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Tony Evans - Grace to Race

Tony Evans - Grace to Race
TOPICS: Grace, Racism

One of the most daunting issues that we've had to grapple with as a country and as a culture is the issue of race. The problem of race has dominated us from beginning to end, and every day in one form or another it hits us in the face, and we wonder often, "Is there ever going to be a solution to this problem that lives in infamy in our minds, in our hearts, and in our relationship"? One of the things that has divided people along political, social, cultural, and class lines is the issue of race and the sin of racism. I'll never forget my first confrontation with racism at about ten years old when my father was driving me in Baltimore past a White Tower Restaurant and I asked my dad about getting a hamburger, and he informed me we couldn't go in there to eat because they didn't allow Negroes, as he would say then, into the place.

Confused, I wanted to get a little clarity on why, and he began to give me my basic orientation to the problem of race and to the problem of racism. It became more amplified growing up in Baltimore when I found out that there were some, quote unquote, evangelical churches that we could not visit or go in because of segregation and illegitimate divisiveness. And so that began a journey for me to look at this subject not only culturally, but biblio-centrically and theologically. The issue of race is not new or unique to us. It was replete in biblical times as well. For example, in Numbers chapter 12 there was an interracial marriage between Moses and an African woman. Twice in verse 1 she's called the Cushite, the African woman that Moses married. This caused a sibling chaotic abandonment of their brother and spiritual leader of the nation because of the interracial marriage to a Black woman.

So incensed was God at their racist mentality at the institution of marriage that he himself had established that God came down and he judged them, particularly Miriam, his sister, turning her skin white until she repented of her racism. What exactly is racism? Racism is a conscious or unconscious belief in the superiority of one race over another race that manifests itself in the use of power or influence or resources or communication used to reject or oppress people of another ethnicity, and it has imbibed itself not only in individual hearts, but in structural realities, so that whether it's economic or social structures or political structures or educational structures or medical structures, they filter themselves through so that whether known or unknown it becomes just the way people accept as normal ways to operate.

What makes it worse is when this attitude and/or action finds its way in the life of God's people, and the reality is that unless we can fix it in the church house, why would we expect it to be transformational in the culture? So rather than skip the issue, since God doesn't skip the issue and since we are continually in this mirage and this mix of racial confusion and calamity, why don't we appeal to the Word of God to understand how we are to relate to one another in the church house so that we can bring transformation all the way up to the White House? Because when God's people can get it right, then we have something to offer the culture.

When writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul spends the first half of the chapter talking about the magnificent grace of God. He tells us we are saved by grace through faith. He tells us that in the ages to come God wants to manifest his grace. He comes in verse 10 and he says it's because of this grace that we are now workers. We need to get to work and get the job done now that we've been redeemed by Jesus Christ. But curiously, when he finishes talking about grace, he goes to race. He moves from grace to race and he says that the first work of saved people, of people who name Jesus Christ, ought to be the work of racial reconciliation. He says that the very first thing, because in verse 10 he tells us about our work.

But then beginning in verse 11 all the way through verse 22 he talks about race, that grace should lead to fixing the problems of race. Or to put it another way, if you aren't, if I'm not, if we're not fixing the problem of race, it's because we haven't fully understood the glory of grace. And he comes and he opens it up to the biggest racial problem in the New Testament. It was the problem between the Jews and the Gentiles. "Therefore, based on the grace of God that ought to produce the work in the people of God, remember that you formerly the Gentiles in the flesh who were called uncircumcised by the so-called circumcision which is performed in the flesh by human hands".

The uncircumcised were the Gentiles. The circumcised were the Jews. And like the Berlin Wall that separated NATO from Warsaw, there was a division not to be crossed. The Jews rejected the Gentiles. They were not racially pure. They were not religiously acceptable. And there was a divide between the two, but now both were claiming the same faith. Paul speaks into this calamity and he says, "Now that you're saved, you got to fix this". The problem of race that leads to racism in other form and all of its form of inequities is because we bring our histories with us. The Gentiles only knew how to be Gentiles and the Jews only knew how to be Jewish, but yet they find themselves sharing the same faith and now belonging to the same church. But they brought their past with them.

You and I know it's not easy to let go of yesterday, especially when you're used to it or maybe there's pain in it, but yet now you're this new creature in Christ. And how do we fix this rather than have it go on year after year, decade after decade, century after century? And so it was that these Jews and Gentiles, or to put it in everyday language, Black and White, or Hispanic and Black, or whatever the group is, yesterday can be so confining to how you were raised, what you were taught, what you experienced. He says, "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, making both groups into one; and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing it in his flesh, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace".

