Charlottesville

Yesterday, white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville and brutally attacked counter-protestors. One of them murdered another human being and tried to murder many others, simply because they protested evil. Yesterday, the evil of racism once again reared its ugly head, and left many asking, “What do we do?” Is there anything we can actually do?”

Many complaints were raised against President Trump yesterday, as he refused to answer questions about the white supremacist’s support of his administration, and refused to refer to the incident as an issue of white supremacy and racism. Many are upset at the police, who they feel did not do enough to end the chaos before it was too late, and many are upset at a culture that continues to refuse to deal with racism, wanting to pretend it doesn’t exist. These are all valid complaints. I certainly want to see a leader unafraid to call what happened in Charlottesville what it is: an act of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacists. I want to see tougher laws for those who commit hate crimes, and I believe we can work harder to educate people and stem the tide of racist activity.

However, what we cannot do is change the human heart. Racism is a sin issue that comes from a wicked heart. We understand as Christians that only knowing God changes a person from the inside out. Only being reconciled to God can help us be truly reconciled to others. Being loved by God and being part of His kingdom destroys, by His grace, any racism in our hearts.

We must keep the main thing the main thing. Good, responsible government and a healthy, well-educated community, seeking to make positive change is a good thing. I want to be a part of that, and I applaud those who take part in this. But that’s not going to solve the entire issue, because again, racism starts in the heart; therefore, the heart must be changed. Only Jesus does that. It may do some good, and we ought to do that, but we must not allow ourselves to bank on worldly solutions and get away from carrying out God’s solution. Worldly solutions only go so far and do so much. There’s nothing wrong with using them, but it should be done in conjunction with, and always second to, God’s solution for racism.

With that in mind, I take a break from Romans to address yesterday’s situation from a biblical perspective. We’ll discuss how God’s Word addresses racism by looking at creation, redemption and eternity and what each of those mean for our views on race and ethnicity.

Creation

In Genesis 1:27, God tells us about the pinnacle of His creation–man.

“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”

Did you hear that? Men and women are created in the image of God. Not just in the image of their mom and dad. Not in the image of society. But in the image of the Creator.

What does that have to do with racism? Racism distorts this teaching and assumes someone is better than another, simply because of the way they look. Yet, if we’re all made in the image of God, we’re all inherently valuable, not because of our skin color, but because of the fact we bear the image of the Creator. An offense against someone made in the image of God is an offense against God Himself. It tells God His creation is not worthy of respect, and by extension, neither is He.

As the church, we respect those who don’t look like us. We love them and cherish them, because going back to the first chapter of the Bible, we’re all made in the image of God, and that, if nothing else, deserves respect.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth that goes with that: The racists who committed these crimes are also made in the image of God. I don’t respect who they’ve become or their actions and beliefs, and I don’t expect many people do. However, I respect that they are people made in the image of God. I respect that God made them, however far they’ve fallen from His design for their lives, and out of that respect, I wish them no harm, though I do wish justice, whether that be jail time for crimes committed or the loss of a job as consequences for their action. I also wish and hope and pray that they come to know Jesus.

Redemption

What Jesus has done for us changes the way we view others. Jesus, Himself a Middle-Eastern Jew and not a white man seen in friendly pictures painted on church murals, came to save peoples from all races and ethnic backgrounds.

“So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcised by those called the circumcised, which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.”–Eph. 2:11-12

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world…”–Eph. 2:1

At birth, we are all “children of wrath,” as Paul would say. No one, whether they be black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American…not a single person living has escaped the curse of sin. Your race/ethnic background/socioeconomic status does nothing to make you right with God. He shows no partiality because of your color. God does not love you more because you are white.

All people, regardless of color, stand condemned outside of Christ.

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility in his flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”–Eph. 2:13-17

Paul is addressing the church at Ephesus, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. While there isn’t a recorded problem at the church, Paul reminds them they were in the same state before God before they met Jesus (condemned), and, now in Christ, they’re also in the same state before God (righteous and adopted). Their ethnicity and background has absolutely nothing to do with their standing before the Lord.

Likewise, today, we ought to rejoice with God that men and women from all kinds of backgrounds can become children of God through Jesus. We don’t boast in our race or ethnicity, because we boast in Jesus. We don’t exalt one color or one race…we exalt Jesus, who alone makes us right with God.

Eternity

And we will exalt Jesus together forever, with brothers and sisters from all over the world.

“And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.'”–Rev. 5:9-10

“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”–Rev. 7:9-10

If you hate people because of the color of their skin, then Jesus and heaven isn’t for you. Five years ago, I served in the Philippines, and despite my sin and weakness, God saved sinners. In heaven, I’ll be reunited with those people. I’m really looking forward to that day. Right now, there are language barriers that may keep me from conversing with my Hispanic, Asian or other non-English speaking brothers and sisters in Christ; yet, I have more in common with them than I do my non-believing white friends. And one day, we will all sing to the Lord together. A myriad of tribes and tongues and peoples and complexions will worship together and live forever with God.

God is in the business of rescuing people from all nations, and He has called His church to join in this task; therefore, racism must be purged from the church at whatever cost. Racism is an abomination before the Lord and stains His bride. It is high time the church takes on racism the same way we have taken on abortion. So many churches and pastors are, and I hope and pray more will join them. Only Jesus is supreme.

Jesus welcomes you, if you don’t know Him. He welcomes you with open arms, if you’ll repent and trust Him. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or where you hail from. It just matters that you trust in and follow Jesus.

