As we looked at in my first post, God’s grace in reconciliation brings about a new identity for believers. Because of this new identity in Christ all the sinful divisions that formerly separated people from one another are done away with. This does not mean that ethnicity and race are done away with, instead our being “in Christ” is out primary identity and ought to regulate all other aspects of our humanity. In this post I want us to look more specifically at why racism is evil and contrary to God’s grace in reconciliation.
We’re looking at Paul’s words in Colossians 3:11. He is not writing just to fill up the space or for exercise in rhetoric, this was a real issue among the people of Colossae. We can infer that the audience Paul addresses, those now “in Christ,” were somehow divided racially, culturally and socially. Greeks were aggressively proud of their heritage and looked down upon the Jewish people; circumcision divided the Jews and non-Jews. Barbarian and Scythian were seen as the uncivilised, lower-class Gentiles. One commentator notes that the terms Barbarian and Scythian “likely referred to…peoples which in that day were largely devoid of Greek and Roman culture.”
So Paul was addressing a real issue that probably continued in some form in the church. People were still thinking along racial, cultural and social terms and distinctions.
What about Today?
Isn’t this true in some of our churches? We need to be careful that we don’t just speak of a multicultural community that is in reality mono-cultural. From the outside it looks like unity in diversity but it is in actual fact unity in assimilation; meaning that the basis of one’s acceptance into this community is how closely one has assimilated into a certain culture.
I have heard black brothers and sisters in Christ speak about how they are made to feel out of place because they don’t have a twang or they have not been to certain schools or do not work certain jobs. Because of their strong accents, they are undermined and feel insecure, unwanted and unwelcome. If we are really concerned about the multi-cultural vision of Christ for the church, we must seek to reach out to people without making them feel like they have to change their accents or fake twangs in order to be part of this community. We have to always remind of ourselves that we are united by Christ and that all other distinctions must fall under his Lordship.
If we are really concerned about the multi-cultural vision of Christ for the church, we must seek to reach out to people without making them feel like they have to change their accents or fake twangs in order to be part of this community.Tweet
That is what the apostle Paul does, he uses Colossians 3 to expose the evil of racism. In particular I think there are two main lessons we can take away from this passage.
First, racism is a false testimony against the image of God in humanity. Racism, which is discrimination along ethnic lines, testifies that there are gradations in the image of God. In simple terms: it says that when God created humanity in its diversity he was actually making one ethnicity superior over the other. We must note that this “distinction” lies purely on the shade of skin colour. Such a theologically misunderstanding has resulted in years of slavery in the West, concentration camps that brought about the brutal murder of millions of Jews in Germany, the horrors of Apartheid in South Africa, and the Sunday morning being the most segregated hour for the Christian church.
As Christians, we must affirm the dignity of every person as made in the image of God. There is no such thing as a special or privileged race or ethnicity. The Bible says everyone is created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 read, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Paul refers to this passage in Genesis and adds this commentary: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). In reading these passages there is one truth is unequivocally certain: every human being has both dignity and equality because they are the Imago Dei, made in the image of God.
Theologian Daniel Hays says, “to presuppose that one’s own race or ethnicity is superior to someone else’s is a denial of the fact that all people are created in the image of God.”
As Christians, we must affirm the dignity of every person as made in the image of God.Tweet
Secondly, not only is racism a false testimony against the image of God in humanity, but racism is also a an attack on the gospel itself.
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul mentions an occasion where he had to confront Peter for his bias against toward the Gentiles. He was eating with the Gentile Christians when a group of individuals called the “circumcision party” came in. Peter withdrew himself from the Gentiles. And his actions misled both the Jews and Barnabas .
When Paul saw this he immediately confronts and opposes Peter’s actions. He sees it as not a matter of Peter preferring people of his kind, people that he was more comfortable with, but he sees it as “…conduct [that is out of] step with the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Paul sees this as a deviation from the gospel.
Why is this deviation from the gospel? Peter’s actions communicated that the Gentile Christians somehow lacked something that the Jewish Christians had. Whether intended or not, Peter’s actions communicated something contrary to what was true in the good news of Jesus: that there no superior race or ethnicity.
By implication, that is why it is folly to claim to be for the gospel whilst at the same time not pursuing racial reconciliation. Because of the gospel, we should be at the forefront of racial reconciliation, and to not do so is to undermine the very gospel we claim to believe. If the gospel has created new realities—”one new humanity” (see Ephesians 2:15)— and we are content to remain in the old realities, of how things were before the cross, then we are not living in step with the gospel. We are living contrary to it. Ultimately, our attitude toward the gospel will determine our attitude toward those who are different from us. To treat others as lesser beings only reveals that we have not begun to understand the gospel and its implications, it’s bearing on our lives.
Ultimately, our attitude toward the gospel will determine our attitude toward those who are different from us.Tweet
The gospel is the sword that slays the beast of racism. The gospel disarms racism and strips it of its power and influence because the gospel tells us that there is only one way to salvation for all. There is no black Jesus for the black community, or a white Jesus for the white community. Black, white and every other colour, race and ethnicity are equal at the foot of the cross. They are all in need of salvation and God has granted that all will be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. The same gospel that saves the oppressed is the same gospel that saves the oppressor.