The Gospel Is The Remedy For Racism

Racism is sin. There can be no hedging or qualifying here. To regard another image bearer as inferior because of his ethnicity is sin and has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. God’s Word is clear about the only remedy for racism: the good news of Jesus Christ.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:23–29; NASB).

Notice Paul’s frame of reference. It is redemptive history. Before Christ there was a barrier, a “dividing wall” he calls it in Ephesians 2:14–15: “For He himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…” (NASB). That barrier, that dividing wall was the law. Abraham was a Gentile who believed and was circumcised (Rom 4:1–4). He believed and was justified by grace alone, through faith alone. In order, however, to teach the Israelites the greatness of their sin and misery, the Mosaic law was given to drive them to Christ. Paul calls the law a “pedagogue,” i.e., a teacher with a whip or a stick in hand. At every point the law punished the slightest infraction. That law, symbolized by circumcision, also “cut off” (pun intended) the Gentiles. They were to be regarded as ritually unclean. Relative to Israelite worship and religion, the Gentiles were second class citizens.

Now, however, in the New Covenant, the promises of the ingathering of the Gentiles is coming true. Peter said, “for the promise is to you [Israelite men], and to your children [your covenant household], and to all who are far off [Gentiles], as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). The inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant community created a series of problems. At one point, even the Apostle Peter was influenced by the Judaizers to stop eating with them (as if the old Mosaic ceremonial laws were still in force). The church held a synod (Acts 15) to address the problem and Peter’s speech there seems to have been decisive, reflecting Paul’s admonition and his own change of heart.

Free justification is the corollary to the free acceptance of the Gentiles into the church. We, who believe, are no longer under the law for our acceptance with God. We have been freely accepted for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone. By the Spirit, through faith, we all are united to Christ. Since that is true, and since the dividing wall has been broken down, and since there is no more “Jew” or “Gentile” in Christ, then there is no longer any distinction among us between slave or free, Scythian or Barbarian etc. Paul says exactly this:

…a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Col 3:11; NASB).

The gospel, the declaration that a Jewish rabbi is God the Son incarnate, that he obeyed in our place, that he died for us, that he was raised for us, that he intercedes for us with the Father—that he did and does these things for all of his elect, Jew and Gentile alike—changes everything for those who believe. It changes our identity. One was “a Scythian” as distinct from “a Jew” but now one is just “a Christian.” When the name of the Triune God was placed on my forehead I was given a new outward identity and the moment I, by the sovereign grace of God, was given new life and true faith, that name became a living reality for me. That became my identity.

Hyphenation died with Christ. I understand that there remain sociological and historical realities but in Christ there are no “Barbarian Christians” or “Greek Christians” or “Jewish Christians.” In Christ we have a new identity. This is why Paul’s appeal to baptism here is so powerful. It is a ritual death, just as circumcision was a ritual death. In baptism we were outwardly identified with Christ’s death. In death one’s ethnic heritage is superseded by a greater fact: one is dead. A corpse had an ethnic identity but death changed all that. In death we all become what we were to begin with: dust. There is no Greek dust or Scythian dust or Jewish dust. There is just dust. So, in baptism, outwardly, all that distinguished us from one another is made of no account and those who (sola gratia) believe, and who (sola fide) have apprehended by faith alone Christ and in him all that baptism signifies, have been given a new identity. They have been included into a new, multi-ethnic, multi-national society, the visible church.

According to Paul, in Christ we are all Abraham’s children. We are members of his house, as it were. We are part of one another. To engage in racism, to demean others because of their ethnicity, to imagine superiority because of one’s ethnicity, is to reject or contradict the reality that is in Christ and thus repugnant to the faith.

Notice how Paul addressed the problem in the Galatian congregation (and to the Colossians). He preached the law, to teach them their need for a Savior and then he preached Christ, he preached the gospel. He borrowed no current social theories. He borrowed no alien eschatology. He simply preached Christ and applied the gospel to them. He called the Judaizers to repent of their arrogance and racism. He called on Gentile believers to embrace all that is theirs in Christ. He called the one body to recognize their fundamental unity in Christ.

Only the gospel unites the church. Only the gospel changes hearts. Only the gospel brings peace. Everything else we do and say to address sin only makes things worse. All other messages are a false hope, a bad prescription. The great good news is that the good news about Jesus really does marvelous things within his body. It is doing marvelous things within his body. It is sufficient for what ails us.

The Law Exposes Racism As Sin

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  1. That’s a great post! And has given me a better understanding of how the law with circumcision ‘cut off’ a people, ie. the Gentiles, and which ones Christ has rejoined by the blood of the cross. ‘Baptized by one Spirit into one Body’
    I have a foster-son of a dark-skinned race, and as in my child-hood, this has never been relevant, but there is a spirit which loves to stir up hatred and distrust, even a fear of the other, which should never be found in Christ’s ‘One new Man’.

  2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is AMEN! And I treasure the sanctifying instructions and guidance in the Creeds, Catechisms, Cannons and Confessions that conform my thinking and actions to His Will.

