Thank you very much Pastor Russell for your hospitality and to all of you who had any part in making the meal happen downstairs and putting this on. It’s an honor to be with you, so thank you very much. The topic is Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, and I’ll just give you the main point right off the bat. It’s that the bloodline of Jesus is thicker and deeper and stronger than the bloodlines of race and ethnicity and family. That’s the thesis. Or another way to say it is that the blood of Christ shed for the salvation of sinners is the only power to create Christ-exalting racial harmony and diversity. And that’s the only kind that ultimately matters — namely, the Christ exalting kind. I don’t really have anything to say to people who want to strike Christ from the equation.
The Global Significance of Christ-Exalting Unity
Because of my own personal story and the unique history of our country, I will speak mostly about black-white relations, but the issue of bloodlines is massively bigger than that globally. Historically and presently, wars that are motivated by race and ethnicity are indescribable in their horrific effect in the slaughter of human life. This would include the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in 1915 with a million people slaughtered, the Holocaust in Germany where six million were killed, the Soviet Gulag where maybe 60 million people were killed, the massacres of Rwanda in 1994, and the Japanese slaughter of six million Chinese, Indonesian, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese. The litany of ethnic hatred is seemingly endless in the history of the world. And today, you could just go on the internet and type in “ethnic conflicts”, and you will get a long list.
So even though that’s the case, everybody has a story and everybody has a land and a history, and we have ours. Let me say a word about the bigger picture though before I launch into that story. Minorities make up about a third of the US population. That 30 percent will be 50 percent by the year 2042, according to the US Census Bureau. By the year 2023, that’s 12 years from now, minorities will comprise more than half of all children of the United States. The Hispanic population is projected to triple from 46 million to 132 million by 2050, and that will be from 15 percent to 30 percent. The black population is projected to increase from 41 million to 65 million, which would be from 14 percent to 15 percent.
You may be familiar with John Mayer’s CityView report, which I find very helpful. He brings it all home to the Twin Cities. For example, the Twin Cities’ Hispanic population more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. We were the eighth fastest growing Hispanic city in the United States. The light rail system, as you know, has instructions in four languages: English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. The neighborhood where I live, Phillips/Ventura neighborhood, has become, John says, the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country with a hundred languages spoken. The Twin Cities has the largest Hmong, the largest Oromo, the largest Liberian, the largest Anuak (Ethiopian), and the largest Somali populations in the United States, and the second-largest Tibetan population.
And here’s an interesting thing, John Mayer describes what he calls the ethnoburb. Burnsville would be one. Listen to this. This blows people away. It did to me anyway. Twenty-nine percent of the kids in the Burnsville school district are non-White. This John talking: “Two blocks from my house is a Hispanic supermarket. One mile from my house is a Somali Muslim halal market. My next door neighbor is from Cambodia. Next to them is a family from Belize. My wife is Indonesian. This is the new face of our city and our country.” So that’s the bigger picture that we just should be aware of so that when we talk about black and white, we’re not naive like, “Oh, that’s the only issue.”
It’s not the only issue. It’s just huge for some. It gets personal. Everybody has particular relationships, particular pressures, particular sins, and we need to get our feet on the ground in our real stories so that we don’t talk in abstractions.
A Personal History
The population of South Carolina in 1860, the state I grew up in, was 700,000. Out of that, 420,000 of those were black, and all but 9,000 were slaves. That’s 1860. That’s like yesterday, historically. There was a war about that. South Carolina led the nation into it. And that war was lost by the South on April 9th, 1865 at the truce of Appomattox, and 600,000 Americans were dead. We had killed each other like that. Ninety years later after the truce, I was nine years old. My grandmother lived until she was 96. I mean this is not a long time ago.
I was nine years old in Greenville, South Carolina, and the enforced segregation that you were hearing something about was almost absolute. Drinking fountains were separate. Public restrooms were separate. There were separate public schools, separate public swimming pools, separate bus seating, separate housing, separate restaurants, separate hospital waiting rooms, separate dentist waiting rooms, and separate waiting rooms at the bus station, and enforced in another way, separate churches. It’s where I grew up, and this is how I grew up swimming happily in a cesspool of racism.
