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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Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.