  3. Christians who don’t follow the ‘national Israel are God’s people’ line, get accused of being anti-Semitic, such accusers seemingly forgetting that we worship a man of that race!
    But here in NZ, the Maori activists negate all debate about the correct observance of the treaty of Waitangi, by accusing the non-Maori debater of racism, and assert that any ‘oppressed’ race, ipso facto, cannot in turn be racist!

  4. I’ve been tossing ideas in my mind for some time related to this; more generally, I’ve been thinking of the effect of Christianity on culture, morality, and science. I could be wrong, but here goes.

    To say the gospel, or only the gospel, is the remedy for racism is a testable claim. Fortunately, we have data to evaluate that claim. If we simply take the American context and history into consideration, we can conclude that the gospel is not, at least not in-and-of itself, the remedy for racism. If it were, Christians from various denominations, whether Reformed or not, would have solved this within their own spheres of influence. The fact is they didn’t, and not only that, many contributed to it’s continuation, development, and intensification, including developing Bible based teaching on the legitimacy of separating of the races, or even the superiority of some groups. If we merely analyze Calvinistic traditions, including Baptists, we can find evidence of Presbyterians and Baptists (reminds me of the founders of Southern Seminary) that contributed to the problem. I have no reason to think they were ignorant of the gospel; they knew it and preached it, yet it did not seem to provide a remedy. They also seemed attentive to Scripture’s commands, including being more observant of the Lord’s Day, yet it didn’t produce a remedy either. They had confessions, yet it did not provide a remedy. And some ministers and theologians that defended racism to one degree or another are still highly regarded by Calvinists. At best, the gospel produces results far much later than one would anticipate, and it contributes as part of an overall approach.

    I can go further, assuming my observations of certain heretical groups are accurate, that the gospel is not even needed to reduce racism. The diversity among Jehovah’s Witnesses seems like an example of that (they beat everyone according to Pew Roman Catholicism, though not free of racial tension, seems to be able to fight racism and bring about racial integration. To be honest, in general it seems that everyone is more receptive to the evil of racism because the culture has moved in that direction, interestingly all while Christian norms seem to have dwindled. Curiously, we tend to think of the decrease in sexual ethics as a decrease in Christian norms, but we don’t think of a decrease of racism and increase in integration as an increase in Christian norms.

    As David Van Drunen notes in his small book, Biblical Case for Natural Law, at times the pagans know what is right and correct believers. Pagans can know what is right apart from special revelation, and they rightly reprove believers when they contribute to evil.

    So it not only seems possible, but we have history available to prove people can and do believe the gospel, affirm the goodness of God’s law, and affirm racist ideologies. To quote Martin Luther on how just preaching the gospel wasn’t make all things okay, by way of Carl Trueman, “We preach the gospel, and the people live like pigs.”

    • Can we, as Christians, stop using the term racism? I know that is what the world calls it, but why use the language if you don’t believe it? Perhaps we can call it what it is; skinism.

    • Alberto,

      To be clear, I’m not saying that the only thing the church has to say about racism is the gospel. I’m saying that only the gospel has the power to change hearts and minds.

      I have written two other posts in this series both on the law of God. The law has an important role in addressing racism but the law is powerless to give new life or to change hearts and minds.

  5. My two cents (n0thing of which is original)…
    The Law diagnoses sin, be it adultery, theft, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or racism which is a subset of violating the second table (not loving neighbor). The Gospel is the only remedy for sin presented in Scripture, Period. Biblically, if we diagnose a problem (racism) in such a way that Christ as he is presented in the Gospel is not the Answer or Remedy, then we have not fully, completely, or properly diagnosed the problem. Rather, we are focusing on eradicating symptoms and not root causes. This is understandable because the symptoms of sin are horrible. Yet it is Christ himself in the Gospel who changes sinful hearts through the accompanying work of the Holy Spirit in repentant human beings. From faith and repentance through Christ then comes a renewed direction of holiness and obedience, i.e. walking away from one’s former manner of sinful life (racism?) towards loving God and neighbor. The goal (that which God guarantees to all who believe) of the gospel in this life is nothing less and nothing more than forgiveness and salvation with changed hearts and lives towards holiness in the redeemed and, only then and only indirectly, a likelihood or increased percentage of likelihood of a changed social situation for good. So, we live each day by the grace of God in such a way that we would see and acknowledge our sins and, trusting in Christ, turn more to the light of living in him. Believing in Christ, love God and love neighbor (even if he is your enemy).

  6. Excellent work Dr. Clark! In the wake of the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, our church is attempting a multi-church outreach to bring racial reconciliation within The Church. We agree with your take on the Gospel-as-sole-remedy for racism and will strive to put hands and feet on it. If you have any upcoming events in Europe or would be open to an invitation to speak on the subject in Germany, let me know.

    Pastor Toby DuBose
    Trinity Reformed Church (PCA)
    Landstuhl, Germany

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