I can tell you from the inside, though you may not need to be told, that all the rationalized glosses notwithstanding, it was not separate but equal. It was not respectful, it was not just, and it was not loving, and therefore, it was not Christ-exalting. It was ugly and it was demeaning and it was because of my complicity that I have much to be sorry about and why this book is really about the gospel. I owe my life to the gospel. Where would we be without the forgiveness of sins? Where would we be without the imputed righteousness of Jesus so that when we stand before God, we will not be punished — though we should be — because Jesus was punished.
This is the heart of our message. This is what makes us Christian. This is what we’re about in the world. So the emphasis falls heavily on the gospel, and without it, I think I would be strutting with pride or I would be paralyzed with white guilt. The gospel has something to say about pride and the gospel has something to say about guilt. You don’t have to strut and you don’t have to be paralyzed if you know the gospel, if you’ve been taken captive by Christ.
In those years I was manifestly and tragically a racist, and here’s my definition of a racist. Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that values one race above another. As a teenager, I totally valued my race above black people. I totally assumed its superiority over every other race that there was. I didn’t care one whit about knowing a black person when I was growing up. I didn’t care and didn’t want to, except maybe Lucy. Lucy was the maid.
You’ve seen the movie Help, right? So we knew about that. We don’t have to see a movie. Lucy came to our house on Saturdays or Tuesdays, and she helped mama clean. Everybody liked Lucy. Lucy was wonderful. Those who, I think, attempt to describe slave holders from 150 years ago as those who treated their slaves well and liked them and invited them to their ceremonies as though that proved something are phenomenally naive about what makes a relationship demeaning.
Yeah, we liked Lucy and we were nice to Lucy. We had affections for Lucy and we would even attend certain celebrations that each other had. Lucy wasn’t a slave and we loved Lucy. My sister and my mother invited Lucy to my sister’s wedding, and we were astonished that she came with her whole family. This was a Baptist church just like the one Billy Russell couldn’t preach in. And I was an usher and I was 16 years old. No black person had ever stepped in this church. And on a Wednesday night, this church had acted to say no one could, because the only reason they’d come is to make trouble and you shouldn’t make trouble in the house of God. So they said, “Tell them they can’t come because they’re only here to make trouble and that’s not a good reason to be in church.” So that was a nice way to make a rule.
So Lucy showed up in the foyer and the ushers all looked at each other, and they all looked to me like I was supposed to do something, and then somebody told me, “Seat them in the balcony.” Nobody had ever been to the balcony in the history of the church. I didn’t even know if there were pews up there. I’d never been up there. There were two stairways. And as I kind of panicked, I decided, “Okay, they told me to do that. I suppose that’s what I should do.” My mother, a Yankee, fiery fundamentalist, came and took them off my arm and marched them right into the sanctuary, and seated them herself.
Being nice and having strong affections for people is the way you treat your dogs too. My affection for Lucy did not provide the slightest restraint on my racist mouth when I was with my friends. I want to make it really clear because my parents are dead now and aren’t here to defend themselves, my demeaning attitude was not their fault. I mean, they weren’t perfect, but my mother literally washed my mouth out with soap in a pink sink when I said to my sister, “Shut up.” If she had known what I was saying among my friends, she would’ve washed it out with gasoline.
Seeds of Deliverance
God in his mercy didn’t leave me there and sowed over the next decades seeds of deliverance. And I’m just going to mention a few of those so that you can join me and Pastor Russell in praising God for deliverances. I’ve already told you about one of them, my sister’s wedding. That made a walloping impact on me, that my mother would not join in this and that she offended everybody except Lucy, I suppose. So that stuck, I just have never forgotten it. I love that story. She was a feisty, five-foot two, gutsy, Yankee fundamentalist woman, and I thank God for her.
A second moment was in college. My wife is sitting back here, and she’ll remember this. We went to the Urbana Missions Conference in 1967, and Warren Webster, the conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society director, had served for I think 20 or 25 years in Pakistan. He was on a panel at the front and, believe it or not, with 9,000 people in the audience they took questions at microphones. One of the questions was, “Mr. Webster, what if while raising your daughter in Pakistan she fell in love with a Pakistani? How would you deal with that if they wanted to get married?” As far as I can remember, he didn’t miss a beat. He said, “Better a Christian Pakistani than a white, rich, unbelieving American banker.” And I was sitting there thinking, “That was exactly the right answer.” It wasn’t what I was expecting. The bloodline of Jesus, in other words, is thicker than the American bloodline, or the white blood line, or the Pakistani bloodline when the two lines cross. So that one was huge.
