The Glory of Christ and Racial Unity

On the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s Death

MLK50 Conference | Memphis

Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Therefore, “he is before all things” (Colossians 1:17). “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Long before this universe existed — if we may speak of time before there was space and time — Christ existed with the Father as one God.

And when the so-called “time” was right, Christ created “all things” (Colossians 1:16). “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2–3). There is “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). “In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

All Things Through Him and for Him

Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior, our Friend created the universe. He created you and me. We, and everything we see in this world, and in this solar system, and in this galaxy, and in this universe have no independent existence. We were made. Made by Christ, as a potter makes a pot.

Yes, and not only everything we see, but everything we don’t see. “For by him all things were created, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Colossians 1:16). These invisible rulers and authorities that Christ made are the great evil demonic forces of the world. And when Christ died “he disarmed these very rulers and authorities, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

They were not created in vain. Their rebellion did not have the last word. “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). These rulers and authorities have served their purpose, and they will serve their purpose. These archenemies were created for Christ. For all things were created through him and for him.

All Things He Upholds

But it’s not exactly as a potter makes a pot, because Christ did not just make them — and you and me and the world. He keeps them — and us — in being. “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Every moment and every movement of a demon’s existence is sustained by Christ. Every electron in your muscles and in the Milky Way stays in orbit around its nucleus because of Christ. Every molecule, every brainwave, every heartbeat, every mysterious motion of your immaterial soul, is kept in existence, millisecond by millisecond, by Christ. “In him all things hold together.”

So all things were created by Christ. All things are held in existence by Christ. And all things were created and held in being for Christ. What does that mean? In what sense did Christ create everything for Christ?

Riches and Hope

God is not “served by human hands [or by any created thing], as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). He is an inexhaustible fountain, not a leaky bucket. From all eternity, the Father and the Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit have been supremely blessed and happy. They did not need to create anything in order that some deficiency might be supplied. So what does it mean in Colossians 1:16 that Christ created all things for Christ?

“Christ created all things. He sustains all things. He bought a multi-ethnic people by his blood, and he is making us one.”

The answer comes ten verses later (verses 26–27): This is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them [to the church] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Christ created all things so that he might take up his dwelling in a people and become their glory. Notice two key words in verse 27 that clarify what it means that everything is created “for Christ.” “Riches of glory — Christ!” And “hope of glory — Christ!”

  • Riches of glory: the infinite, objective, real Treasure of the universe — Christ in all his glory.

  • Hope of glory: the cavernous longing, aching, yearning of our souls, finding every tremor of Christ-created desire satisfied with the glory of Christ.

Share in His Glory

Christ created all things so that he might share his glory with his people — his church — in such a way that his glory would become the greatest Treasure of our knowing minds, and the greatest pleasure of our hoping hearts. And as our knowing minds are filled with the riches of his glory, and our hoping hearts are filled with the pleasures of his glory, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18) — until, in some measure (please God!) we shine as the light of this world, and in the age to come “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father” (Matthew 13:43).

And all of this knowing the riches of his glory, and all of this tasting the pleasures of his glory become the Christ-designed showing of his glory, to his people, through his people — meaning, it would be “for Christ.” So it would come true that “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). For his fame, for the display, the pageant of his glory. For his preeminence (Colossians 1:18).

God Creates Anew

To that end, a new people must be created — redeemed from the great Rebellion — the great Treason of humanity. Without this redemption, the great aim of Christ’s creation aborts. Therefore, Christ, the Son of God came. “All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Because you can’t nail a spirit to the cross, not even a divine Spirit. But the cross is the only place the redemption of a new humanity could happen. The eternal, divine Son clothed himself with flesh.

How then does this redemption — this new creation — happen? Colossians 2:14: It happens “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Jesus Paid Our Debt

God took the record of our rebellion, the sworn affidavit of our treason, pressed it into the hand of Jesus, and drove a nail through it into his hand and into the cross. Meaning what?

Those debts are paid. The capital sentence for treason is executed. The curse of the law has been endured (Galatians 3:13). Sin has been condemned in the flesh (Romans 8:3). Christ has been “smitten by God, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6). “God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “As by the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be appointed righteous” (Romans 5:19).

Jesus Gathers a People

And now, having died for his people, and having paid for their treason, and having risen again, Christ is gathering them from all the peoples of the world. Because that’s what he ransomed: “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 and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10). This is what he purchased. A people from all the peoples of the world.

“Jesus is undoing the dynamics of indignity in all our relationships. He is making all things new.”

He is gathering them through the worldwide preaching of the gospel. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. . . . I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:27, 16). They hear. They live. They believe. They see the riches of his glory. They taste the hope of his glory. And they come. And as this new, redeemed people gather into churches, what does Christ say to them?

Colossians 3:9–10: “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” Renewed in knowledge!

  • What knowledge? The knowledge of the riches of the glory of Christ.

  • What renewal? Being transformed from one degree of glory to the next in his image.

  • What image? The image of your Creator — your double Creator, first creation, second creation — Jesus Christ.

So all the redeemed put off the old nature — the sinful patterns of feeling and thinking and acting and relating — like an old, ratty, smelly garment. We’re done with that old self. That’s not us anymore. And we put on the new nature which bears the ever-clearer insignia of our Creator, Jesus Christ. And that’s how we know each other. That’s how I know you. You have the same insignia of Christ on your new garment — your new self.

