Introduction

Throughout many cities angry protests and riots erupted against racism. Recent events reveal that racism remains a serious and volatile issue in our nation and in countries around the world. Racism is not a modern problem; it has plagued mankind for thousands of years. Throughout history, mankind has discriminated and mistreated others because of skin color, class, age, culture, or other differences. Although we have fought racism for centuries, it still remains an unresolved issue that we cannot resolve by human effort alone. Overcoming racism will take more than just protests or new legislation because the problem is much deeper than that.  How can we overcome the evil of racism? The first step in overcoming racism is to identify the cause. The problem of racism is not new; it goes back to the beginning.

Roots of Racism

What are the roots of racism? Naturalists (those who do not believe in a creator) have difficulty explaining the origin of racism. Elizabeth Culotta of Science Magazine writes:

Some “…prejudice apparently stems from deep evolutionary roots and a universal tendency to form coalitions and favor our own side. And yet what makes a “group” is mercurial: In experiments, people easily form coalitions based on meaningless traits such as preferring one painter over another—and then favor others in their “group,” giving them more money in games, for example. “In arbitrarily constructed, meaningless groups with no history, people still think that those in their ingroup are smarter, better, more moral, and more just than members of outgroups,” says Harvard University psychologist James Sidanius.[1]

It appears that many secular psychologists suggest that the roots of racism are humanly-constructed barriers of the mind. If the source of racism is faulty or delusional thinking, we should be able to defeat this erroneous mindset through education or psychological reprogramming of the mind. Despite the great efforts in education, media, and legislation, racism continues to persist. I believe there is a better and deeper answer to the roots of racism, and it is found in the creation account.

In the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, they were perfect. Genesis 2:25 states that they were “both naked and were not ashamed.” Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship filled with full trust and vulnerability. There was no fear of being hurt or exploitation upon one or the other. Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and with one another.

This all changed in Genesis 3. This perfect relationship was shattered when they chose to disobey God and eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:7 states, “Their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked and made fig leaves.” The results were not only anticlimactic but lethal. Their eyes (meaning their understanding) were opened while the hope for divine wisdom did not come to fruition. Their world was turned upside down. They knew more, but that additional knowledge was evil. They saw more, but what they now saw was a distorted and skewed view of reality. Mistrust and alienation replaced the security and intimacy they had enjoyed. In their fear of one another, they attempted to cover themselves with leaves.[2]

Their perfect relationship with each other had been shattered. Then they tried to hide from God because their perfect relationship with God had been broken. Sin created mistrust and severely damaged the two most intimate relationships a person will ever experience: the relationship between 1) God and man; and 2) husband and wife. From this moment, our fallen nature which we inherit separates us from God and divides us from one another. This alienation has extended into all relationships. The root cause of racism is sin and our rebellion against God.

This sin nature is still a work in us and continues to lead us to distrust and division. Jesus described the condition of the human heart in Mark 7:21-23:

From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Paul describes in Galatians 5:19-21, how the sin nature manifests itself:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
There is a natural inclination in us to raise ourselves up and exploit others for our use. We are now naturally driven by pride and selfishness. We have a skewed view of reality which leads to a perverted view of others. Instead of seeing others as beings made in the image of God who should be loved, we look at them as items to be used or enemies that must be conquered.
Understand that the cause is not skin color but our sin nature; it is not about race but our rebellion against God.

Sin, like racism, is deeply rooted in our nature and will not be healed through protests, riots, changing of laws, or better economic conditions. These may bring temporary change but not a lasting solution. If you pull weeds by the stem, without pulling the roots, it will quickly grow up and return again. We overcome sin when we first get right with God who then through His spirit transforms our nature and gives us the ability to overcome sin.

History teaches us that because sin is entrenched in the nature of man, evil like racism will not be defeated by even the greatest of human effort alone. Racism remains despite the efforts of men.

Nearly 160 years ago we fought the civil war to end racism in our country. Over two million lives of courageous men were lost in the battle against racism, but it is still here today. Nearly 60 years ago Martin Luther King led great rallies in this nation for equality of all men, and we remember his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” As wonderful as those rallies were and as powerful as his speech was, we still battle against racism today.

The anger and frustration resulting in violence and riots show us that we cannot overcome the giant of racism through human effort alone. We need a power greater than ourselves to overcome the evil of sin. The events of this past week show us how much we need God.

Racism is a sin problem, and we overcome sin when we first get right with God. We get right with God when we confess our sin and seek His forgiveness which comes through His Son Jesus Christ. By believing and trusting in Christ, we are forgiven of our sin and we can have a right standing and a relationship with God.

