One Reason (OUT of Many) the Church Must Pursue Justice
Eddie Byun | MARCH 11, 2019 | 6 MIN READ
In this fight against the great evil of human trafficking in our day, it is my firm conviction that the Church must not just be involved, but lead the way in the pursuit of freedom and justice. Why do I say this? Because true freedom and justice can only come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Freedom and justice are why Jesus Christ came to this earth. He came to bring forth ultimate freedom from sin and to establish ultimate justice through His death upon the cross.
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
The mission of Jesus was to die on the cross and be our atoning sacrifice so that we might be set free from sin. The problem that has affected all people is the problem of sin. The injustice of human trafficking is, at its core, a sin problem, not an economic problem.
Good News to the Poor
I was heading to Asia to speak at a conference when I struck up conversation with a person who was sitting next to me. She asked where I was headed and I told her about the human trafficking conference I was attending. She was surprised that slavery still existed but suddenly paused, and said, “I bet it’s because of poverty that this happens. If people weren’t poor, then this wouldn’t happen.” Her answer matched many other people’s voices I’ve heard on this journey: “It’s because of poverty.”
Does poverty alone really account for why the evil of human trafficking exists? Even if being poor was the sole factor, then Jesus has something to say to the poor too:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The Good News for the poor is that though you having nothing in this world, you can be rich in Christ. The Good News for the poor is that wealth in this world is not the currency of true riches in heaven.
Hell on Earth
Consider the testimony of one young woman, still a teenager, who found that she had no choice but to sell her body because of money. The path to that nightmare life began not just with family dysfunction or poverty, but with evil.
This is what she told us: Raped at the tender age of six. And then again at ages 10, 12 and 15. The shocking reality was that these acts were committed by members of her own family. Evil wished to sear and stain her innocence forever with the shame. Without feeling any form of safety at home, she decided it was time to runaway and take her chances on the streets. She was only 15 at the time. Without any resources, she was noticed by a pimp and lured into the sex trade where she ended up sleeping with up to a dozen men a night.
She said, “I thought I had to do it because of money at first but the more I did it, the more I felt dirty. I washed up after it was over and when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt really dirty. I scrubbed myself until my skin almost peeled off, but I still didn’t feel clean.”
Money alone wasn’t what really drove her into the sex industry. The repeated childhood rapes that stole her innocence began the devastating path of brokenness. No amount of dollars can address the tremendous wounds that cut the little six-year-old girl to the core of her soul, even long after the physical wounds to her body were healed.
Other rescued woman we have interviewed told us they’d been beaten, some held at knifepoint, one almost choked to death. But what hurt them the most? One rescued woman told us very calmly in a quiet, but firm voice: “Listening to someone telling me that I was a ‘whore.’ Things such as ‘You’re nothing but a slut’ or ‘I bought you. You belong to me and you’re nothing but trash.’” She paused.
“That hurt me the most.”
Another woman echoed this sentiment in our interview with her: “Sometimes I didn’t feel like I was human…We are not some objects you can buy with money. I wish [the Johns] would at least treat us as humans.”
Evil strips us of our humanity, for both the perpetrator and the victim alike. Without true hope and healing for the brokenness and pain that’s been inflicted on these women, the wounds will remain. It is the Gospel that ultimately will set these women free.
The Core Issue: Sin
Thus, the deeper root of human slavery today is sin. And the reason why Jesus came to this earth was to deal with the sin problem within every human heart. Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who would pay the penalty for our sins and set us free from the power of sin that controls our lives. A major part of God’s mission was to set us free from the bondage of sin. Another way of saying this is that “Jesus came to set the captives free!” This is our message. This is our mission!
Pursuing freedom and justice is woven into the biblical fabric of what the Church was created to do. His primary mission was to proclaim the Good News that brings forth life, liberty, and salvation to the poor, oppressed, and the vulnerable. The poor here refers to those who are poor physically but especially spiritually. He came to offer hope to the humble who would receive it and to the broken who would believe it. The freedom that Jesus came to proclaim is good news for all who are imprisoned and bound, especially by the bondage of sin. It is the message of the Gospel that can offer people the ultimate source of freedom.
The Real Slavery Issue
What are the real issues we are up against when it comes to human trafficking and modern-day slavery? It is a heart issue. It is a moral issue. It is a spiritual issue at its core.
The lust of the Johns
The greed of the traffickers
The self-hatred and shame of the victims
The hopelessness of the imprisoned
The suffering of all who are still on the road to recovery
Everyone is in bondage concerning this issue, and only Christ can set them free. Only Jesus can restore hope and bring forth new life. The Church has the only message that can set them free, not just physically, but spiritually and for eternity. It is a declaration of the Gospel message that will bring true freedom, for Jesus Christ is the Great Abolitionist.
Light and Salt
Jesus says: “You are the light of the world” and “You are the salt of the earth,” meaning you are change agents for society. Where there is darkness, you are to shine and provide light and warmth. You shine light so that people can find the way, and warmth in the form of love to those who have lived in the cold of darkness for too long.
There are few things darker in this world than the buying, selling, and abuse of a human life. Light is needed in dark places and this is where the Church must go. This is the mission of God, to bring light, life, and liberty into this world of darkness, death, and bondage.
The mission God gives us is to both declare the Gospel and to demonstrate the Gospel through our lives. Of course, the primary and most important element of our mission is to declare the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus Christ alone can save us from our sin as we place our faith in Him. So while evangelism to the lost must be primary, it is not the only thing we are called to do when being a Gospel witness. Evangelism is priority, yet meeting the physical needs of others in love is also needed so that they will not only hear about God’s love, but see it in action too. James 2:17 tells us that faith by itself, if it does not manifest in caring for the needs of others, is dead. Evangelism is like the body, but we also need the arms and legs that will love the world as we hold them and go to them.
Jesus shows us what humanity was supposed to look like in how we relate to each other. Jesus is the true embodiment of humanity. He is a picture of a human being fully alive. Through His life we see that defending the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed was a demonstration of the visible Gospel. He showed them in action that there is a God who loved them. Our justice ministry is a practical way to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There was one fire station that had as its mission: “To save lives, property, and resources.” During 9/11 when lives needed saving, everyone ran away from the Twin Towers except the firefighters. Why? Their mission was to save lives, and part of fulfilling that mission would at times require them to head into some dangerous situations. Our mission as the Church is also to save lives. For some of us, it will mean we need to go to some difficult places. And if we’re going to finish the mission Jesus gave us, it means going to places that are really dark and ugly because those are the places that are in desperate need of the Gospel.
Eddie Byun grew up in the suburbs of Chicago but spent the past 23 years pastoring and teaching in Canada, Australia, and Korea. Previously, he was the lead pastor of Onnuri English Ministry and Crossway Mission Church in Seoul, South Korea. He's the author of Justice Awakening, Praying for Your Pastor, and Praying for Your Missionary (IVP). He is also the Executive Director of the award-winning documentary Save My Seoul, which exposes the reality of sex trafficking in South Korea. Currently, he's the Teaching and Missions Pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, CA. He is married to his wife, Hyun, and has a son named Enoch.
Pastor Eddie will be teaching a seminar at our 2019 SOLA Conference on “The Role of the Local Church in Impacting Global Missions.” Sign up for the conference here.