Keller: Why do justice?

Timothy Keller

Motivations are at the core of what we do and don’t do. Some of our motivations are obvious; others are hidden even from ourselves. So what motivates us to pursue justice in our world?

Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, says the Bible gives followers of Christ two basic motivations for doing justice — “joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.” (p.82)

The creation motivation is centered in the Creator and based on honoring the divine image in people. Some excerpts:

“Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the implication that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity.” (p.82)

“The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed.” (p.84)

“The image of God … is the first great motivation for living lives of generous justice, serving the needs and guarding the rights of those around us.” (p.87)

Another aspect of the creation motive is that God has given us stewardship over this creation.

“… God gave humanity authority over the world’s resources but not ownership. We have received what we have in the way a fund manager receives other people’s money to invest. …” (p.88)

As part of this section Keller shares a powerful quote from Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. In the Old Testament, “the righteous [tzaddiq] … are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” (p.90) Then Keller:

“Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s.” (p.90)

Keller then goes to the second motivation, which deals with our response to God’s grace. Some excerpts:

“If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God’s grace.” (p.96)

“Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” (p.99)

“My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.” (p.102)

“… [W]hen Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference.” (p.103)

The reality, however, is that many Christians do not demonstrate much concern for the poor, Keller says. So what can awaken believers from their apathy?

“I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.” (p.107)

“… [W]hen justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up.” (p.107)

May all of us have our buttons pushed.

(This is my fifth post on Keller’s book.  I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage others to read the entire book.)

2 thoughts on “Keller: Why do justice?

  1. “… [W]hen Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference.” (p.103)

    Great quote. I was rereading Philip Yancey’s “Knowing Jesus” earlier this week. In one chapter, his commentary on the “blessedness” of being poor and what a believer should see when and learn from them is really something to think about.

    1. Angie, thanks for sharing that from Philip. I haven’t read any of his stuff in quite a while, so your comment is kind of a reminder that I should revisit that well.

      Regarding Keller’s quote: It really struck me between the eyes when I first read it. It reminded me that I must still not understand the gospel completely because I don’t always see myself in the poor person. But there’s still hope for me.

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