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God’s provisions for racial reconciliation

May 12, 2014

In my first blog on racial reconciliation, I proposed a gospel-centered vision for racial reconciliation. I suggested that the historic fall of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden and sin are the fundamental reasons why racism exists and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution to the problem of racism. This sin entered God’s original, perfect creation through the disobedient act of humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17; 3:1-19). Their act of disobedience to God’s demand brought a universal curse on the entire creation. One aspect of this curse is enmity between humanity (Gen. 3:15; 11:1-9). Consequently, no natural means (neither governmental policies nor a movement as powerful as the Civil Rights movement) is capable of eradicating the problem of racism because racism is a theological and a spiritual problem (Eph. 2:1-10). In this blog, I propose that Jesus’ death and resurrection are God’s provisions for racial reconciliation. I will support this assertion by considering New Testament texts that present both Jesus’ death for all sins and for all nations and his resurrection from the dead as God’s provisions for all forms of racial hostility.

The universal power and problem of sin

In Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul offers a stinging indictment against Jews and Gentiles: Namely, both groups have sinned. They've failed to honor God to the degree that he demands, and are consequently guilty before him. Neither Jewish particularity nor Gentile ignorance will justify sinners in God’s law-court (Rom. 2:1-24). To the contrary, Paul asserts that neither group will be justified in God’s law-court by works of law because both groups fail to meet God’s standard of obedience and because both groups are in bondage to the law due to sin’s power (Rom. 2:1-3:20).

In Romans 5:12, Paul highlights the universal power of sin by emphasizing the root cause of it: Adam’s transgression. Paul asserts that Adam’s transgression introduced sin, physical death, and spiritual death into the world with the result that all sin. In the words of Romans 3:23, Adam’s transgression resulted in all people sinning and falling short of God’s glory. Paul develops the universal power and problem of sin even further when he describes sin as an evil tyrant that reigns over sinners (Rom. 6:12, 14) and when he argues that the universal power of sin increased when the law of Moses entered into history (Rom. 7:7-24).

According to Paul, the power of sin manifests itself in a variety of different ways. One way sin’s ugly face shows itself in the real world is by means of racism. This becomes apparent in Romans 14-15 by means of the presence of Jewish and Gentile divisions in the church. Interpreters disagree about the first century social setting that provoked Paul to write these words. In my view, Romans 14:1-15:13 reflects ethno-racial tensions between Jews and Gentiles. At a sociological level, these tensions probably arose in the Roman congregations due to the Gentile Christian minority becoming the majority in the Roman churches after the Roman emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). Once Jewish Christians returned to Rome after Claudius’ edict expired, they likely found themselves to be the ethnic minority in the Roman churches, which were largely Jewish congregations prior to their expulsion.

In these verses, Paul’s comments suggest that ethno-racial tension due to some form of racism/ethno-centrism was alive and well in first century Christianity. For example, Paul uses ethno-racial language throughout these chapters. He refers to Jewish food restrictions (Rom. 14:2-3, 6, 15, 17, 20-21), the Jewish Messiah (Rom. 15:5-6, 8), Jewish circumcision (Rom 15:8) and he refers to Gentiles as recipients of God’s salvation in Jesus along with Jewish Christians (Rom. 15:9, 11, 12). The division between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman congregations becomes apparent from Paul’s exhortations to receive one another (Rom. 14:1; 15:7), not to judge one another (Rom. 14:13) and to bear the weaknesses of one another (Rom. 15:1). He more explicitly identifies the alienation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11) when he asserts that the latter had no ethnic connection to God’s promises of salvation to the Jewish people prior to their faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Thus, sin firstly alienates people from God and secondly from one another. But God offered Jesus as the provision and the solution to the sin problem that produced a racism problem. The ethno-racial inclusive nature of God’s offering of Jesus for Jews and Gentiles is evident in Romans 3:29-30 when he asserts that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus Christ (see also Rom. 4:1-25).

God’s provision for racial reconciliation: Jesus’ substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection

After Paul argues that Jews and Gentiles are guilty before God and under his just condemnation due to their sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20), he then argues that God offered Jesus Christ to pay for their sins in order to justify them by faith and to incorporate them into the people of God (Rom. 3:21-4:25). In Romans 3:21-22 and in 3:24, Paul discusses God’s saving righteousness and justification. He asserts that God’s saving righteousness is revealed apart from the law by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-22). In Romans 3:22b-23, he expresses that God’s revelation of his righteousness is by faith because Jews and Gentiles have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God regardless of ethnic distinction. In Romans 3:24, Paul continues that all must be freely justified (declared to be in the right) by God’s grace through the redemption provided by Jesus’ death. To be justified by God’s grace in Romans 3:24 is a verbal way of referring to the revelation of God’s righteousness by faith in Romans 3:21-22. In Romans 4:6-8, Paul states that the reason God renders the verdict of not guilty upon those who have faith in Jesus Christ is because God reckoned/counted to Jesus’ account the sinners’ sins and he reckoned/counted to the sinners’ account Christ’s righteousness. This reckoning of sin to Christ’s account and this reckoning of righteousness to the sinners’ account exonerate sinners in God’s law-court. In Romans 3:28-30, Paul uses ethno-racial vocabulary in the context of justification. He asserts that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles since he declares to be in the right both groups by faith and makes both groups his people by faith in Jesus Christ.

However, why does God accept both Jews and Gentiles by faith and why does he justify them by faith even though they are still sinners (Rom. 3:23; 5:8)? The answer is in Romans 3:25: God offered Jesus to be a substitutionary atonement for Jews and Gentiles so that he would propitiate his wrath due to their sins and so that he would forgive them of their sins by faith. Paul confirms this in Romans 4:7-8 and 4:25 when he affirms that God does not count the transgressions of the justified against the transgressors who have faith in Jesus (4:7-8) because he handed Jesus over in death as a substitute for their sins and raised him from the dead to achieve their justification (Rom. 4:24-25). The sufficiency of Jesus’ death for sinners is certain because God also raised him up from the dead for their justification. Consequently, the gospel of the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Lord and Christ freely offers to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation God’s solution for the problem of racism and his provision for racial reconciliation. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the one and true living God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the God of Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 3:21-29).