I went off to seminary and that issue of interracial marriage had to be settled. Now, I don’t know what your attitude is towards this because this is really controversial to this very day, and it is controversial politically and it’s controversial personally. Politically, I don’t know if you realize how fresh this is. When I was a senior in college, in 16 states it was against the law for blacks to marry whites. I was a senior in college. That was 1967. South Carolina did not remove that from its constitution until 1998. Alabama did not remove it until the year 2000. And when a survey was taken, how the people of South Carolina felt about taking that out of the constitution, 29 percent didn’t like it. That’s 1998.
So that’s an issue. That’s a real life issue because my main intellectual rationale for why I believed in segregation as a 15-year old was that black birds mate with black birds and red birds mate with red birds for goodness sake. And because if you go to church together, if you go to school together, or you live in the same neighborhoods, you’re going to fall in love with one another and you know where that leads, marriage. And you can’t do that. I mean seriously, this is for many people the bottom line issue and why they’re still uneasy with togetherness. You have to settle this thing. I mean you can settle it in different ways, but in 1968 to 1971 I had to settle this.
Settling Interracial Marriage
I did all the research I could do and read blacks on this, like this one. Lawrence Otis Graham said:
Interracial marriage undermines African-American’s ability to introduce our children to the black role models who accept their racial identity with pride.
So Blacks were opposed to it, some. And then, I read white conservatives, and they went like this:
We are seeing the death of the American and his replacement with a non-European type, who now has enough mass in our society to pervert European and American ways. White people are going to have to struggle mightily to survive the neo-melting pot and avoid being part of the one-size-fits-all human model. Call it what it is — “genocide” — and extinction of the white genotype.
So Blacks don’t like it and whites don’t like it, and I’ve got more quotes here, but you get the point. So I have come, I’ve preached on it twice at my church to the conviction that God not only permits, but would encourage us to positively celebrate interracial marriage in Christ, even though there are reasons why one might write those kinds of things. What that does is pull the rug out from under all kinds of rationales for segregation, whether legal or de facto, because if you think, “We just can’t do anything to encourage interracial marriage,” then that will back its way up to all kinds of caution and separation.
So settling that was a huge issue for me and to this day, I can’t help but mention this. We just had a slideshow at our church during missions week on two Sundays and we showed 100 missionary families, and I was simply blown away at how many of those are mixed race families.
Concentration Camps, Classrooms, and Community
Here is a fourth thing God did. My wife and I spent three years in Munich, Germany studying. Fifteen miles to the northwest of Munich is Dachau, one of the concentration camps. There is a big sign outside that says “Nie Wieder”, which means “never again”. There’s barbed wire, barrack rows that were tree high triple-deckers, cremation furnaces, hanging rooms, and so-called shower rooms that were gas chambers. They’re all still there. You can walk through them with your mouth shut. What was that? That was the belief in the evolutionary superiority of the Aryan master race. That’s what it was. This was racism to the end, to the end. It made a huge impact.
I’ll jump way ahead. I taught for six years over at Bethel. God called me to preach, I believe, at Bethlehem, down by the Metrodome, and I drove down there not knowing where the church was in 1980. I circled around the church and I looked. There was the university over there across the highway, and there was Valspar and the kind of light industrial to the north, and there was the magnificent IDS tower building downtown, and to the south, there was a poor neighborhood. Phillips neighborhood was called the poorest neighborhood in the city in those days. North may be now, but I don’t know.
There was Elliot Park, Ventura, and Phillips. I said to the Lord, “Look, if you’re going to call me here, I’m going to live here,” because it feels totally inauthentic to me to be driving in from outside, and I still feel that way. So we’ve been there for 31 years living in one of these neighborhoods, Phillips neighborhood in 2005. You can’t get statistics on Phillips. It is so mobile and so volatile, you hardly know what’s what. But a few years ago it was 24.6 percent Caucasian, 29 percent African American, 22 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Native American, 5.9 percent Asian, and 7.4 percent other. That’s been my neighborhood for 31 years. That’s where I raised my four sons, and Talitha now, our daughter. And that brings me to the last step in the story before I turn to the gospel issues.
