In my last post, I discussed the problems in the racial reconciliation movement and how those problems actually prevent reconciliation. The growing divisions within evangelicalism over this issue and the whole paradigm of social justice are truly alarming. It is not my desire to further such divisions, but to point Christ’s church to the objective unity the cross achieved on our behalf. I know this is the desire of many on both sides of the issue, yet we seem unable to find that unity. Christians need to wrestle with these difficult issues through the biblical worldview, but we must do so with grace and humility. It would be a real shame if evangelicalism splits over this issue.
Having said all of this, I must reiterate that we should not gloss over our differences in this disagreement. They are real, and they are important. Yet these differences should not trump what we have in common—an objective unity in Christ. This needs to be where we start, go, and end all of these discussions. With that ethic, we should zealously pursue the truth.
In pursuing this truth, we must call sin out for what it is: evil. Racism, that is treating other groups of people as less than human, is a sin because it violates the second great command to love your neighbor as yourself. Racism, that is selfish pride in one’s own ethnicity, is a sin because pride is evil. Such thoughts and the actions they inspire are evil. These thoughts and actions are immoral whether they come from the majority group directed to minorities, or if they come from the minorities directed toward the majority group. I have seen both. Pride, hatred, and bitterness are sins no matter the color of your skin. The church needs to acknowledge this truth.
The sin of racism (pride, hatred, bitterness) exists in whites, blacks, and everyone else. These sins are present to some degree in every culture. These thoughts and actions are sinful because God says so, not because society has labelled them so. God alone is our standard, and he alone can bring healing. The reason the common rhetoric of racial reconciliation isn’t working is precisely because it can’t work. Why? Because much of it denies God’s standards and is instead following the systems of this world.
Where do we find healing and reconciliation? We find healing by embracing Christian unity. This unity is what I like to call a double-unity.
In the rest of this post, I will define this double-unity and then make four practical applications to the discussion of racial reconciliation.
First, what do I mean by double-unity? This unity is based on the truth that all Christians are united to each other in two ways: in Adam and in Christ. Let’s explore this double-unity.
Our first unity is found in Adam. This is true whether someone is a Christian or not. Every human being comes from one race, and the head of that race is Adam. In this way, all of humanity is united in our origin. Moreover, we know that mankind was created equally in the image of God. There is one mankind, and all of that mankind carries the image of God. This means all of us have the same worth and that worth is not rooted inside of us. It is not based on our abilities or our standing in society. Our worth is found outside of ourselves by virtue of who we were made to reflect—our Creator. Mankind is one. In a very real way, speaking of different races is unbiblical and plays into Darwinist thinking. In Darwinism, different races make sense because of evolution. In this way, the idea of racial superiority as it follows the evolutionary dogma of survival of the fittest. The weak should serve the strong or die off. Such thinking is repulsive and doesn’t fit with the Christian worldview. There is only one human race.
Despite being united in Adam, this is not all a good news for mankind. Our unity in Adam was permanently warped by the fall. When Adam & Eve chose to sin, all of mankind was forever changed (Rom. 5.12). We are all rebellious sinners now. This is our equality—we are all equally damned before a righteous God. This cannot be stressed enough; there is no room for pride in your physical lineage because in Adam we are all guilty and deserve judgment.
It is our unity in sin, in our need for salvation, that we must not lose sight of when discussing race. This is exactly what Paul does when he addresses the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the book of Romans. Note that their divisions were not primarily based on race as we conceive it today. Otherwise there would be more groups than just two. But there was division nonetheless. Paul brings the two groups back together by pointing out their mutual sinfulness. First, he shows the Gentiles that they are sinners who need a savior (Rom. 1). You can imagine at that point some of the Jews in the church may have been very happy, but then Paul displays that the Jews are in the same predicament (Rom. 2). They are equal and united in their sin.
All of this leads him to make this declaration, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Rom. 3.9). Paul’s solution: no matter your group identity, you are equal in your sin and your need before God. Christians should recover this type of thinking. All of us, no matter the color of our sin, are sinners in need of salvation. We are unified in our depravity.
