Justice and Righteousness: Is Not This How You Know Me?

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 22-24

“Is not this how you know me? declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 22:16

How do we know God?

This is a very fundamental question for every Christian.

However, I think many Christians get this question confused with another related, but not the same, question.

That second question is how do we know about God?

We can know about God, really anyone for that matter, but reading an account of them. We can know about anyone in history by reading an account of their works. The written account of someone’s works is the testimony of what they have done.

This is exactly the role that scripture fulfills in regards to God. Through scripture we can know about Jesus and about God. This is precisely the role that Jesus gives to scripture in John 5:39-40, which says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

The scriptures witness about eternal life, who is God. But, the scriptures do not allow you to know eternal life himself. Jesus said you can know about me, about God, about eternal life, through the Scriptures. However, if you want to know him, the Father, and eternal life directly, one-to-one, in relationship, then you must come to him.

Essentially, Jesus said you cannot know God by the scriptures. You can know about him, but you cannot know him.

Many Christians fail to see the distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. Therefore, many Christians don’t understand that we can and should know God apart from the Bible. Dare I say that Jesus even insists that we know God apart from the Bible.

For, there is a world of difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Knowing about God leads us follow strict rules and regulations, which if you break those strict rules and regulations you are evil and wicked and out of fellowship with God, perhaps even condemned to everlasting torture. Knowing about God leads us into forcing others to adhere to our strict moral code without producing any real transformation in our own lives.

However, knowing God leads us into a relationship of self-sacrificial love with the God of all creation through Jesus that transforms our very hearts and minds so that love we love our enemies with the same love that we have for God and our friends.

So, I believe it is possible, and necessary, to know God apart from the Bible.

But, what that does that look like?

Jeremiah 22 helps us see how.

The lead up to God’s question “Is not this to know me?” begins to reveal how we know God apart from the Bible.

“Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? The judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this how to know me? declares the Lord?”

We know God by doing justice and righteousness. But, justice and righteousness are not adhering to strict moral codes, rules and regulations. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 4:3, 6-10.

“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world…And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how you can turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!”

When we know about God we follow the elementary principles – rules and regulations of how to please God – of the world. But, once we know God, we are no longer a slave to those elementary principles.

And, it is the Spirit of Jesus who God has put in our hearts who takes beyond these elementary principles to practice true righteousness and justice. Jeremiah tells us that the justice and righteousness we should practice is judging the cause of the poor and the needy. We don’t judge them in terms of right and wrong as in a court of law. Instead, we judge them as in need of our care and support, our love.

Jeremiah explained this further earlier in chapter 22. In verse 3, the Lord commanded the king and his servants, “Do justice and righteousness.”

What did this justice and righteousness entail?

  • “deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed”
  • “do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow”
  • “nor shed innocent blood in this place”

Doing justice and righteousness is taking care of the disadvantaged. Doing justice and righteousness is providing for those that have been taken advantage of and despised by the rest of the world.

And God says, “Is this not to know me?”

Therefore, we know God apart from the Bible by doing justice and righteousness in the same manner and character that God does it. And, God does by delivering people from their oppressor who has robbed them, doing no wrong or violence to anyone, particularly the stranger and the weak, and not shedding innocent blood, which in a true Biblical understanding goes far beyond physically murdering them.

In virtually identical language, Jesus tells us the same thing. Taking care of the needy is how we know God, or as Paul said, how God knows us.

Remember, in Jeremiah 22 God was speaking to the king on the throne and his servants. Now listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-40.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothes med, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when we did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

These righteous, by caring for the outcast, the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the naked, did true righteousness and justice to the disadvantaged. And, by doing this righteousness and justice to the disadvantaged, they did it to Jesus. Therefore, they knew Jesus. These righteous didn’t just know about Jesus from the scriptures. These righteous knew Jesus and God by their practice of true righteousness and justice.

At the close of the sermon on the mount, which details all the ways that true righteousness and justice are displayed in loving our enemies, Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

There will be many that in effect say, “But, we practiced all the elementary principles of this world. We did all the religious sacrifices that the Bible says.” And, Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you.” In effect, Jesus is saying that religious practice only leads you to knowing about him. But, it doesn’t lead you knowing him and him knowing you.

So, we can, even must, know God apart from the Bible. Jeremiah and Jesus tell us how – by practicing true righteousness and justice, taking care of the disadvantaged in society. It is then the actual act of righteousness and justice that we truly know God.