Now, these are Christians he's writing, but they weren't at peace. They were in conflict with one another. Four times between these verses up through verse 17 he uses the word peace, peace, peace, peace, and he says that this peace comes with an understanding of what you are now. Christians across the racial line, color line, culture line, and class line have not understood the root of what has happened. When you come to Jesus Christ, we bring all of that stuff and fight over it because we're not going back to the root. He says when you come to Christ, God is not trying to fix something old. He's trying to make something new. He calls it one new man, not fixing two old racial people. He does not mean by this you lose your identity. What he is saying is your previous identity is no longer your point of reference.

Let me say that again. He's not saying Jews and Gentiles aren't Gentiles because he talks about Jews and Gentiles throughout all of his letters. What he is saying is that this new thing, this new relationship is your starting point for everything else in your experience with one another and how you are to view yourself. The moment that this new relationship in Christ is not the starting point for your racial identity, you will forever live in racial conflict and confusion and debate and crisis, why? Because you're starting at the wrong place. He says he himself is our peace.

In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, "I'm crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I. Christ lives in me. The life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me". You know what Paul is saying? "I'm Christian first, that he is my identity, and he is my point of reference". Now, you know when he said that? He said that in the midst of a racial problem because Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. He found out that the Gentiles could cook. He started eating with the Gentiles. And so he started eating with them until his boys from the hood showed up. Beginning in Galatians 2, verse 11 when his Jewish brethren showed up, he left the Gentiles 'cause his Jewish brethren wouldn't accept the Gentiles and he didn't want to lose acceptance in his own race.

And Paul says, "When I saw that he was not acting in concert with the truth of the gospel, I confronted Peter before them all because he was embarrassing the cross. I don't care what his background was. I don't care what his racial identity was. He was messing with Jesus Christ". What we have not discovered in our racial conflict and confusion is that we're messing with Jesus Christ because he is our peace. He is our point of reference. He is the one who has established one new man. Or to put it in everyday language, you are Christian first and your color, your culture must adapt to that. My color and culture, I don't lose it, I adapt it. I adapt it to my relationship with Jesus Christ, which means he overrules it. That's why you can't say first of all, "I'm a Black Christian," or a White Christian because then you make Black and White an adjective, you make Christian a noun, and it's the job of the adjective to modify the noun.

So if you've got Christianity in the noun position and your color in the adjectival position, you've got to keep adjusting the noun of your humanity, the noun of your faith to the adjective of your humanity. You've got to put Christianity in the adjectival position, your color and your culture in the noun position. So if anything changes, it is the noun of your humanity and not the adjective of your faith. Until Black Christians, White Christians, Asian Christians, Hispanic Christians decide, "I am Christian first and I don't have to lose my culture, I don't have to give up my culture, but I must submit it to the authority of Christ when it comes in conflict with him".

You say, "How can we all get along with all of these differences"? He says, you know, oil and water doesn't mix. Their makeup doesn't allow them to integrate. Their makeup doesn't allow them to unify. And as soon as you force them together, they're going to go back to their own political aisle, social aisles, you know. I get mayonnaise because of emulsification, that even though oil and water can't get along, when I introduce the egg, I have created something new without oil becoming less than oil and water becoming less than water. But I've created something brand new. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to create something new, to create something that the world has never seen, to create a brand new church under the lordship of Jesus Christ without us losing our uniqueness, but creating something new because Jesus is our peace. He is the one who establishes a whole different way of operating. One new man.

And he uses this concept, this truth to let us know that, verse 16, he might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross. Jesus Christ wants to reconcile. These are two races. He wants to bring harmony, unity, togetherness, and he wants to do it through the cross. See, the cross is not a 2,000-year-old relic. It is a contemporary reality, why? Because the cross was established, watch this, to deal with sin. Did you hear that? We spend our time wanting to talk about skin. The cross was established to deal with sin, but we want to spend all of our time talking about skin. And if you spend all of your time talking about skin, you're going to miss sin, 'cause the only reason there's a problem with skin is 'cause we won't address the sin.

You don't reconcile by simply saying, "Let's all get along. Let's meet together. Let's have Kumbaya services together". No, you must identify the sin, apply the cross, address the sin through repentance so that the reconciling work of Jesus Christ can be ignited. We mentioned the cross, but the cross is not the final say-so. And that's why he says having been built together, he says in verse 20, on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. The cornerstone was the alignment stone that you lined up all the other stones with. It lined things up. Like a surveyor lines things up, the cornerstone lined things up. And he says based on, watch this, the apostles and the prophets.

Now, the apostles and the prophets were set up for the writing of the Word of God. So when he talks about the prophets and the apostles, they're not just people, they are biblical authors. So what is he saying? He is saying if you're going to align with Christ, you have to align with the Word of God. But what we've got people doing, Christians, is going secular and then have the audacity to judge the sacred, the inerrant, errorless, perfect Word of God by their secular university or by their secular, the Bible calls it human wisdom, man's thoughts. No, you don't get to have man's. That's why all this education we got and we still haven't solved the racial problem, you know why? 'Cause we starting in the wrong place. We're not starting with what God says about race.

