In the midst of the political turmoil of our days, the issue of race relations has become one of the most talked about topics of the day other than sex and gender issues. Often times we have relegated this discussion to politics and thus our thoughts on the topic are often filtered by which political party we belong to. Emotions are high and conflict emerges in all areas of life related to this topic whether it touches the church, politics, the arts, education and culture. Since a believer, whether white or black, is obligated to interpret every experience of his life through the lens of the bible, it is imperative that we take a look at this topic biblically. This will be a series of articles dealing with race and the bible during Black History month. In some ways as a white guy, I feel inadequate to talk to these issues, but I think it is important to do so. Today, we look at how the gospel interacts with the topic of race.
What is the Gospel
Sometimes it is easy to forget what the gospel is because we want to make it more complicated and more all-encompassing than it is. The word gospel is euangelion in Greek simply means "good news." Gospel is defined by Paul in 1 Cor 15:1-4 as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. - 1 Cor 15:1-4
Simply put the gospel is the means by which Christ paid for our sins and offers us forgiveness; however, such a view would be too narrow of an approach. We all know that faith in the gospel should change a person inside and out, but there are certain applications of the gospel that are closely tied to its God intended meaning.
The Mystery of the Gospel
As simplistic as our definition above was for the meaning of the Gospel, there is more to its full meaning than that evangelistic definition. Many of the churches that Paul ministered to were multi-ethnic churches conglomerates of Jews and Gentiles in one church. In fact, Paul's primary ministry was to work with a people group who before hand had been "the enemies of God" and were looked down upon by the Jewish people. In Ephesians 3, Paul speaks of the mystery of the Gospel. Why is the gospel a mystery? In vs 5 he clarifies, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" This truth was a mystery because it had never been heard of or imagined before. God had not revealed this truth to them in the past. Up to this point, the Jews were God's chosen people. Notice in the rest of the verse that this mystery is no longer a hidden mystery: "as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." This truth is not hidden any more; it has been revealed.
So often we take the mystery to be the gospel. The Gospel, Jesus death, burial and resurrection was a truth hidden now revealed right? Logically, we all know that the Old Testament is replete with prophecies and foreshadowing of the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. Many may not have understood that message, but it was in no ways a mystery; so what is the mystery. Vs 6 answers that question.
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel
So what is the mystery of the gospel: that Jews and Gentiles would be included in the same body and be partakers of the promise of salvation provided by Christ through the Gospel. This application of the gospel is intrinsic to the meaning of the gospel. The gospel isn't just the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; it is our death burial and resurrection with Christ. The truth of the gospel is that I took part in Christ's death, burial and resurrection and this truth is expanded in Gal 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. In Christ, I have died to sin and the law and am raised in newness of life, the Christ life living in me. This should have a powerful effect on my life if Christ is living in me. We will come back to this point in a bit.
If we are crucified, buried and raised with Christ and made part of the body of Christ, we must ask ourselves who is in that body. Rev 5:9 speaks of how worthy Jesus is because He has redeemed by his blood of every kindred, and tongue and people and nation. These are tribes, people groups, language groups and countries. Jesus by His blood has united and made fellow heirs people from every people group on the face of the earth.
So how does this apply to the issues of race we face today in our country? In Christ, Jews and Gentiles and peoples of every people group are all made one. There is no place for white nationalism in the Christian community. We should have more affinity with our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ than we do with our physical cohorts.
Living According to the Gospel
This is the mystery of the gospel, but sometimes we don't live according to the gospel. The American church has been a prime example of this failure in the past. Churches for centuries either turned a blind eye to slavery or excused it based on false theological premises such as the "curse of ham" theory and the "other kind" theory. Both of these will be dealt with in future articles. I am grateful that some churches, many baptist and quakers, were abolitionist, but this does not excuse the silence of the church for so long.
The pressure to conform to our peer group is stronger than it should be and people allowed their religious and moral values to be dictated by societies customs. This is not a new problem: Peter all the way back in Galatians 2:11-21. Paul and Peter had been dining with the Gentiles in their new found freedom found in Christ, but a group of Jews came from Jerusalem and Peter gave in to the peer pressure and separated himself from the Gentiles. When Paul confronted Peter, he said that Peter was not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel. Peter in caving to peer pressure and racially segregating himself was not walking according to the truth of the gospel. Gospel centered living does not permit racism.
The Power of the Gospel
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. - Romans 1:16
The gospel is the power of God. Specifically, this power leads to salvation, but it is a manifestation of God's power and notice that it is to the Jew and the Gentile. We could insert here by implication black and white, red and yellow. So if the gospel is so powerful, why has it not impacted true change in the issues of race?
Believer must choose to live according to the truth of that gospel depending on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish this truth in us. Much of Christianity has failed to walk in the Spirit. Almost any error we see in the church spawns from this point and racism is no exception. Who defines our worldview, Republicans or the Spirit? Democrats or the Spirit? our ethnicity or the Spirit? our nationalism or the Spirit? The truth of the mystery of the gospel is that we all, Jew and Gentile, black or white, have been united into the body of Christ by participating in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If Christ is living in me, there is no room for racism and white nationalism.