You Can't Have One without the Other
BY ALEX MANDES
I have always seen Matthew 28:19-20 as complementary to Micah 6:8, where God clearly lays out three marks of those who walk with Him: Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. That combination of justice and mercy in our walk with God is transformational. Jesus’ own life demonstrated that. In fact, His insistence on justice for the poor, the hurting and those trapped in fear caught the attention of the people. His lifestyle emitted a life-giving aroma, especially juxtaposed against the dead religion of the time.
Justice and mercy (or compassion) were prophesied as Jesus’ calling card:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
When John was in prison and needed assurance that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus did not talk with him about sound doctrine. Instead, He shared stories of mercy, because justice and mercy are a demonstration of sound doctrine:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (John 7:22).
What does it look like to live out justice and mercy in the EFCA? When I look at the early history of the movement, I am blown away by the Norwegian women in Brooklyn, maids with only Sunday off. They worked hard but then gave half of their pay to the church to further the proclamation of the gospel among the sailors.
Also in Brooklyn, ministry among the abused Chinese garment workers was costly and dangerous. But ministries like the Dorcus House did evangelism. Some of these workers never married because they were working to further the Kingdom of God.
Our living proclamation of the gospel must reach more than the pews on Sunday. It must also reach the jails on Monday, the homebound on Tuesday, the battered women’s shelter on Wednesday, the undocumented immigrants day labor corner on Thursday, the bars on Friday and the homeless under the bridge on Saturday.
There are many reasons people need justice and mercy that are not the result of personal wrong choices. Life is hard, and it beats people down. Many vulnerable people were gainfully employed not long ago but now are destroyed because of the economy.
Some people do choose sin. What do we do about them? Don’t they need to be told they are sinners? I’m not saying that a couple sleeping together is not living in sin. I’m not denying that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law. I’m not denying that looking at pornography is sin.
Remember, the prostitutes and tax collectors whom Jesus hung out with knew they were sinners. The one person who could have thrown a field of rocks at sinners sat down with them. He touched them. They repented.
They will also see Jesus in you. Tell them the truth in love when the Lord leads. In fact, maybe their issue is not sin but that the glory of God might be shown in your kindness (John 9:2-3).
Your choice to follow Jesus’ example will embolden others to do the same. The EFCA was the first evangelical denomination to start a holistic ministry to those struggling with immigration issues: Immigrant Hope. A number of others are following our lead. At first, many wondered how that fit our mission. But the effort was based on article 8, in the EFCA Statement of Faith:
We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.
Our work with immigrants has been noticed not only by immigrants but also by other denominations. Those denominations asked us to provide leadership to a group called The Immigration Alliance, consisting of 15 denominations and coalitions. Our passion is to keep the work centered on the gospel.
Because of this integration of mercy with justice, nonbelievers who visit an Immigrant Hope site are re-evaluating what they believe about church and about Jesus without ever having to hear a sermon. It might be because we feel their pain. It might be because we look into their eyes and see ourselves. We stop judging them long enough to see that they are made in the image of God.
Our mercy and justice must protect another’s dignity. Our love for God and man must transcend our disdain for the sin or unfortunate circumstance that has overcome an individual. We must embrace people’s pain and insist on justice for the hurting, as if we were ministering to Jesus Himself: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
Practicing mercy and justice is a riveting reminder that we are human; that we are all made in the same image. And as we love God supremely and others sacrificially, we are bearing witness to the gospel that is saving us daily.
I’m not saying we must do all of these things. I’m simply pointing out that we need to connect our message on Sunday to our living it outside the walls of the church in justice and mercy. (And that includes welcoming people into our homes any day of the week.)
Do we really want to make this a matter of evangelism, or rather of discipleship? As a matter of discipleship, if those to whom I’m ministering don’t get around to their sin, I will eventually. Jesus in Matthew 28:20 did command them to “observe all things as I commanded you.” But I don’t make it an issue in my evangelism.
Jesus defended the woman caught in adultery and then later told her to sin no more. He just didn’t lead with her sin.
Alex Mandes is director of EFCA Immigrant Mission and GATEWAY and the executive director of Immigrant Hope.