Genesis 1:26-27; Ephesians 2:13-22; Revelation 7:9-10
Today we continue our series, “Did God Really Say,” looking at God’s design for human flourishing, the confusion that exists in areas of authority, sanctity of life, race, gender, sexuality, responsibility, justice, and salvation, and then God’s path for restoration that we might flourish again.
We all have a story. I grew up in California. My childhood was shaped by parents who modeled love and missionary zeal for all people. My earliest memories of friends include Sean Taylor. Sean was fun, smart, athletic, and black. Neither of us were aware of the racial hostility around us. We were just good friends. My first memory of racial divide came when I asked a friend about a fight and he said, “Our people and their people don’t get along!” I’m now 49 years old. Education brought the awareness of historical racial atrocities. Travel brought the awareness that racial hostility exists everywhere. Experience has brought the awareness that racial pain is deep, peace is fragile, and I contribute either to the peace or to the pain.
Whether your story is populated with racial experiences that leave you indifferent, bruised, or bitter, let me remind you that while ‘lived experience’ is real and formative, it doesn’t constitute the authority for how we are to think or respond. We live in God’s world and He is the authority. Today I want to trace the story of the Bible related to ‘race’ so we can see God’s plan, how things broke, and how to flourish again.
THE STORY OF THE BIBLE
The story of the Bible does not begin with us, but with God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). He is the eternal One, the Almighty One, the holy One, and the only One. S.M Lockridge proclaimed, “He is the centerpiece of civilization…the loftiest idea in literature…the highest personality in philosophy…the fundamental doctrine of true theology…the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion.” God is the Creator of all things and has creator rights over all things. Answers to life that don’t begin with God are distorted at best. By His initiative, He created a world fit for us to live. On the 6th day:
“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).
Perfect peace was quickly destroyed in Gen. 3 when Satan came to dishonor God and tempt man to sin by questioning God’s goodness, truthfulness, and justice. Man sinned and devastation ensued. They felt guilt. Their hearts that once said, “My life for your good,” now said, “Your life for my good.” Their sin nature would be passed to their kids. Into this pain, God promised a Rescuer! A special ‘son’ would be born. Satan would strike His heel, but He would crush Satan’s head. A second rebellion in Gen. 9 is important to note. There man joined together under one language to pridefully assert their dominion apart from God. As a result, God caused a single language to divide into many, leading to the formation of ethnic groups.
The Bible then traces the promised ‘son’ who would bless all peoples. God said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). To Isaac God said, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). To Jacob God said, “In your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14). God’s desire was clear. “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6). Those more passionate about the ‘son’ than their heritage sang, “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you” (Ps. 86:9).
At the right time, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this broken world. He lived a life of obedience, displaying in His life the perfection that was lost when we sinned. He stood in our place by taking the penalty for sin on the cross. After three days in the grave, Jesus rose from the dead. To what effect?
“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. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:13-22).
Those who trust Christ are forgiven, filled with His Spirit, gathered into His church, and empowered to love. One day Jesus will return and gather His people in heaven. What will this people look like?
“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…crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:9-10).
1. GOD CREATED US IN HIS IMAGE AND WRAPPED US IN SKIN FOR HIS GLORY (GENESIS 1:25-27)
Unlike the animals and trees, which God created “according to their kind,” God created us “in his own image,” or according to His kind. Look at a puppy and you learn something about a dog, but look at a human and you learn something about God. We are uniquely relational, spiritual, moral, and valuable because God is supremely relational, spiritual, moral, and valuable. God knits us together in the womb, wrapping each of us in a color of skin for His pleasure. There is no reference to Adam’s skin because the details given about him are only those that fit his role of representing humanity, but he and Eve had skin given by God. “All things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Jesus is emotionally invested in what He created ‘for’ himself and this should affect how we view ourselves and others.
2. SIN AGAINST GOD LEADS US TO MISTREAT PEOPLE MADE IN HIS IMAGE (GENESIS 3:6)
Sin hurts His people. “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). When our hearts are twisted, skin can incite this hatred. Beneath the sin of racism is the distorted belief that skin color decides differential worth, such as when slaves were counted as 3/5 of a man. God created one race, the human race. There is nothing fundamentally different among us. Beneath our skin, everyone has a heart, a mind, a soul, a sin problem, and a need for a Savior. To show partiality for or against a person due to skin, to deny dignity to an image bearer, or to show bias against people predicated upon lies is sin. As members of the human race, none of us are exempt from racism’s effects, nor immune from being a source. Jesus is emotionally invested in the pains of His people and this should shape our hearts.
3. JESUS BROKE THE WALL SEPARATING US FROM GOD AND EACH OTHER (EPHESIANS 2:14-17)
Imagine a man choosing your living room as the place to do all his sin. Crazy right? Yet we do all our sin in God’s living room. Although God felt a wall of hostility between us, He sent His Son over the wall. When Jesus arrived, He preached peace. “He preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). Jesus preached to those far and near, the religious and irreligious, because apart from Him, he who dies in a brothel is no worse off than he who dies in church. Then Jesus died for peace. “He broke down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments… 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” (Eph. 2:14-16). Jesus broke the wall when He took the Father’s wrath by dying in our place. He abolished the law by giving His righteousness to all who trust Him. He also broke the wall dividing us from each other by calling all to come to Him. Christ is emotionally invested in breaking down hostility and this should shape our heart.
