Summary: Justice or righteousness? Churches tend to pick one or the other. Which one did Jesus pick?

To kick off our time together, I want to look at two words and talk about what comes to mind when you hear them. So, grab 4 or five people around you and gather into small groups and let’s start with the first word. When you hear the word “righteousness” what do you think about? What does the word mean?

***Give them a few minutes to talk amongst themselves and then have a few share their thoughts***

Great, now I want you to do the same thing with the word “justice.” What comes to mind; what does the word mean?

***Give them a few minutes to talk amongst themselves and then have a few share their thoughts***

I think typically, when I hear the word “righteousness”, the things that go through my head tend to be personal things, my moral actions, “me and God,” and religion/spirituality or faith. Righteousness in my mind tends to be about inward change, about the heart and emotions, and again private. When I hear the word “justice,” I tend to go the opposite direction and think social interactions like a court or judge. But I also think physical, concrete interactions, “me and others.” I think of things like the 30 Hour Famine and fighting hunger, things like community service, healing the sick, and again, anything involving the physical realm and other people.

As I was thinking about these words yesterday, I was curious of how the dictionary defined these words and here is what I found:


1) Morally upright; without guilt or sin: a righteous parishioner.

2) In accordance with virtue or morality: a righteous judgment.

3) Morally justifiable: righteous anger. See Synonyms at moral.


1) The quality of being just; fairness.

2) The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law.

3) Conformity to truth, fact, or sound reason

Not surprisingly, the dictionary goes to the same place. “Righteousness” is more personal and emotional where “justice” is more about others and something that is physical.

When it comes to being a Christian and having a relationship with God, which is more important to Him? What is more important for us to focus on? Righteousness or justice?

To help us answer that question, I want to spend a few minutes looking at two different passages in the Bible. So, if you have a Bible with you, let’s open to Luke 4:16-21. ***Read Luke 4:16-21***

Just for a little background, this passage comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and right after he began to preach in public for the first time. What Jesus means when he states, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day,” is that this summarized the purpose or meaning behind everything that Jesus would do. Let’s look a little closer at what Jesus read, which is actually found in Isaiah 61:1-2, and find out if Jesus’ mission and purpose was about righteousness or justice.

The passage starts off saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” just again stating the fact that this is God’s mission and what Jesus is supposed to do. After this there are five parts to Jesus’ mission:

Part one says, “for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” Is this about bringing righteousness or justice? Really it can be taken both ways. Part of what it means to have a relationship with God is that we are to treat one another like brothers and sisters and should take care of one another in a physical way, so thus the Good News that justice is coming and that no one will have physical needs. On the other hand though, in the Bible the word poor is used to take about being spiritually poor. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “God blesses those who are poor [in spirit] and recognize their need for Him.” So thus, Jesus is also meaning hear that the Good News of Jesus’ death on the cross would provide a spiritual richness.

Let’s go on to the second part, “He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released.” Which is this, righteousness or justice? Again, really it is both. Jesus wanted justice in the law to be served and be fair but at the same time the Bible talks about being captive towards sin and the freedom that again comes through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Alright, part three, “the blind will see.” Justice or righteousness? Surprise, surprise, again, it is both. Jesus healed people physically of being blind multiple times. But blindness was also used to represent spiritual blindness and seeing the things of God.

We’ve got a bit of a pattern going on here…let’s look at part four. “The oppressed will be set free.” Do I need to ask the question again? Again, we have both! Jesus physically released many people from oppression and cast out demons but again, oppression was talked about to represent a spiritual state of not having God in your life and God setting people free through a relationship with Him.

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