Christ Is All and in All

Then comes verse 11: “Here . . .” And you should say, “Where?” Here, where all are clothed with a new nature bearing the insignia of our Creator, Jesus Christ, here — not in the world, but precisely here in the church where all have put on Christ, here “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

  • Jew and Greek — the age-old focus; some with covenant privilege, and the unclean latecomers (see Acts 10:28).

  • Circumcised and uncircumcised — those who conform to all the traditions of the privileged people and those who bear no marks of that privilege (see Galatians 2:3–5).

  • Barbarians — the foreigners, uncultured, foolish by Greek and Jewish standards, with weird languages that sound like “bar, bar, bar, bar” (see Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 14:11).

  • Scythian — The distant people north of the Black Sea, the “epitome of unrefinement and savagery” of whom Josephus wrote, “Scythians, who delight in murdering people and are little better than wild beasts” (Moo, 271).

  • Slave and free — the opposite poles in the economic strata of society.

Here — in this new humanity, where we have been stripped of our sinful self with its old, ratty, smelly ways of thinking and feeling and doing and relating, and have been clothed with a new self with the beautiful insignia of Christ who created us the first and the second time — here “Christ is all and in all.”

Think, Feel, and Do in New Ways

He is in all his people, and from the inside out is conforming us to his image — the new ways of thinking and feeling and doing and relating. And as he, from within, conforms us to himself, he becomes everything for us. Christ is all things, and is in all his own.

Which I take to mean that whatever a Jew or a Greek or barbarian or Scythian or a slave or freedman brings to the body of Christ, it will all be made new in accord with Christ — to serve the pattern and the preeminence of Christ over all things. Or it will go. The dynamics of indignity in all these relationships — like slave and free — will be undone. Christ is all — everything conforms to Christ.

None Remain Unchanged

Which means that no Jew, no Greek, no barbarian, no Scythian, no slave, no freedman remains unchanged here, and none is obliterated. I can see your Jewish nose. I can see your Greek forehead. I can hear your barbarian accent. I can see your Scythian gestures. I can see the hole in your earlobe. I can see the refinement of your bearing. You have not ceased to be. Except that you are all wearing Christ. And everything about you is being renewed after Christ. And shining, as the mark of your new humanity, is the insignia of Christ on your new self.

And it is precisely because we can all still see Jew and Greek and barbarian and Scythian and slave and free that the unifying insignia of Christ shines with the glory that it does. If I had to cease to be Scythian to be saved, if you had to cease to be Jewish to be joined to Christ, if she had to cease to speak her mother tongue to take her place at the table of the King, Christ would not be preeminent in glory. He would be parochial. A mere tribal deity.

He is not a tribal deity. He is the Creator of the universe. The incarnate God, the redeemer of a new humanity, ransomed from all the peoples of the world, “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).

Don’t Perish in Blindness

I close with an exhortation, especially to the younger among us.

As a very young southerner growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, my sin, aroused and shaped by the toxic, segregationist, racist air I breathed, blinded me to the truth and beauty of racial and ethnic unity and harmony and justice, and to the bitter horrors of the opposite. It was as though Colossians 3:11 was not in the Bible.

“You have one hope to find a path that exalts Christ and does justice: an infallible, Spirit-illumined Bible in the colorful community of the redeemed.”

And I am thankful to God that he made Martin Luther King the main human instrument in the renovation of that world, and with that same instrument struck a blow of conviction across my conscience. Mine was a pervasive and inexcusable blindness.

Fifteen years earlier the sin of another young southerner, aroused and shaped by the toxic, modernist, skeptical air he breathed at Crozer Seminary, was blinded to the truth and beauty of Christ’s majesty as Creator of the universe, blinded to the glory of Christ’s grace in suffering imputed guilt that was not his own, blinded to the all-encompassing authority Christ received from his Father when he rose bodily from the dead, to sit at God’s right hand until he comes again in glory. In his early twenties, Martin Luther King turned away from these great, biblical realities. I do not know if he ever returned. Some say he did. Many more of us hope he did.

One Hope

But my exhortation is this: Don’t try to put the blindness of the young Piper and the blindness of the young King in the balances and weigh them, hoping to find one less deadly than the other. You will not succeed. You did not come to this conference looking for help in choosing which sort of blindness you will die by.

Instead, look to yourselves. The remaining sin in every believer puts you and me in constant danger — ever liable to be blinded by the old and the new, the broad and the narrow, the left and the right, the progressive and the passé, the innovator and the traditionalist, the crusader and the coward. You have one hope to find a path that exalts Christ and does justice: namely, an infallible, Spirit-illumined Bible in the colorful community of the redeemed.

Any Blindness Is Deadly

Don’t try to make a case that blindness to Colossians 3:11 is less, or more, deadly than blindness to Colossians 2:14 or 1:16. The double root of Christ’s eternal deity, and the great substitution of himself to bear our guilt, which produces the fruit of his blood-bought, racially unified bride, are not alternatives. Root and the fruit can never be alternatives.

Christ created all things. He sustains all things. He bought a multi-ethnic people by his blood. He rose bodily from the dead, and he is making us one. All of this, not some of this, is his glory. Hold fast to the whole glory of Christ, you who are young. And God may grant that we who are older will look down from heaven and see better days.