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.