Black is beautiful when it's biblical. White is only right when it agrees with holy writ. And until you start there, then you will not be seeing the emulsification of Jesus Christ and the power of the cross to deal with the sin of racism so that there can be biblio-centric reconciliation. He says we're reconciled through the blood. In Acts 17, verse 26 Paul says there's only one race. Many ethnicities, but there's only one race. See, we even got the concept of race all mixed up. God expresses himself in a multiplicity of ways, but he says, "Unless you understand where I am in this process and that I have set this thing up for there to be differences so that the whole body can benefit from the differences, you're going to argue your point, somebody is going to argue their point, and you will never have reconciliation 'cause you won't create something new".

So important is this issue of reconciliation. So important, the Bible says in Romans chapter 16, verse 17, watch out for folk who bring division in the church not in accordance with the teaching of Christ. Watch out for racists in the church. 'Cause you don't come into the church of Jesus Christ and bring your secular rules, you come into the church of Jesus Christ to get the teachings of Christ and to adjust to that. And if Anglo pastors would have taken their stand and say, "You don't bring White culture into the church and deny people equal opportunity, equal access to worship the living God, you don't get to do that in the church of the living God".

Now, maybe there were some problems. Maybe there was some inequities. Maybe there was some pain. Yes, we must show empathy. We must say, "I see you were hurt. I see you were struggling. And we will walk with you in empathy, but you don't let empathy change the rules". You don't say, "Because I'm being empathetic, Christ no longer has the final say-so". We love you to the teachings of Christ. He says watch those who would divide the church. Why? Because as the book of John chapter 17, verse 24 says, "Perfect them in unity so that they will see my glory".

You know why the church isn't seeing God's glory? It's because we're illegitimately racially divided. We use our culture and our race as an excuse not to reconcile, and as a result the world doesn't have a model to look at. So we're fighting in here and they're fighting out there. We just sanctify our fight with a little Jesus on top. I love the way the scripture puts it. The scripture says in Colossians 1, verses 19 to 23 that if you want to see God, you better focus on reconciliation, because Christ came to reconcile people, reconcile people vertically to him, reconcile people horizontally to one another.

It's time for racism to end. It is time for the racists to confess their sins. It is time for those who refuse to forgive to confess the sin of unforgiveness. No justice, no peace. Got that. No forgiveness, no peace. You better get that. Both must be simultaneously true for the one new man, why? Because of this scripture in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. Listen to what he says. He says beginning in verse 16, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh". Oh yeah, he did. You don't judge people by their earth suit. You don't judge people by the color of their skin, their flesh, their physical humanity. He says we know no man. We don't judge anybody by their whiteness or blackness or brownness.

That's not where we start. We don't look at people like that. That was the old life. That's how hell looks at people first. He says now that you know Jesus Christ, that's never the starting point. He says if people are in Christ, they are a new creature. Now look at verse 18. Now all things are from God, that's our new reference point, "who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us," here it is, "the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them; and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ".

You know what an ambassador is? An ambassador is somebody who goes to another country on behalf of their country to represent their country on foreign soil. He says you are an ambassador for heaven. You're on earth. That's the foreign country. But you are an ambassador from heaven. And what's your ambassadorship about? The ministry of reconciliation. And don't get so high and mighty that you forget you're an ambassador for another country, and you and I and we should be agents and ministers of reconciliation. There ought to be healing, you ought to be healing stuff wherever you go, why? Because Christ forgave you. So you got to help folk forgive each other so that we can, addressing the sin. Not skipping the sin, but going toward the reconciliation as the goal.

Let me tell you something as we wind down. John said in Revelation chapter 7, verse 9, he looked up in heaven, and guess what he saw? He saw people from every nation, every tribe, every kindred, and every tongue, and he said he saw them. So there were visual differences. So whatever you are is what you forever are going to be. So anybody who doesn't like who they are, you have insulted God. You don't have the right if you Black to want to be White, and you don't have the right if you White to want to be Black, 'cause you are who he is and what you're ever going to be 'cause God has set it up for eternity to operate that way.

In the meantime, you and I are supposed to be modeling what is going to be there by how we're working it out down here. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Folks, you see a little bit of reconciliation there, 'cause forever we're going to be reconciled up there. So, let's get it on. Let's get it on and let's give the world something to see that overrides racism, that overrides evil, whether it's individual or structural, and that demonstrates what the kingdom of God looks like when people are held to that standard, which will fix the things that are wrong in their lives. Because now they're not trying to please another race, they're trying to please the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
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