Adopting Across Ethnic Lines
Our daughter is named Talitha. She’s African American, and here’s how it happened. I began preaching back-to-back sermons on Sanctity of Life Sunday and Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday. Martin Luther King Sunday comes and then Sanctity of Life. Now, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a democrat issue and Sanctity of Life Sunday is a republican issue. I like to mix people up and I love to keep people off balance, because I’m neither, I’m Christ’s.
I want to speak into the republican sin and into the democratic sin. And I want to say the Bible is our charter, okay? We don’t put names on us like that. So, I like mixing it up and preaching about this race issue on MLK Day and then preaching about the slaughter of our babies on the next Sunday, and let the chips fall where they will. So I started doing that 17 years ago. I was doing things before that, but that was the first pairing of those. Well, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but those issues were in the air — pro-life issues of rescuing babies and racial issues of being just.
We got a phone call from Phoebe Dawson, a black social worker in Georgia who’s a good friend. And she spoke to my wife, who was on the phone. My wife was at that point 48 years old, and I was 50. She said, “Noël, there’s a little girl here. She was just born and her mom can’t keep her. I think she’s for you,” and we had a little conversation about this, and Noël hung up and informed me that there was a little girl out there that Phoebe thinks is for us. My first response was, “I’m 50. At 65, she’ll be 15, black, and a girl. I’ve never raised one. I had four boys.” That was my gut response. It took maybe two weeks with long walks in the arboretum, asking the implications of this.
There were three things that pushed me happily over the edge, and here we are. Talitha just turned 16. Number one: My wife’s heart was supremely important at this moment to me. She had longed for a daughter, right? And God gave her boys every time. Another one would come out of the womb, and I’d say, “Yes!” and she’d say, “Yes . . . I love you, anyway.” So that was big to watch her eyes brighten. And second, this little girl was cute and she was a girl and everything started to go up in my affections. So I fell in love with her in pictures. And then third was the issue, and I said, “Lord, if we go this route for Noël and for Talitha” — she had the name all picked out before she ever came along — “it will lock us into the issue until we’re dead.” And he said, “Yep, that’s the point.” And I said, “Good, good. I want to lock it down.”
Locked into Ethnic Harmony
I don’t want to ever walk away from this issue. The rest of what I have to say sort of has to do with how the gospel helps people not walk away from this issue. I’ll tell you, it is easy to walk away from this issue because if you talk about this, you’re just going to get hurt. If you try to do something to bring two together, you’re not going to do it right, somebody is going to clobber you because you did it wrong, and you will just walk away. Well, you can’t walk away if she’s in the bedroom across the hall.
So that’s really good, and that was pretty much of a milestone. Those are some of the ways that God had mercy on this teenage racist, who, little by little, was awakened to something beautiful, namely racial diversity, and awakened to something horrible, namely my own sin and need for repentance as an ongoing way of life. It’s not like, “Oh, I discovered it, I repented. I’m not one anymore.” I don’t even think I’m in those categories. That’s not the way sin works. I discovered it, I have grown in abhorrence, I have grown in delight, and I am growing in repentance. That would be the way I think we should think about it, which makes the gospel not only a point in time, like you found it and you got saved, but a lovely, beautiful, magnificent power and message you live with morning by morning.
Gospel Hope for Our Many Failures
Let me make it really clear what I’m sure is obvious to anybody who knows Bethlehem or knows me. Though there may be some points in that story that sound kind of valiant for truth or justice or right, I don’t see myself as a good example of an urban pastor. I mean that totally honestly, because the way I have felt led to lead my life and use my time over the years means I don’t have a lot of significant relationships with my neighbors. Our church has grown in diversity and I hope in love across those lines, but it’s not a model church. It doesn’t reflect in any way the proportion of diversity that’s in Phillips neighborhood, for example.
So I don’t come here to lift up myself or to lift up Bethlehem and say, “Do it that way,” or, “Be like that.” That’s just not the way I’m thinking. I think I would’ve had a much more effective and immediate impact in our neighborhood if I had not written books, and if I had not done wider speaking, and if I had been on the streets and hobnobbed with people. Some people will thank me for the choices I made, and some people, some very close to me, think I messed up pretty badly in those choices. I am 65 years old. I’m going to meet Jesus really soon. I’m going to stand before my judge really soon, and I will give an account for how I served him and how the choices I made either honored him or didn’t.
