Dying to Racism, Living to God
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
John Stott says, “Everybody is either held captive by the law because he is still awaiting the fulfillment of the promise or delivered from the law because he has inherited the promise. More simply, everybody is living either in the Old Testament or in the New, and derives his religion either from Moses or from Jesus…he is either ‘under law’ or ‘in Christ’.”
The false teachers of Galatia were living in the Old Testament. They had heard the gospel message and rejected it as unbiblical. They could not stomach the thought of God justifying sinners apart from their obedience to the law. So, instead of opening their hearts to God’s free gift and accepting his grace, they set themselves apart from him, clinging to their misunderstanding of the law of Moses. But the problem, as it is with every heretic, is they thought they were being faithful to God. However, any theology that minimizes the need for Christ’s death is not only bad theology, it is dangerous theology—anti-biblical.
Paul, on the other hand, lived in the New Testament, a land flowing with milk and honey. His journey there is as important as his citizenship now. Paul did not land in the New Testament without first traveling through the Old Testament. He did not inherit salvation without first finding condemnation in the law. He walked through the valley of the shadow of eternal death and found Jesus’ hand reaching out for him. When he grabbed hold, Jesus transferred him to a new land.
So it must be for all of us. We must journey through the law to find grace. That’s why Paul says before faith came, we were held captive under the law. The law was our guardian until Christ came, helping us see our need. But when the need has been met fully in Christ, we no longer need to go back under the law again. We can reside in the land of the living, leaving the valley of dry bones to rot in the sun.
In this new land of the New Testament, there is no separation between us. We are united to Christ and therefore to one another. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is no male and female. There is one people of God, indistinguishable from one another because we share in Christ’s righteousness. In the land of the false teachers, a caste system remains, with levels of justification. But in Christ’s kingdom, there is Jesus, our head, and us, his body.
I want to focus on one important topic. Remember Galatians 2:11-14, when Paul opposed Peter to his face. Why did Paul oppose him? When certain Jews came from Jerusalem, Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentiles to eat with the Jews. Peter, who knew the gospel, stepped outside the gospel with his racism. Paul rightly saw this as an anti-gospel move and called Peter out on it. Peter’s racism wasn’t a private problem, it was a public heresy. He spurned the unity Christ created between the Gentiles and Jews in his gospel. He didn’t realize what he was doing, but Paul did. Paul understood Christ demolished racism on the cross by saving all men the same way. There is no Jew nor Greek, black nor white, superior nor inferior. We are all one.
Our country needs this message. Our racist history bleeds into our present. We may all live on the same street, but the ghost of white supremacy haunts the alleys, so we build our walls and bar our windows. But Christ destroys those barriers with his gospel. That’s why in our day, with so much racial tension, we see racism as a gospel issue. We cannot proclaim Christ as Lord on Sunday, propping up our white skin up as preeminent on Monday. We must not erase the colors, but rather see all colors as equal inheritors of the blessing of Christ. We are one—now and forever.
Unfortunately, racism is still an issue in the church. We don’t like to think that’s true, but if Peter fell into it, and we who live in a country with such profound racism find ourselves unable to fall into it, we aren’t being wise as serpents nor innocent as doves. We’re being wolves in the midst of sheep, persecuting our minority brothers and sisters with a false appearance of unity when Jesus calls us to the real thing. We must not only admit our racial bias inside, we must take active steps of reconciliation as we follow Jesus into the hard things of our world. It’s true, this shouldn’t even be an issue, and I wish it weren’t. One day it won’t be. But here, today, we must face the truth of the racist inside us all because the gospel is at stake. What we say we believe can be undone with what we do with what we believe.
Galatians 3:28 is clear. Paul does not diminish the racial tension. He defeats the racial tension with Christ’s cross. He looks it in the face and brings the gospel to bear on it. We need nothing less today. We are all one in Christ Jesus. But we can understate Paul’s point far too easily. He’s not calling us to racial diversity in our churches. He’s calling us to racial reconciliation in our churches.
Racial reconciliation is not less than racial diversity—you can’t reconcile unless you’re in the same room—but it is far more than racial diversity. Racial reconciliation is a positive movement of love toward Christians of another race, just as Paul’s move toward the Gentiles was one of love and the Gentiles’ move toward Paul and all other Jews was one of love. In America, the majority culture owes it to the minority to make the first move. Our racist past is the fault of our ancestors. It's on us to move toward them, rather than waiting on us to move toward us.
We will face opposition as soon as we do this. The enemy hates racial reconciliation, but Jesus died for it. So whatever the cost, we must endure, resting in the Spirit’s power to help and direct. When we move together positively toward Jesus, we find that he moves us together positively toward one another. In his grace, Christ will separate us from the world, but he will unite us to our brothers and sisters in him, regardless of skin color.
What we want no longer matters. Our wants were never right, anyway. The gospel calls us to lay our personal preferences and wicked sins at the foot of Christ’s bloody cross. When we’re ready to do that, moment by moment, over the course of our life, we will find that Jesus not only cleanses us from all sin, he brings us into fellowship with one another. The beauty of the gospel shines when people of all races live together in unity before Christ. After all, it’s our future. Why not live it out today and show the world what God’s grace can really do?
“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)
In his death, Jesus killed racism. If we have died with him, we've died to racism too, and we now live to God. If racism is still alive in our heart, we must ask the hard question: have we died with Christ, or are we just playing opossum?