15 Nov The Gospel & Race
This is one of a series of posts written by Dane Ehlert, one of our Deacons and a Re:New course instructor, focused on exploring the issue of race and how The Gospel shapes our beliefs and response. You can find more from Dane on this topic at his personal blog.
Why is it necessary to talk about this?
Why talk about race? In America, it’s an explosive topic that can be very divisive. Shouldn’t we just leave it alone? As Christians, shouldn’t we just “preach The Gospel” and stay out of “political” issues?
These are questions I once wondered whenever the topic of race was brought up. However, God began a journey in me a few years ago, and I now believe we can’t not talk about it. The goal of this post is to explain why.
Diversity has always been God’s Plan
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
“All the families of the earth” and “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” After the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and a spiral of human rebellion through Genesis 11, God announces His rescue plan for the world to Abraham in Genesis 12. The plan to reconcile people to God will result in not just one family, one nation, or one ethnicity being rescued but people from all nations being reconciled to Him.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.
From beginning to end in the Bible, Genesis (the 1st book) to Revelation (the last book), God’s plan for salvation is an incredibly diverse plan. One day, “a great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will worship and dwell with God for eternity. This is astounding news, and it’s astounding for people of every possible race, background, culture, nation, tribe, people, and language.
A New Race
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
At one time, there were actually laws that made it illegal for Jews to associate with Gentiles (non-Jewish people). However, because of Jesus, the wall of hostility has been broken down. There is no longer Jew and Gentile but “one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” If someone is a Christian, they are united as one with all other Christians no matter what their background or ethnicity. We are one big family.
Quick Clarification: This does not mean that we abandon our race and cultural difference (notice in Revelation how the vision includes people still marked by their differences in nation, tribes, and languages) and become colorblind. Instead, we embrace our race and cultural differences while unifying under Christ. Scripture is teaching that we have a new way of defining and identifying ourselves. We are no longer simply hispanic, black, white, asian, native american, male, female, etc. Our new identity, first and foremost, is in Christ.
Together, we are united in Christ, but we aren’t united just to do our own thing and have a few cordial hellos every once in a while. We are commanded to eagerly maintain unity in the body of Christ. This can’t be done by just going our separate ways and saying, “See you in heaven!” Here’s more from Paul in Ephesians…
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Paul is urging us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This isn’t a suggestion but a command, and yes, it won’t be easy. If it was, then he probably wouldn’t need to tell us to “bear with one another in love.” It’s almost like the Bible is telling us, “Look, this is going to be challenging bringing people who are very different from one another into a close, unified relationship. Here’s some things you’ll need in order to make it work.”
We have to strive for unity so that we can grow into maturity and allow the body of Christ to work properly. Notice the language in these passages. It’s very active and pursuing. It doesn’t let us just sit back and believe that we don’t need to get involved. It doesn’t allow us to pass it off to someone else and say it’s not an issue we need to deal with. We are called to be active pursuers of unity. This isn’t just a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.
So how are we doing with this? I think we can agree that race relations in our country are pretty strained, and the church isn’t exempt either. Unfortunately, we haven’t provided much counter-evidence to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement “that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
The Gospel is a message of reconciliation
In fact, the whole bible is a story of reconciliation. In the beginning, God created a good world, but humanity rebelled against him. After the sin of Adam and Eve, we see God, throughout the rest of scripture, carrying out a mission to reconcile people to himself through Jesus. As Christians, we are given the privilege of participating in this mission, and our new lives in Christ are meant to be lives devoted to reconciliation.
God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) and this involves every aspect of our lives. Where are called to reconcile in every possible thread of our life, and this includes race relations. One of my favorite reconciliation verses is Matthew 5:23-24.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
This is Jesus himself speaking, and it blows me away that he said, “your brother has something against you.” I always thought it said that if I have something against someone else, then I need to go and make it right. However, Jesus said if someone has something against me (whether it bothers me or not), then I need to go and make it right. Let’s apply this to race relations. Do our brothers and sisters from other races have something against us? Of course, there will always be instances where it’s not possible to live peaceably and reconcile, but this should not keep us from trying. We are called to make a true genuine effort to reconcile. How grateful are we that God chose to pursue reconciliation with us? With this in mind…
We may not be in step with The Gospel
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
There’s a background story to what’s happening here, but to save time, Peter (called Cephas in these verses) was hanging out with the Gentiles and enjoying it. However, some Jews came and saw that he was doing this, and they criticized him for it. Peter was worried about looking bad, so he decided to pull away from the Gentiles and require them to be like the Jews in order to be associated with them. To put this in perspective for our culture, we can replace Jew and Gentile with White and African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc.
Paul opposes Peter to his face in front of everyone and says that the “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” If Peter, who God gave a powerful vision (Acts 10, 11:1-18) to show that Gentiles should not be called unclean, is capable of not being in step with The Gospel here, could it be possible that we may not be either?
Let’s look at this quote from Eric Mason again…
“Although racial reconciliation is not the gospel or the central focus of it, it is a qualitative application of the gospel in function and practice.”
Yes, racial reconciliation is not The Gospel, but we very well may not be in step with The Gospel with our current beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, and actions. Again, we are called to live a life of reconciliation. We are called to pursue reconciliation in any area of life that needs reconciling. Therefore, in regards to race relations, are we in step with The Gospel? This is the direction for future posts in this series. I hope you’ll join me in searching ourselves and asking for God’s help to reveal what’s in our hearts and give us the grace and courage to pursue genuine reconciliation.
There’s at least three temptations that I’ve seen in my own life that may surface in yours as well when approaching the issue of race.
First, we may be tempted to get angry and say this either isn’t true or doesn’t apply to us. If this is you, consider praying and asking God to show you if this really is true. Pray Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” It’s a scary prayer, no doubt!
Second, we may be tempted to feel guilty and pull away. Maybe we already are or will feel convicted and ashamed. Please, please do not pull away. This is not meant to drive you into shame. Shame leads to withdrawal, and withdrawal doesn’t lead to unity and reconciliation. Instead, we need to courageously engage. Remember that God’s grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He has forgiven you of all past, present, and future sin. All of it!
Push forward knowing that we are forgiven by God and are free to fall in pursuit of His will. Step forward and let God’s grace and forgiveness cover us while we seek to repent and reconcile. Be encouraged and assured knowing that conviction is likely evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. This means you are a legitimate son or daughter of God because He disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:4-12)!
Third, and similarly, some of us will feel guilty and because of this, momentarily take positive action only to fade back to our original comfort zone. This may be one of the tougher hurts and frustrations for our minority brothers and sisters. Know that this will be difficult. We will be misunderstood and at the same time, we will need correction and rebuke. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but it will lead to glory for God and sanctification for those involved if we keep eagerly and genuinely pursuing unity. Ask for God’s help to persevere and run the race like a marathon instead of a sprint.