Lord, may we follow you in pursuing an end to racism. May we never forget how you’ve called us, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are, to know you. May we love others the way you love us. May we purge racism from our streets and especially from your church. May we share the gospel and see hearts changed, and remember that only the gospel brings lasting change.

God bless,

Neal E.

 

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The Gospel: Rom. 3:21-26

I don’t watch the show Undercover Boss on a regular basis, but one particular day about a year and a half ago, I decided to watch a handful of episodes. The show’s entertainment value stems from the dramatic irony that viewers are fully aware the featured company’s CEO/boss is pretending to be a new employee in order to see how his or her company is run on a day-to-day basis, but the other employees and managers are clueless.

My favorite part of the show is at the end, when the boss reveals himself or herself, and sits down with employees featured on the show. Reactions are often priceless, for a variety of reasons.

One story stuck with me, and brought me to tears. An employee had, through no fault of her own, encountered tremendous debt. Working double shifts and earning low wages, she was doing her best to provide for herself and her children, but there was no way she could ever pay off all of her debt. Through all of her struggles, she kept her head up and worked hard. He complimented her work ethic and told her she was now debt-free. Though he had no obligation to do so, this boss paid this woman’s debts, and an incredible burden was off of her back.

By now, you may have guessed why I share that story to start this post. Yes, what that boss did is a small reflection of what Jesus does for us. Yet, while the man’s actions are commendable, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Jesus did for us.

Join me in God’s Word:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”–Rom. 3:21-26

This is the situation we all face, which Paul has previously written about: God is righteous, and we are not. God is holy, and we are not. In order to stand before a perfectly holy God, we must also be perfect. The bad news is none of us are perfect. We all sin and “fall short,” as Paul writes here.

We all hate admitting we are not perfect. No one likes being weak. No one likes being wrong. No one likes admitting their faults to people and we do our best to present a view of ourselves that emphasizes our strengths and minimizes our weaknesses.

But God isn’t fooled. He doesn’t have to go undercover in your life to know how messed up and sinful you are, how you rebel against Him. And He’s not motivated to forgive your sin because you’re “trying really hard.” The demand is perfection, and we don’t have it. Unlike the woman on Undercover Boss, we have incurred debt through our own sinful actions. Our sinfulness is our fault, and there is nothing redeeming about us when we stand before God.

That’s not comforting at all, but if you want to be comforted about yourself, Christianity isn’t going to help you. In order to get to the good news of the gospel, we must fully understand this bad news of our sin and God’s perfect righteousness.

But there is good news. Someone, outside of ourselves, has come to save us.

“But” — The word “but” never sounds sweeter than it does in Rom. 3:21 and in Eph. 2:4. If Paul had ended his letter to the Romans after verse 20, we would be driven to despair, with no hope for ever being forgiven and restored to right relationship with God. This one little word provides incredible, life-changing hope that while sin has wrecked us and wrecked this world, it does not have the final word.

While we cannot be saved by the law, Paul reveals that we can be saved “apart” from it. In fact, the law and the prophets, Paul says, bear witness to this truth: The law makes it clear we aren’t good enough, and the prophets constantly remind Israel, and us: God is holy, we are not and we need a Savior.

Psalm 24: 3-4 asks, Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”

None of us fulfill those qualifications. But Jesus does. Jesus, the only one with clean hands and a pure heart, ascended the hill of Calvary and died in the place of us with unclean hands and impure hearts, who constantly lift their souls up to what is false and who swear deceitfully, so that we can appear before the throne of God, not as condemned sinners, but as forgiven, righteous, loved and adopted children of God.

Because Jesus lived perfectly in our place, we can, through faith in Him, stand perfect before the Father, counted as righteous and obedient by His obedience. Because He died, bearing the penalty of our sin and the wrath of God, which we deserved, we can be forgiven of our sin. Because He conquered death, if we trust Him, we too will conquer death. Because of the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to die in our sin and we can be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him.

This reconciliation is possible, not just because God loves us, but because God is just. God had previously let sin go unpunished, not because He didn’t care, and not because He loved His people, but because He knew one day, Jesus would take sin upon Himself. The wrath of God, all of His anger toward sin, was poured out on Jesus. The penalty of death was taken by Jesus. This is not divine child abuse; this is amazing grace, that Jesus voluntarily took our place so we could be saved, allowing the Father to both save sinners and satisfy His righteousness by punishing sin. As is often said, the cross is where God’s justice and love meet.

This is good news for us. Not only can we be assured of God’s love for us, but we can rest knowing that God is completely just to save us through Christ. He does not say to us, “I love you so much, I don’t care about your sin.” Instead, He says, “I love you so much, I’m willing to sacrifice my own Son, put your sin on Him, remove it from you and adopt you as my own.” The God of the universe made a way to both satisfy His justice and save and adopt the sinners He loves. This is the best news ever. This is the gospel.

Jesus stands ready to save you if you don’t know Him. Your sin can be covered by His blood. You don’t have to die for your sin because of what He’s done. But you must receive Him. You must trust Him, and you must turn from your sins, willing to follow Him and walk in the new life He so graciously offers. What are you waiting for?

Lord, may we never forget the gospel. May we never forget your mercy and the grace you’ve shown us in Jesus. May the cross move us to abandon our sin and our guilt at Jesus’ feet, trusting in Him for forgiveness, for righteousness and for grace to follow you in new life. May we share this gospel wherever you lead us.

God bless,

Neal E.