As someone who works for a Christian human rights organization, I thought I had seen it all. Over my past five years of mobilizing the Church to seek justice for the poor and trafficked, I had broadly classified Christians into two camps — the Christians who respond to God’s invitation to seek justice for the poor and oppressed, and those who do not.
Nevertheless, the events of these past few weeks have me questioning this assumption. If anything, I am now convinced that there are many Christians who seek justice for the wrong reasons.
In my experience, Christians who respond to God’s invitation to seek justice are generally eager, excited and expectant. They find themselves baffled that there are 40 million people still held in slavery today — more people in slavery than at any other point in human history! They find themselves eager to jump in and seek the Father’s heart for justice by praying, giving and advocating.
We nonprofit leaders and pastors find ourselves celebrating with these newly awakened Christians and eagerly start discipling them through next steps. After all, more prayers and increased giving leads to bigger missions budgets and better funded programs to serve the poor in our cities and around the world!
Still, I cannot help but wonder if we’re missing a critical step. Somehow, in mobilizing our people toward missions and biblical justice, we often fail to ask our people (and ourselves) an important question: Do we seek justice for the poor and oppressed because of a deep theological understanding of the biblical God of Justice OR do we seek justice to feel good about ourselves?
Or in other words:
Do I sponsor an orphan child because of my passion for the gospel OR do I sponsor an orphan child because I like the feeling that comes from impacting this child’s life?
Do I tithe because God deserves my everything OR do I tithe because it makes me feel like I’m “giving back” to God and our church community?
Do I go on missions trips because I want to see the glory of God spread among the nations OR do I go on missions trips because I want to travel the world?
Do I post #BlackLivesMatter on my social media because I truly believe that the lives of my black neighbors matter to God OR do I post #BlackLivesMatter because I don’t want to feel left out in my social circles?
Do I buy the homeless man outside work a meal because the Bible commands me to care for the poor OR do I buy this homeless man a meal because I want to impress a colleague?
None of these acts of kindness in themselves are bad things. On the contrary, all of these actions are good things that we’re commanded to do as Christians seeking to honor and glorify Christ with our lives. Nevertheless, if we’re not careful, our why can become more about satiating ourselves than glorifying God.
If I’m being brutally honest — I myself am often guilty of wanting the right things for the wrong reasons. While I want to sincerely honor God in my actions and good works, I’ve realized that I can also satiate my selfish desires while “honoring God.” Win-win-win for everyone! But is it really? Or is that a lie from the enemy?
In recent conversations with some people whom I dearly love, I’ve discovered that like me, many of these faithful Christians often do the right things for the wrong reasons. Many of these dear fellow believers give generously to ending systemic injustice overseas — all while being blind to the sin of systemic racial injustice in our own front yard and even the racial biases in our own hearts. The sad reality is that many of us in the Church serve the poor more so because of a ‘savior/heroism complex’ than a true understanding of the depth & beauty of the Gospel and our role in its advancement. Brothers and sisters – doing the right things with the wrong motives is dangerous!
As Christians, it is of utmost importance that we seek justice and do good for the right reasons. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons will lead to a deeply flawed theology, which in turn leads to blindspots in our own sinful hearts. We must never forget that we, the rescued, rescue others out of our own redemption in Christ.
May we, the justified, be on the frontlines of seeking justice for the poor and oppressed for the right reasons — in obedience to the God of biblical justice and for His glory alone!
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:8 ESV
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” — Isaiah 1:17 ESV
The views expressed in this article are personal.
Joash Thomas leads Advocacy and Mobilization in the U.S. Southeast for the world’s largest anti-trafficking organization. He has a master’s degree in political management from The George Washington University and is currently a Master of Theology (ThM) student at Dallas Theological Seminary.