I don’t doubt that, in the light of his perfect holiness someday, any of my actions will be completely pure in their motivation. I expect some of them to look positively unwise in the light of his countenance. They may be ones that I thought were wise. I hope that I have used my gifts and my calling in a wise way, but I’m saying this for this reason: my confidence before Jesus on that day does not rest there. Does yours? Does your confidence rest on “I’ve made some pretty good decisions in my life,” or, “I’ve done racial harmony just the way it should be done.” Do you think, “He will approve on that day”? I’m mocking you, if you do. You can hear that.
So I’m inviting you to join me in a desperate dependence on the blood of Jesus. I’m inviting you to not say it doesn’t matter and just go live like the devil. That clearly might land you in hell because it’ll show you didn’t love him and trust him at all. But I’m inviting you not to think in terms of your lived life as the ground where you’re going to stand when you face Jesus. You’re going to stand, if you stand at all, on the cross. That’s where you’re going to stand. If he says, “Why should I let you in here, you former racist sinner?” you won’t say, “I cleaned up my act.” If you say that, you don’t get the gospel. That’s not what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, “There’s no reason in me that you should let me in here. If you just look at me, then there’s no way I’m going to make it. So I am expecting you to let me in here because I held onto Jesus and he held onto me. I trusted Jesus, I trusted his righteousness, I trusted his blood, and that’s why I expect now to receive mercy and mercy alone.”
I wrote this book not because I have a model pastor or a model church to hold up. I wrote it because I have some really profound convictions of what the Bible says. I have some really deep longings for what I want to see happen. Those are the kinds of things that drive me. And I’m just happy to put it out there.
If somebody wants to say, “Yeah, but you didn’t do it well.” I say, “Okay, that’s all right.” But is it true? If it’s true, just try to do it better. Just go ahead, try to do it better. That’s all I care about. I don’t expect to be made much of because we’ve done it well at Bethlehem. It’s a longing.
The Gospel and Racial Harmony
Let me say now in the time we have left something about the gospel and the way it functions in this matter. I want to try to point you to one chapter in particular. If you just chose to read one chapter, go home tonight and read chapter six. I think that’s the essence of what I’m saying and the special thing I have to say that isn’t said as often as some things.
There are many pointers in the Bible concerning the rightness, goodness, beauty, justice, and preciousness of racial harmony and diversity. The most important one is the gospel. You could talk about how all of us have a father in Adam. You could talk about all of us being the image of God, and those kinds of things. I’m going straight to the cross. Let me just give you a few texts to show you how this works. I spoke at a Moody Pastors’ conference and those are usually pretty racially diverse. The most racially diverse conferences I’ve ever been to are the Moody Pastors’ conferences in Chicago. And I preached on racial diversity there about 10 years ago or so.
The one point that I made that has come back to me as being memorable — and I hope I never tire of saying it — is that racial diversity, racial harmony, racial reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it, is not a social issue; it’s a blood issue. The reason I say that is because I know that my tribe, my evangelical conservative white tribe, is suspicious of social issues. To them it sounds like a social gospel, leading us away from Jesus and the cross. So I’m playing to their music. I want to say this is not a social issue; this is a blood issue. And here’s what I mean. Revelation 5:9 says:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom (not a bunch of kingdoms) and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
So what did he ransom? What did he die to do? He died and he ransomed his people that are in all the peoples, all the ethnicities, all the tribes, all the races, and all the languages of the world, and he’s gathering them by the power of the blood of Christ. That’s huge, if you believe in the blood of Christ. I mean if you’re a blood person, if you’re an atonement person, if you’re a gospel, death-of-Christ, resurrection-of-Christ person, that has to matter.