When God comes into your life, He transforms your mind and heart. This transformation of your nature enables you to love others, even those outside your comfort zone. When we come to faith in Christ, we see people as Christ sees them: they are valuable people made in the image of God who need Jesus Christ. There arises a new willingness in us to reach out beyond our in-group, move beyond the barriers we have built up and sacrificially extend love to people of other cultures. I can’t explain this naturally; it is a supernatural act of God within the human heart.
The root cause of racism is our sin nature, and it requires a transformation of heart and mind which comes when people get right with God. The heart of God is modeled in His son, Jesus Christ.

The Model of Reconciliation

 

Jesus loved all people and broke cultural and racial barriers throughout His ministry. A clear example is seen in John 4. At this time Jews and Samaritans were in a feud that lasted for centuries. Samaritans were Mesopotamian people imported in the 8th century BC when Assyria conquered northern Israel and deported the northern Jews out of Israel. These people settled in northern Israel and intermarried with the Israelites who remained. For this reason, Jews considered the Samaritans to be racial “half-breeds.”

The two groups disputed as to who was more faithful in following the law of God and on whose land proper worship belonged. The Jews worshipped at Jerusalem, but the Samaritans had their own holy mountain where they worshipped, Mt. Gerazim. Jews publicly cursed Samaritans in their synagogues, would not allow Samaritan testimony in Jewish courts, and generally considered Samaritans excluded from eternal life.[3] In fact, Jews traveling from the Galilee area in the north would rather lengthen their journey by a few days, going around Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. In John 4, Jesus instead of going around Samaria, went through it. John 4:3-6 states:

Jesus left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Jesus was resting at the well during the noon hour. This is the hottest time of the day, and this is when the Samaritan woman came to draw water. She came at this time because she did not want to interact with anyone from the town. From the story we know, she had a reputation as a sinful woman. As she drew water Jesus asked her for a drink. Stunned by Jesus’ attempt to reach out to her she replied, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Not only was she a Samaritan, she was a woman with a reputation. However, it is to this woman that Jesus engages in a spiritual dialogue, and she is one of the first people He reveals His identity to.

She informs people in her town and they come to see Jesus. John 4:39-43 states, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, …. After the two days he departed for Galilee.” Jesus stayed there an additional two days, teaching and fellowshipping with the Samaritans.

The wounds of racism ran very deep between Jews and Samaritans. Both sides had committed atrocities against one another. Despite this, Jesus broke the barriers and extended love to His adversaries. It is only the Great Physician who can heal such deep wounds that lie in the heart of every person. It is the power of Christ given to us by His Holy Spirit that empowers us to overcome deep-seated sin like racism and love as He loved.

I met Mike Foster in the Philippines where he was serving at the Word of Life Bible Institute. I asked Mike, “How is it that you a Midwestern white American decided to spend the rest of your life in Asia?” Mike told me he served in Vietnam as a marine. During his tour of Vietnam, he witnessed numerous atrocities that still give him nightmares. After the war he returned home and committed his life to Jesus Christ. As he reflected on his time in Vietnam, what stood out to him most significantly was not the cruelties of the war, but the number of lost people in Asia who needed Jesus Christ. More compelling than the brutalities of the war, was the burden to reach those people for Christ.

That’s what happens when people come to Christ: they are transformed by His love. When Jesus is truly Lord of our lives, we cannot help but love others as Jesus loved no matter how deep the wounds may have been inflicted upon us.

We overcome racism and sin when Jesus is truly Lord of our life and our commitment is to walk in the power of His Spirit and obey him even when it means going against our natural inclinations. We will not overcome racism by simply exposing brutal  cops or creating economic equality or electing new government officials. These will bring temporary change, but lasting change can only come through Jesus Christ, the one who can transform hearts and minds. When Christ takes a hold of a person’s life, that individual’s heart becomes like the heart of Jesus. Christ is the model and now His body, the church, must be the living model of Christ.

 

The Church and Racism

The Apostles and the early church struggled with racism. In Acts 6:1, a complaint in the church arose because the Hellenists or gentile widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The early church made up mostly of Jews, reached out to those in their culture. However, God wanted them to take the gospel to the entire world for that is His heart.

In Acts 10 and 11, God thrusts the church outside their comfort zone. In Acts 10, Peter receives a vision from God teaching him that the dietary laws of the Old Covenant have been fulfilled, and we are now under the new Law of Christ. God was preparing Peter for the encounter soon to follow.

At that moment Romans sent by the centurion Cornelius arrive. God had also spoken to Cornelius to send for Peter. Peter goes to the home of Cornelius where Cornelius had gathered his family and friends to meet and listen to Peter. Peter shares the gospel and upon hearing the good news of Christ, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles. Surprised for the moment, Peter realizes salvation is also for the Gentile world. Peter does not leave but remained with them for several days.

