In the past few months the subject of racism has been in the forefront of most Americans’ minds. Either individual racism or systemic racism, everyone has been talking or thinking about it and hopefully examining our own minds and hearts regarding such ideas. As Christians we should always be examining and re-examining our thinking in order to help us become more Christ-like. None of us are beyond falling into wrong and sinful thinking. Even the “heroes of the faith” had to deal with such issues.
This morning was reading in Galatians chapter 2 and even though I’ve read this book a dozen times, something new stuck out to me (don’t you just love how the Word does that?) I realized that in one of my favorite books of the New Testament, the subject of racism within the church is brought up. In verse 11-21 Paul addresses racism in the church.
“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!””
Who is this racism being perpetrated by? None other than the apostle Peter(Cephas). And as Paul puts it “I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned”. If you think about it, the 11 disciples were all Jewish and had been raised with the mindset that they shouldn’t associate with those outside of their people (because originally the Law said for them not to intermarry with non-Jews in order for them to keep them from falling into the worship of false gods, which the surrounding people groups had. It was also to keep their people of a pure line for Christ to come from it), but that was no longer in effect because Christ had come. Christ offered salvation to all who simply believed in Him and even told his disciples to “go make disciples in all nations”. But how far did the disciples make it? Not too much further than out of their own back door. That’s why Paul was brought in. The disciples were too stuck in their ways of Judaism and didn’t want to associate with non-Jews. That’s why Paul opposes Peter to his face telling him he was a hypocrite. We know Peter previously had racial issues as early as the book of Acts when Luke records it in Acts 10. God reveals to Peter that there was no difference between Jew and Gentile (over a decade prior to he and Paul’s confrontation). We see that although Peter said he understood and he felt comfortable enough to hang out with gentiles, the minute those of Jewish heritage came by he acted like he had nothing to do with the gentiles. He was embarrassed to be seen with non-Jews. He was being a hypocrite. His national and racial pride got in the way of his witness for Christ and it even caused other believers to be confused and stumble. And Paul rightly calls him on it. Being proud of your heritage and your country isn’t wrong in and of itself, but we should never allow those things to be a hinderance to the Gospel and to living like Christ. Paul understood this concept when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 :
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
We must be willing to cast off the things we hold dear if they are a hinderance to our witness. Our identity must be found first and foremost in Christ. As believers, our citizenship is in the coming Kingdom of God. Positionally we are “seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). As citizens of the coming Kingdom we should be ambassadors of that Kingdom and of Christ and treat people as such. We should seek to become aware of the burdens of others and be willing to carry each other’s burdens. On this subject pastor Andy Stanley beautifully says:
“When a slice of my culture gets in the way of loving and valuing another human being, that slice of my culture must be temporarily or even perhaps permanently retired. Otherwise I many never step over the line to carry your burden.”
Stanley goes on to say,
“When the concerns of others become my concerns, and I act on those concerns, I am fulfilling the Law of Christ. And when the law of Christ informs our collective conscience, or our national conscience we will find common ground even when we don’t share common culture or common experience. You’ll know you’re getting this right when white culture and black culture becomes secondary to the one-another culture introduced by Jesus Christ.”
I think it’s important for us looking back on this to see how Paul reacts to Peter’s actions. Paul was the Pharisee of Pharisees and was once a part of the most hypocritical groups there was. He knew what it was like to be in that mindset but God literally and figuratively opened his eyes to the truth. While the original disciples didn’t go that much further than their own back yards, God used Paul to reach people in Asia and Europe (at least 2 different race/people groups than what he was a part of). He opened himself to the Lord’s will and the Lord used him in ways that are still impacting the world today. God stripped away what racial, religious, national, or political obstructions Paul had and allowed him to freely serve all, regardless of their citizenship, race, or religion. I suggest we be open and humble and allow God to do that to us.
Racism in the church is nothing new. Neither is confronting it and calling it out. But when we do so, we must always do it seasoned with grace and love, while still being stern. We should always make sure to use scripture, rather than our own opinions when confronting others because it isn’t about what we think, it’s about what God says. Our goal is not to shame people for the sake of shaming them, our goal should be to reveal to them the dissonance in their own thinking and to point them back on the path of Christ. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.