanting230. It is within this context – in which the international Kingdom of God is growing – that – Paul says that the authorities carry out God’s wrath for wrong doing231; if the state itself is unjust then we can expect the Holy Spirit to inspire members of the Church to actively speak out against the state, to offer sanctuary to those who have been mistreated and to offer freedom for those who have been unjustly imprisoned232. The Church then, should understand itself as a tool of political justice under the authority of God.
Now, God gave male and female humans to each other in marriage as a sexual solution to the problem of loneliness233. Marriage then, is a gift; literally a marriage gift. If we attempt to perform sexual union outside of this heterosexual marriage, then we insult the gift and we insult the giver of the gift; (we do the same if we attempt to break up a marriage234). What then would be the loving way to enjoy sex? Clearly within the intimacy of heterosexual marriage. God knows who He has called male and who He has called female even if they don’t know whether they are male of female – all people are called to love God. If we are obviously male or obviously female then we have an obvious responsibility to love who God calls us to be, and we should celebrate the gifts He has given us; this can include the celebration of marriage. Whether married or not, all people should celebrate their living responsibility in God’s creation in prayer235.
Commissioned by God, Paul commands husbands to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church and gave Himself up for her236; Jesus suffered and died for the Church as an act of love; so husbands should protect their wives. God commanded that His people assemble in prayer, prophecy and celebration of His Shalom237. Some of the rituals He commanded symbolise realities that are right (and good) for us to remember. Women whose wisdom and instruction help the community238, are asked to voluntarily keep silent in relation to teaching and the exercise of authority in large Church assemblies (where men are present) to help the congregation to remember an honour the punishments of the fall239. The ritual helps us to remember what God has done and who we are in our history and how we shall consequently be. This memorial act is entirely consistent with how God thinks of ritual240. As well as this, the ritual proves to be educational for those who are still to learn the history they are part of; the ritual prompts the question of why the ritual takes place. God makes it explicitly clear that He intends His rituals to prompt such questions241; we are particularity warned against people that persistently allow female practice to be dishonoured242. When God speaks prophetically through sisters teaching in the assembly, He does so, because He is merciful both to the teacher and to the congregation – in view of the fact that His Son has died for them and in view of the fact that they have assembled in His name243; however God indicates that He will discipline His children and bring them back to His narrow way in which life flourishes244. We are called to be a community of repentance and forgiveness245.
Nicholas Wolterstorff has pointed out that the agape command to love our neighbours is not just a summation but a quotation from God’s law in the midst of many justices; justice is therefore not something other than love but is a kind of love, a love that we are to love God with (as well as our neighbours who are his image bearers). Wolterstorff has pointed out that criminal justice takes place when the primary justice of love breaks down. While the Church in the UK dwells on the criminal justice of sin and atonement, it may be forgetting its identity as God’s instrument for upholding primary justice through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who writes God’s law on our hearts so that His law rules on His mountain that fills the earth and that subsequently holds governments to account.
Wolterstorff also noticed the a tendency for English translators of the New Testament to translate dikaiosune – an ancient Greek word for justice – as “righteousness” in relation to social matters and as “justice” in relation to criminal matters. So long as readers understand that the meaning of righteousness is rooted in the meaning of justice then an understanding is maintained; but, as seems to be the case, many separate the meaning of righteousness from the meaning of justice; in doing so they will not appreciate what was meant in the New Testament. To safeguard the meaning of the Testament we should perhaps be translating dikaiosune as “justice” more often.
When we look at God’s messages to collective groups of people246 it seems right for Isaiah to have been concerned that he participated in a sinful culture. God’s Church of shalom and His offer of redemption into it is a present politic. (Any kingdom is a politic).247
The Kingdom of God is a place of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration248. As Jesus was arrested, put on trial, sentenced to capital punishment and was executed by order of the authorities249 on our behalf250 and because Jesus commands us to love our enemies251, it is reasonable to conclude that, on God’s mountain, we should not execute prisoners.
How should we have criminal justice on God’s mountain? Brothers in Christ who are in dispute are not to appeal to a court of unbelievers when they are settling a matter252. If a conversation can be sought then Jesus commands in Matthew 18:15-20 should be followed. If the sin persists after a conversation then witnesses should be brought to confront the sin and if they are not heeded then the Church should confront the sin; if the sin persists then Church discipline should be exercised253 to encourage repentance, reconciliation and restoration (which also displays God’s condemnation of sin and His discipline254).
Sometimes, when confronting a criminal with an issue and when there is a lack of repentance before God, then an incarceration or exclusion for the purposes of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration (which also displays God’s wrath255 or discipline256) is still reasonable (in accordance with the laws of a just state). (An incarceration to protect other people also seems appropriate – protection being a form of love). But how should we deal with immediate threats of torture and murder? And how should we treat a cruel and murderous army? When Jesus was wrongfully arrested, Peter retaliated with a sword and Jesus rebuked him257; Jesus even healed the captor whom Peter had struck258. He gave a stark warning that we should prayerfully consider. Jesus also commanded us to love everyone including our enemies259. But perhaps Peter had murder in his heart260 when he wielded the sword and all murder is wrong261. God was able to punish Israel and condemn Edom for taking pleasure in Israel’s suffering262; God takes no pleasure in the punishment of the wicked263. As the Spirit reminds us of the wisdom of God recorded by His prophets and scribes and as the Spirit inspires each member of the Church for different forms of specific action, then each will be called according to God’s specific purposes. Having said that, it is obviously evident that the Church is called to rescue the oppressed264; such rescue may require the force of bullets265. We are called to be just. If we are confronted with a person (who has suppressed their knowledge of God) attempting to intentionally murder another person (who has also suppressed their knowledge of God) and we want to share the gospel with both of them, then it seems just to try to prevent the murder from taking place whilst praying that our bullet will not deprive the murderer of life, in order that both may find forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration through God’s redemption (and what happens is up to God in accordance with His justice). In such a scenario, we would not have murder in our hearts. Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind266.