My great-great-great grandfathers were slaves. March Dillahunt fought and died in the epic battle at Chaffin’s Farm in the Civil War. Stephen Scott, after gaining his freedom, planted a church in North Carolina that still meets to this day.
I tell my kids the stories of their courage and character. I remind them how their ancestors’ sacrifices afforded us privileges that generations before mine only dreamed about. We have come a long way as a nation in dealing with our seemingly intractable troubles related to race. However, the news cycle of 2020, filled with its explosive stories about race, soberly reminds all of us that we still have deep wounds from our past.
Although loud, radical voices on the left and right are pulling our nation apart over the issue of race, the church has the most powerful message — the gospel. I pray along with John Perkins that this young generation of Christians will succeed where those before them have failed. I pray that God uses them to unite our nation and make our national creed a reality, beginning in the church: “all men are created equal.” And not just “created,” but in Christ redeemed into one new race.
Birthplace of Division
The story of the world begins with God creating all things very good, including the first man, Adam, from the ground, and Eve from his side. God made the human race — one race — in his image and likeness, for his glory, and to spread his dominion throughout the earth. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, multiply, fill the whole earth, and rule over it (Genesis 1:26–28). With this privileged calling, Adam was to serve God and delight in him forever.
“In Christ, all that is different about us must yield to the Holy Spirit, who unites us as one new people.”
Yet Adam rebelled, and the entire human race fell with him. Adam’s radically depraved nature spread to all mankind (Genesis 6:5). Like Adam, the entire human race — one race — united in rebellion against God to make a name for themselves rather than to glorify God’s name (Genesis 11:4). To thwart this mutiny, God scattered the human race over the earth and confused their language, separating them into diverse peoples from which would arise ethnic groups and then nations (Genesis 10:5, 20, 32; Deuteronomy 32:8).
Driven by their self-centered sinfulness, these newly formed tribes would continue to strive to make a name for themselves against God and against other tribes. The human race — still one race — was hopelessly divided by sin into tribalism.
But God, being rich in mercy, sovereignly chose Abraham and promised to make from him a holy nation. God graced Israel with a special calling to bring blessing to all the families and nations of the earth (Genesis 12:2, 4; Exodus 19:4–6). Tragically, like Adam, Israel failed by rebelling. Yet God still kept his promise.
God sent a better man, the God-man, Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the final Adam (Daniel 7:13–14; Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16). Whereas Adam and Israel failed, Jesus succeeded (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45). He perfectly obeyed God and died to pay the debt of fallen humanity and rose to give new life to all who would believe. Through his work, he defeated all of humanity’s enemies: sin, death, and Satan.
Now he is building a new humanity — one new race — the church, and through the church he is saving people from all the nations and families of the earth, reconciling them to God and to each other (Galatians 3:29; Matthew 16:18; 28:16–20).
One New People
An old preacher used to say, “You can no more do what you don’t know, than come back from where you ain’t never been.” What the preacher said is true. Ontologically, doing is predicated upon being. For the church to effectively yield herself to Christ as his chosen means of reconciling sinners from the four corners of the globe into one body, then she must know who she is so that she can be who she is.
So, against the backdrop of the Old Testament, 1 Peter 2:9 gives four titles of the church, which describe her being and give a charge to fulfill her purpose, which defines her doing. The word of God is the final authoritative voice that shows the church her true identity and what her Lord has called her to do in the world.
“As stunning as this sounds, God has made in Christ ‘one new man,’ one new human race, the church.”
God reveals to the church, “You are a chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9). As stunning as this sounds, God has made in Christ “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), one new human race, the church. God has made those who were dead in sin alive from the dead and born again through the Holy Spirit. God has replaced idolatrous hearts of stone with new hearts of flesh that love God. God has rescued those who were in darkness, living as slaves to sin, and brought them into the light of his Son to love him.
This is good news. In Adam, the entirety of the human race died, and the earth became the land of cannibalizing tribal zombies — the warring dead. In Christ, all who believe have been made alive. Believers are a new reunited humanity whose passion is to delight in God and to live for his glory. This is the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:21–22. Christ has spiritually brought to life a new human race that he calls the church.
The church is also “a royal priesthood.” We are royal because all born-again believers are priests of the King. In our priestly role, we have been restored to the vocation that alone satisfies our souls. Jesus has made us worshipers (John 4:23). What else could possibly satisfy us?
The church collective is a living temple that God inhabits, and when we gather, God meets us to receive our prayers and our songs, and to bless us with his voice through his preached word (1 Peter 2:5). As his anointed priests, we also represent God to the nations. We mediate God’s word to all nations, regardless of any direct cultural or ethnic link we have or don’t have with them (Acts 1:8).
We stand in the gap and proclaim as of first importance that Jesus’s death atones for sins, and that there is therefore forgiveness with God. As God’s royal priests, we are stewards of the keys of the kingdom. It is a sacred position because we stand between the nations and their eternal destinies as we cry out to them, “Turn to Christ and be saved from this perverse and wicked generation.”
We are “a holy nation” because Christ our King is holy. God has transferred us into his kingdom, where we live for him by obeying his laws (Matthew 5–7) and fulfilling his mission (Matthew 28:16–20). He has made us outposts of his coming kingdom.
“Although the nations rage against God and each other, we unite together under our King.”
Until then, as citizens of his kingdom (Colossians 1:13), we are to live as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), officially representing him by calling all the nations to repent, to believe, and to acknowledge him as Lord. Although the nations rage against God and each other, we unite together under our King. He is our Lord, so we bow only to him, forsaking all other earthly allegiances. We are his, and we live for him and no longer for our tribes, whether they be ethnic, cultural, or political.
God’s Special Possession
Finally, the church is his special possession. Yes, we love our King, but that is only because he first loved us. We are his, purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28), redeemed by him from every conceivable slave market of sin.
Why? Because he chose to love us (1 Thessalonians 1:4). God chose to have mercy on us. So now, we are his beloved children and are immeasurably loved by him (1 John 3:1–2). In turn, God calls us to love him as the greatest priority in our lives and to love our neighbors, whether they be Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile (Matthew 22:37–40; Luke 10:29–37). Because this is who we are, God’s beloved people, this is what we must do — love all of our neighbors (Matthew 5:46–47).
Vision of a Unified People
So we, the church of Jesus Christ, born-again believers, are not who we used to be. We are a new race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. Since that is who we are, that is how we must live. We are bound together as one race, one priesthood, one nation, and one new people. In Christ, all that is different about us — our ethnicities, languages, cultures, and nationalities — must yield to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, who unites us as one new people.
We must live out our oneness in Christ because our new lives are the evidence of God’s miraculous work of making us a new creation. The oneness of the church is the apologetic that God has sent Jesus his Son and that Jesus the King has saved and sent us (John 17:20–23). Jesus has made the church so that we would proclaim his marvelous miraculous work of saving sinners and making all things new. In Christ, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our cultural and ethnic distinctives, making us God’s reconciled beautiful mosaic.
This is the picture the church can present and the message that we must proclaim to our divided nation.