4. JESUS FORMED A DIVERSE FAMILY (EPHESIANS 2:18-22)
Years ago when our worship center was being built I watched as different pieces, that had been separated in like groups, get connected together. This is what Christ does! When Jews and Gentiles began trusting Christ in Ephesus, their ethnic tensions led some to think two churches were needed to keep them apart. Paul said, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens…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” (Eph. 2:18-21). When people believe in Jesus through the Scriptures, God builds us together on Jesus the cornerstone. Christ is emotionally invested in a beautifully diverse church and this should shape our heart.
5. JESUS PROMISED THAT HEAVEN WILL BE DIVERSE AND UNIFIED (REVELATION 7:9-10)
What we imagine when we think of heaven matters because it is fuel for life. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). In addition to the glory of Jesus, and the restoration of all things, heaven includes a “multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God…’” (Rev. 7:9-10). God won’t do away with tribes, peoples, and languages in heaven, for the sight and sounds of such diversity magnifies Christ’s glory!
Beliefs & Actions
There are no beliefs that don’t have corresponding actions. How then are we to respond to these truths?
First, let’s yield to God’s Word as our authority. Our ‘lived experience’ is real, important, and formative, but it doesn’t constitute authority in how we are to think or respond. This God’s world. He has spoken. The sum of His words are truth. We simply won’t flourish until we agree with what God says.
Second, let’s not close our eyes to the ugliness of racism. I recently wrote an article about CRT, which was initially developed in the field of law to account for lingering injustice. While CRT may sensitize us to real mistreatment and potentially highlight our own error, it presents a worldview that can be mistaken as a gospel in itself. That said, any degree of disagreement with an ideology about race shouldn’t blind us to the reality of racism today or historically. The genocide in Armenia was real. The killing of the Kurds was real. The American church giving theological legitimacy to involuntary slavery in spite of the Bible’s condemnation of the practice was real. The ‘Slave Bible,’ which removed portions that inspired the hope of freedom, was really published. Discrimination driven by partiality, hatred, and deceit happens today. While I don’t know how pervasive racially unjust social structures are today, I believe they exist. They don’t always disfavor the same group, but they exist. They aren’t always motivated by active hatred, but they exist. If we are following Jesus who came to “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18), we will spend less time dismissing the possibility of such things and more time trying to help people. We don’t have accept every philosophy or feel guilty for sins we didn’t commit to see and abhor racism.
Third, let’s repent of our sin. If God’s Spirit convicts you of sin through the mirror of His Word, then confess and turn from that sin. Years ago these very passages, alongside others such as in John 4 where Jesus ‘had’ to go interact with a Samaritan woman, led me to repent of indifference. For me, ‘turning’ meant earnestly praying for racial peace, opening my eyes to the ugly truths of human mistreatment, reading other authors, and committing to talk about the solution whenever I spoke about racial problems.
Fourth, let’s speak the truth to a hurting world. When injustice enters the windows of our eyes and bounces off God’s law in our hearts, our mouth is supposed to say, “That is wrong.” But we must say more! Paul said, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Not saying corrupt words isn’t the extent of our calling. We have been called to imitate Jesus who used words to build people up according to their needs by speaking grace and truth. We don’t have to echo broken cultural narratives to be empathetic. Let’s speak about God’s pleasure in diversity, the reality of sin that causes racism, the gospel of Jesus as only solution, the power of love, the sorrow of oppression, and the hope of heaven.
Fifth, let’s imagine the glory of heaven and be its witness. In heaven, where our nationalities and colors will be brought and appreciated, there will be no sin or strife. This vision of heaven makes us thankful. Though undeserving, we will be there! This vision of heaven makes us humble. Only pride reads “every tribe and nation” and thinks, “Oh, all those other people with gather with us.” It is wiser to imagine us gathering with them. The gospel was in Africa by Acts 8. Today the gospel is racing all over China, India, and Africa. It is more likely that we will be the minority in heaven. A vision of heaven makes us hopeful. Hope makes strategies to love and pursue on earth the appreciation of diversity that we will enjoy forever.
Sixth, let’s share the gospel. As cracks appear on structures that rest on the faultlines of our understanding and relationship with God, remember that fixing symptoms without fixing the source leads to more pain. We should pursue God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, but man’s greatest problem is guilt before God. Therefore, we must continue to extend ourselves to the point of discomfort to tell about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Let’s not shine a light on the problem of racism without shining a light on the solution.
Finally, let me invite you to put your faith in Jesus. He did the work to break down the walls of hostility by dying in our place and rising from the dead. Those who put their faith in Jesus are forgiven, justified, and empowered to flourish. I invite you to admit your need, believe in Christ, and confess Him Lord! If you are not ready to make that decision, but would be interested in gathering with a small group of seekers to explore God’s story, we have a group beginning Jan 29th. You can sign up at pray.org/explore.