Peter returns to Jerusalem and meets with the leaders and receives criticism for fellowshipping with the gentiles. Acts 11:2-3 states, “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’” Peter explains his vision of the end of the dietary laws. Peter gives the account that the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles. After a moment of reflection, the Jerusalem council rejoices that the gentiles are welcome into God’s family. God’s love is greater than the barriers that separate us. The early church learned that God’s heart was for all people and a disciple of Christ must sacrificially reach across the barriers of their culture and extend their hand of fellowship to all. When we do the same, learn a lot about love and we are richly fulfilled because we are getting closer to the heart of God Himself.

I first traveled to the Philippines over 20 years ago. I was fearful about meeting new people in a foreign land. I did not expect to return again after that first trip because I had no particular interest in this nation. I am grateful that God pushed me out of my comfort zone because I grew in immense ways. Although it was a rough few days, I grew to love the people and this wonderful country. Eventually, the fear and discomfort of being in a new culture was replaced by the love of Christ for this wonderful nation and its people. I wish I could say I broke through the barriers first, but it was the Filipino Christians who extended the love of Christ to me that shattered the walls I had put up. Everywhere I go, it is a beautiful thing to see how Jesus breaks the barriers that separate people; however, it begins when we see people as Christ sees them.

 

I believe Christ wants us to see how big, diverse, and colorful His church is. That is why I believe everyone should participate in cross-cultural outreach or missions regularly. When we stay within our culture, we begin to think Christianity is what we see at our church each Sunday. However, the body of Christ is much larger than our Sunday community. I do not believe every church can be multiethnic, multigenerational, and cross all social classes although that is the ideal. In reality, each church establishes its own culture because of the community they are placed in.

 

Thus, we need to work with other churches of various cultures and classes regularly. It is amazing to see and experience how the gospel and the love of Christ break down barriers of skin color, culture, and language. Our hearts grow larger the more we experience the love of Christ displayed through the different races and cultures. The church had to overcome racial prejudice and one church in the New Testament was recognized as a model church.

 

The Model Church

 

In Acts 11:19–21, we read about the church at Antioch:

 

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

 

Many believing Jews evangelized to only their fellow Jews. However, the text states that some broke cultural barriers and evangelized to the gentile world. As a result, the Antioch church became a racially and ethnically mixed church.

 

Darrell Bock states:

 

Antioch reflected a marriage of oriental and Hellenistic life with Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians making up the population. The church with its practice and doctrine represented a distinctly countercultural way of life.”[4]

Bock further states:

The name is significant because it shows that it was the identification with Jesus as the Christ, as the Messiah, that people noticed. It also suggests that a separate identity is emerging for this group, which earlier was appealing to Jews only (Grundmann, TDNT 9:536–37). It may well be that the mixed ethnicity is now forcing the issue of self-identification alongside the believers’ messianic declarations about Jesus.” [5]

The Antioch church is where the disciples of Christ are first called Christians or followers of Christ. The world realized this was not just another Jewish sect following a Jewish Messiah. This was a diverse group of people worshipping Jesus Christ. Their love for Christ created a new community of people of different races and ethnicities. There was no other name that could describe them but followers of Christ.

 

This church leads the way in missions and commission the first missionaries to the gentile lands of Asia Minor and Europe. God is glorified and the church is a powerful witness when the world sees God’s love overcome barriers that keep us apart. The Antioch church was united despite their ethnic diversity because they were focused on fulfilling the Great Commandment and the great commission of Christ.

 

During the time of protesting, I watched ESPN, and the professional athletes shared how sports brings all races together. The reason is because each member of the team is focused on the mission, which is winning. When that is the goal, the color of a person’s skin is not a factor. Away from the competition, the players go their separate ways, but on the field or on the court, they are united because they are focused on the mission of winning. If basketball or football can bring people of all races together for a time, the church should be able to bring all people together around the greatest cause of all. When people are focused on a goal that is bigger than themselves, they unite under that worthy cause. Christians come together when they are focused on living for Jesus Christ and fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ.

If we hope to have a unified church as displayed in Antioch, the church needs to be absolutely committed to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. You must have both. When we are sold out to those two commandments, we can be the model to the world Christ wants us to be.

Conclusion

The problem of racism will not be overcome with protests, or riots, throwing corrupt people in jail, or education. It will be overcome when people get right with God and Christians commit to living completely for Christ to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission. Events we see today show us we cannot defeat the evil of racism by human strength. The world is desperately looking for the solution. I hope they can look at my church and your church and when they do they’ll say, “Hmm, those people seem to have the answer. It must be because of the God they worship; let’s go check it out.”

[1] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/336/6083/825

 

[2] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 137.

[3] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957, 1961, 1966), pp. 958-960. See also John 4:1-45

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 413.

[5] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 416.

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