Last Sunday at Bethlehem the text was John 11:50, where Caiaphas says, “It is better for one to die than the whole nation should perish,” and he means it’s better to kill Jesus so that the Romans won’t kill them. John reinterprets it because he says God put this in his mouth, when he said, “It is better for one to die for the nation and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God scattered across the world” (John 11:50–52). What does that mean? There’s children out there. There’s elect children of God among all the peoples of the world and it says he died to gather them. So as missions goes out and the gospel is preached, this is God, by the blood of his Son, gathering his elect in from all over the world. Or the way Jesus says it in John 10:16 is, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this Jewish fold. I must bring them, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Now what’s that about? That means he came for Jews. Yes he did, and he laid down his life for the sheep. But guess what? He has sheep all over the world just like he has children all over the world in John 11:52. He has sheep all over the world in John 10:16. And the key sentence is, “I laid down my life for them.” This is a blood issue. This is an issue about why Jesus died. So those are the cluster of texts. And you all know Ephesians 2, that we are all reconciled in one body through the cross, through Christ’s death and blood. There it is again. And you get that amazing justification doctrine in Romans 3.
One God, One Plan of Justification
Have you ever thought about how justification relates to multi-ethnicity? Listen to this, this is Romans 3:25–30 following:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith . . . Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only?
Now the logic here at first appears strange. We think, “Whoa, where did that come from?” He says that we are justified by faith, and then he says, “Is God a God of the Jews only?” He continues:
Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one — who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Romans 3:29–30).
Here’s what God is saying: “I have sent my Son into the world to provide a righteousness that no human being can provide on their own. There’s one way to get it, and it isn’t Jewishness. It isn’t white-ness and it isn’t black-ness. It’s faith, because I’m one and there will be one way into fellowship with me, namely faith in Jesus.” So right at the heart of the doctrine of justification by faith on the basis of the blood of Jesus, God is saying, “I did it that way because there’s a unity in me. I mean for there to be a unity in the way of salvation. And that means, I mean to gather people of every stripe because those stripes don’t matter.”
Working Out the Implications of Gospel Reconciliation
Now right here in the message is where I think most preaching on racial harmony stops. It would be a good place to stop. I mean, yes. I mean who would be disappointed if I said, “Let’s pray.” I mean, who would say, “Hey, you missed the point,” or, “You didn’t get to the cross,” or something else. So why not stop now? I’m going to Romans 6. Let me see if I can help you feel what I feel about this and give you a few examples. I’ve been trying to talk about race ever since the Lord convicted me at Wheaton and in my later teenage years. I’ve been trying to think and come to Bethlehem and live in a diverse place.
More and more I have tried to just figure out what we should do and how to think about it, and I feel like the main things I’ve learned is about process, about what happens when you make an effort to think a certain way or do a certain thing. And what happens is that you get in trouble or you get hurt. You get discouraged, you get wounded, and you get criticized. And if something doesn’t happen, you just say, “I’m going to take my ball and go home. I’m just going to quit, because if my efforts don’t count any more than that, then I tried.” I think there are thousands of evangelicals who’ve said, “I tried that racial harmony thing. I tried that and I got shut down over and over. I’m just done with that issue. I’m done.”
What is needed at that point? The gospel is needed. That’s why we’re not done. That’s why the sermon shouldn’t end here. Establishing that it’s a good thing and that God wills it and the cross bought is great. That’s great. Now what? Now it’s a life of working that out and trying to figure out how to keep working it out for 10, 20, 30, and 40 years. How do you keep on doing it? What are the things that keep you from doing it? I have nine of them and there should be more. I mean, somebody is going to come in and say, “Why didn’t you include this?” I’ll say, “Well, I’m fallible. I’m sinful. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” I’ve got nine of them, and let me just mention maybe three and then we’ll stop. Okay?
I’ll name them all: Satan, guilt, pride, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, greed, hate, fear, and apathy. What do you do when these things are inside of you? It’s not just coming at you but it’s inside of you? What do you do? I mean, you told us a story of long anger. You were born again. You were born again, a child of God, and you were taken by anger, and the gospel did some more work. Now everybody in this room needs some more work. So let me just talk about the first three.
