This has been an overwhelming week. People are grasping for answers. “How do we stop this violence?” they ask. While social programs and outreach are a good step, they are inadequate in themselves to rectify this mess in which we find ourselves. What we are dealing with is more than just a social problem. Racism and murder are a sin problem. Not just the act of sinning by hating someone who is of a different race than ourselves or of a different ethnic origin, but a deep-seeded sin nature that pits us against God, and as a result, against one another.
The only real solution is the Gospel. God is the only one who can turn hearts and transform people. The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ came to reconcile mankind to himself. In that transformation we become a people who love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He intends that a result of this reconciliation with him will be that we also love our neighbor as ourselves. This only happens to the extent that we submit to God and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, actively follow his will that we become one people. Not a people of one race, but people of one mind and purpose: Loving and worshiping him, and loving each other.
Jesus came to save us from our sin, which broke our relationship with him, but also our relationship with each other. John Piper makes a good point when he says that racial and ethnic bigotry is a gospel issue.
“The suspicion, prejudice, and demeaning attitudes between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) in New Testament times was as serious as the racial, ethnic, and national hostilities in our day. One example of the antagonism is what happened in Antioch between Cephas (sometimes called Peter) and Paul. Paul recounts the story: “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” (Galatians 2:11-12).
Peter had been living in the freedom of Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that he was a Jewish Christian, he was eating with non-Jewish Christians. The dividing wall had come down. The hostility had been overcome. This is what Christ died to achieve. But then some very conservative Jews came to Antioch. Cephas panicked. He feared their criticism. So he pulled back from his fellowship with Gentiles.
The apostle Paul saw this happening. What would he do? Serve the status quo? Keep peace between the visiting conservatives and the more free Christian Jews in Antioch? The key to Paul’s behavior is found in these words: “I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). This is a crucial statement. Racial and ethnic segregation is a gospel issue! Cephas’ fear and withdrawal from fellowship across ethnic lines was “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Christ had died to tear down this wall. And Cephas was building it up again.”(1)
The good news of the Gospel means that we can be reunited with God through faith in Jesus Christ, because of his work on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins so that we can be forgiven and, as the Apostle Paul said, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2) Part of that righteousness is “genuine love,” (3) which is to be directed both to God and to other people.
All people are made in the image of God. All lives matter. We can not pretend that racism isn’t an issue. We can not pretend that we don’t all play some part of it, no matter our race of ethnic background. Nor can we pretend that it will be fixed merely by something we create, because we are the problem. We need the truth of the Gospel. We must be reconciled to God. We must also reach out to our brothers and sisters be they Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, refugees, democrats, republicans, or what have you.
It has been a hard week. People have died. Anger, confusion, and grief fill the hearts of so many people right now. I pray that the God of peace will fill our hearts with understanding, with repentance, with love for him, and with peace.
We need peace with God. We need peace with each other. Please lay down any attack against other people and weep with those who weep this week.
July 8, 2016
(1) John Piper, Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die, 106-107
(2) 2 Cor 5:21
(3) 2 Cor 6:6