We are helpless sinners who are wrecked and ruined by the fall. If we want to heal our current divisions, it starts with the humility of recognizing our sinful status before a holy God. Our healing can’t start with us; it must start with the proper humility of fallen sinners. When we start here, gone is any potential pride in the color of our skin. Gone also is any pretentious bitterness which may cause us to have an unforgiving attitude towards others as we realize the depth of our own guilt.
The second part of our double-unity is that we are now one new man in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3.27-29; Eph. 2.14-15; 1 Cor. 12.12-13). This is the other argument Paul employed to heal divisions in the church—we are objectively one in Christ. We are the new mankind. Jesus is the new, second Adam and he is, therefore, the head of a new race (Rom. 5.15-21). How do we start getting over the divisions of our worldly categories? We start to think of ourselves as we are in Christ. We are one. Christ died for us that we might become citizens of a new kingdom and members of a new people group. This is the objective truth—we are a new man being transformed into the image of Christ. In Christ, we are one.
Paul applies this new unity to how Christians should live in Colossians 3.9-11. Most of Colossians 3 is an extended discussion of putting to death who we were before Christ and then putting on our new identity found in Christ. We are told to “put off” who we used to be and to “put on” who we are in Christ. This is instructive to this discussion because Paul includes our ethnic identities.
Note what Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says about our new selves, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” In Christ, there is no such thing as Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, or Scythians. Barbarians and Scythians were ethnic labels for people groups who were often looked down upon. Should Christians primarily think of themselves or other Christians in those terms anymore? No. Those identities are part of our old selves before Christ. They do not exist in the same way in Christ. By that I don’t mean these differences totally disappear; rather, such identifiers are no longer primary to who we are. These things become secondary. Now our identity, ethnicity, and people are primarily found in Christ. We are a new people in Christ. We need to heed these words. We must put to death any thinking which seeks to find our primary identity outside of Christ. To do so mocks the work of Christ. We must put off our identity politics and put on our new unified identity found in Christ.
As we often see in the New Testament, change comes by recognizing the new objective realities of the gospel. Truth is to inspire how we live. Christians have this double-unity in our fallen humanity and in our redemption in Christ. Christians are objectively one in Christ. We need to live like it.
Let me make four quick applications based on this double-unity:
Stop identifying yourself by the categories of this world. You are not primarily rich or poor; male or female; white or black. Those realities do not go away in Christ, but they are no longer primary. To put it bluntly, we should not refer to ourselves as white Christians or black Christians. We are Christians who happen to be white or who happen to be black. Identity politics die at the foot of the Cross. Now we are his, and in him, we are one. The stress is on our new selves in Christ. We must put this on if we hope to heal our current divisions. Unity is found in our common identity bought by the blood of Christ. This must become central to who we are and how we live.
Model the humility of a redeemed-sinner. When we realize how helpless we were before Christ and how dependent we are in Christ, it is hard for bitterness and hatred to take root. Far too often in this discussion, we let bitterness fuel our language. But when we recognize that all of us are sinners in need of grace, that should change how we view our brothers and ourselves. Humility is found when we recognize our dependence on grace.
Consider others more important than ourselves by practicing forbearance and maintaining a desire for forgiveness. One of the major obstacles to healing has been that many seem more interested in verbally lashing the other side than in extending the same grace they have received from Christ. This does not negate the real differences which need to be worked out, but it does change the environment in which the disagreements happen. God has forgiven us, now we are to be a forgiving people.
Pursue truth by submitting to God’s word. This is our foundation for truth, and without it, we are lost. The differences we have in views do need to be ironed out, and the only way to do that is by submitting to God through his Word. But this step must be done in light of our double-unity and how God graciously forgives us through the work of Christ. Truth matters, and truth is found in Scripture.
God alone can provide healing to us, and he offers that healing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The objective unity all Christians have in Christ must be front and center to our racial reconciliation discussions. We can never move past this fundamental reality. We are one, not because of us, but because of him. Therefore, we need to put off any identities which we may hold more dearly than Christ. The old is gone, and the new has come. This is the only way our current fractures can be healed. Our double-unity shows that I’m a sinner and so are you. That you need grace, and so do I. That in Christ, our greatest problem is solved through the free gift of God. That in Christ, we are one. That even in all our differences and disagreements, the truth of what we have in common is of far greater importance. This is the gospel truth. Will we be humble enough to submit to it?
Levi J. Secord