Satan and Race
Number one: Satan and race. Have you ever read a book on that? We need one. He’s a liar. He’s a murderer. He’s a relationship ruiner, and guess what? He’s strong. He’s supernatural. He’s stronger than a billion people. You can’t defeat him on your own. You’re just a human. He’s Lucifer. Goodnight. You don’t have a snowball’s chance in his hell. So what are you going to do? What are you going to do? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to read your Bible.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Thank you very much. This is a Bible people. I feel like Satan is already on his heels. Or you read that Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Or you read Colossians 2:15, which says:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Our only hope is to defeat him by the blood of Jesus and the word of our testimony. If you just stir that into the racial harmony, racial diversity mix, what are you going to get? You’re going to get total satanic chaos, lying, murderous attitudes, mean spirited-ness, ugliness, and distortion, unless the gospel, the blood, is killing him right and left. That’s number one.
Number two: guilt. This is huge. This is a huge player in the Black-White discussion. There are whole books on this. Shelby Steele, for example, wrote a book on this. It’s huge and it’s deadly when it’s denied, as we don’t have any guilt. It’s huge and it’s deadly when it’s wallowed in — “Oh, all I have is guilt. I’m just guilty.”
It’s huge and it’s deadly when it’s wallowed in, and it’s huge and it’s deadly when it’s exploited by blacks. So denial drives it below the surface where it creates endless illusions and self-justifications. Wallowing in it produces phony humility, obsequiousness, and moral cowardice. And exploiting it gives a false sense of power and turns out to be a weapon of weakness. This guilt thing is just massive in this whole issue and discussion. What does the gospel bring to us? It does not bring denial, not wallowing, and not exploiting. There’s no future for this debate, no future for this discussion, and no future for our harmony and diversity in those paths.
Christ died for our sins:
- He himself bore our sins in the body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
- Christ suffered once for sins (1 Peter 3:18).
- In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).
- For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).
There is no other savior to help us with our guilt than Christ. Let me just imagine this with you. Who can begin to calculate the effect of white and black people from all persuasions and all parties suddenly being delivered from the crushing burden of guilt.
There would be no more denial, no more wallowing, and no more exploiting. What an unimaginable transformation would come. It’s incalculable what the personal and relational dynamics would look like in all of our racial relations if we were set free with overflowing joy and gratitude from our guilt.
Number three: pride. God hates pride. Listen to Isaiah 2:12 and Isaiah 2:17:
For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low . . .
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
God hates pride and pride is underneath everything else. It’s probably the worst, most insidious, and most pervasive sin in our lives, in my life. He hates it. It looks different in all kinds of ways. You think it only looks one way. It doesn’t look just one way. It looks all kinds of ways. It may try to look cool in order to intimidate others. It may try to be meek and retiring for fear of offending others. It can look strong and it can look weak. In either case, it’s consumed with self and a select group of others who are going to think about self. Racial tensions are rife with pride — the pride of white supremacy, the pride of black power, the pride of intellectual analysis, the pride of anti-intellectual scorn, the pride of loud verbal attack, the pride of despising silence, the pride of feeling secure, the pride that masks fear, and the pride that holds sway.
Wherever pride holds sway, there’s no hope for the kind of listening and patience and understanding that this kind of conversation requires. The gospel of Jesus breaks the power of pride. It reveals first, very painfully, the magnitude and ugliness of it. If you’ve never seen the ugliness of your own pride, you need to be concerned. Before the cross heals, it reveals. What it reveals is the need of the cross. And Christ didn’t die for your hangnail. It’s something way more serious than that. And at the root of it in all of us is pride. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone shatters pride.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).
So what’s the point of by grace through faith? There’s no boasting. That’s the point. That’s what the verse says. He set it up by grace so that we couldn’t say, “It was by me.” He set it up by faith because faith is just not doing anything but trusting. Faith is humble, and grace shatters everything but humility. So the gospel comes into pride and it reveals its ugliness as it exalts itself against God. And it offers salvation and humility and love and service.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Imagine what race relations, racial controversies, would look like if the participants were dead to pride and deeply humble before God. The other six are hopelessness, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, greed, hate, fear, and apathy. My argument in that chapter is that the gospel is the only remedy for a Christ-exalting solution to those sins that keep us from making progress in loving each other and enjoying diversity and harmony in the body of Christ. If I can be of any use in the progress of racial and ethnic peace, I think it will be this: pointing people relentlessly to the fullness of the work of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
That’s all I have. I don’t have a track record that is ideal, I don’t have a church that’s ideal, and I don’t have a family that’s ideal, so I am not preaching myself. I’m pointing away from myself to what I believe is the only hope for our diversity and our harmony.