Social justice is not a distraction from our commitment; it is part and parcel of the gospel of the kingdom. We read in Mark 1:15:
"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!"
What is the message of the kingdom? Certainly the center of the message is the proclamation that through one's faith in Jesus Christ (the King), a person can be eternally saved. Thus my church regularly calls people to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be born again and enter God's kingdom.
But that is not the circumference or totality of the message of the kingdom. The ultimate goal of the kingdom goes beyond the salvation of us as individuals (wonderful as that is) and involves the restoration and renovation of the entire universe. The message of the kingdom is a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah's vision in Isaiah 65:17, 20-25:
"See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. ...
"Never again will there be infants who live but a few days, or older people who do not live out their years; those who die at a hundred will be thought mere youths; those who fail to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the Lord.
This message was echoed by all the prophets. So the prophet Micah says this in 4:1-4:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
The apostle Paul speaks about the cosmic sweep of this message of the kingdom. He tells us that not only we, but the entire creation, will be freed from the curse of the fall (Romans 8:19-21). In Ephesians, the apostle Paul again enlarges the scope of the message beyond our individual salvation when he says in Ephesians 1:9-10:
[H]e made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment; to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
This enormous plan, involving the renovation and restoration of the entire universe, is what we pray for when we pray the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
So when we Christians feed the hungry in the name of Jesus, or heal a sick person in the power of Christ, or work for peace in this war-torn world, or help reconcile a marriage, or extend help to immigrants, or work for the responsible care of the environment, these actions are not a distraction from our commission to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Rather, we are living out our calling as kingdom people to partner with God in bringing about the healing of the entire universe.
Rich Nathan is the pastor of the Vineyard Church in Columbus, Ohio, which is the co-sponsor with Sojourners of next week's Justice Revival. Click here for more details.