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Upholding the Dignity of All People

Theological grounds for combatting racism and embracing diversity

Jarvis J. Williams

The Bible clearly teaches that God created all humans in his image (Gen. 1:26–27). The concept of human dignity, for example, is a biblical truth because God created humans in his image. 

In my view, Christians should not show loyalty to any organization, on the left, in the middle, or on the right, that seeks to undermine what God clearly sets forth in Scripture as his biblical and theological vision for redemptive kingdom diversity and human flourishing. We ought to work with our fellow image-bearers in society and in ways consistent with our biblical and theological convictions and with our Christian conscience to promote human flourishing for all people whenever possible. 

What is needed is a sustainable biblical and theological guide for the people of God in our pursuit of redemptive kingdom diversity because God’s vision is grounded in his redemptive purposes for his people and the entire creation through his Son, Jesus Christ, and because this vision is empowered by the Spirit.

When Jesus’s substitutionary death absorbed God’s wrath for sinners (Rom. 3:25; 5:8–10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:14–15; 3:13–14; Eph. 1:2–22), it also disarmed all earthly and demonic powers of evil (Col. 1:15–20; 2:14–15). Racism is one of those sins for which Jesus absorbed God’s wrath and one of those earthly and demonic powers that his death disarms. Racism is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and against God’s vision of a redeemed and unified creation through Christ (Rom. 3:24, 29; Gal. 1:4; 2:16; 3:1–5:26; Eph. 1:7, 14; 2:11–3:9).

God recreates through Christ, out of different tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations, one new (but diverse) people commanded to live in pursuit of reconciled community with one another and with their neighbors now in anticipation of the age to come (Isa. 52:12–53:10; 65:17–25; Rom. 8:19–22; Gal. 5:13–6:15; Eph. 2:11–5:20; Rev. 5:6–9; 21–22). Christians should intentionally pursue love of neighbor because God through Christ gives us the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit and because God’s Word commands us to walk in love in the power of the Spirit and by no means to fulfill the lust of the flesh (Isa. 65:17–25; John 17:1–26; Acts 2; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:17–21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13–14; 4:4–6; 5:13–14; 6:10; Eph. 2:11–3:12).

One way Christians walk in the Spirit is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Gal. 5:13–14, 22; 6:2; cf. Lev. 19:18). We should not use our freedom in Christ to pursue our sinful passions in accordance with the flesh (Gal. 5:13, 17–21). Those who live to gratify their flesh will not inherit eternal life (5:16–6:10). Being complicit in racism is proof that one is perhaps enslaved to the flesh and to its seductive powers of evil (5:17, 19–21), rather than enslaved to love by the power of the Spirit as a citizen of the kingdom (Matt. 5–7; Gal. 5:13–6:10).

God’s kingdom is an “already but not yet” kingdom, whose king is a Jewish Messiah. The kingdom is filled with diverse ethnicities, diverse dialects, and diverse nationalities of beautiful image-bearers from all over the globe who have tasted the salvation of the one God, the one Lord, and the one Spirit by faith in Christ, and who have participated in the one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). The diverse people of God are redeemed by God to live in obedience to him and to the gospel of Jesus Christ until Jesus returns.

The New Testament gives clear imperatives for citizens of the kingdom to obey the teachings of Jesus and the gospel (Matt. 5–7; Gal. 2:14; Phil. 1:27; 1 Pet. 4:17) as we walk in love in the power of the Spirit with fellow image-bearers inside and outside of the church (Gal. 5:13–26; 6:10). Practically, members of God’s kingdom must lovingly oppose racism in step with the Spirit, whenever and wherever it appears, because we are new creatures in Christ with the full force of the gospel and with common grace resources and common sense (Rom. 13; 2 Cor. 5:17–21; Gal. 5:21; 6:15; Eph. 2:11–22). When fellow image-bearers from any group dehumanize those within or outside of their group because of racism, Christians’ love for one another and for our neighbors should compel us to state both with scriptural authority and with absolute clarity that such behavior is a sin against God and neighbor (Gen. 1:26–27; Gal. 5:13–6:10). God’s image-bearers should never disrespect, dishonor, or dehumanize one another.

Christians must be vigilant in our commitment to Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be careful about the words we use to express any biblical truth, for the devil is like a roaring lion going throughout the earth seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Still, as a Black (with a multiethnic heritage) Christian pastor of Asian, Black, Brown, and White brothers and sisters, I thank God that Genesis 1:26–27 clearly states that God created all humans in his image and bestows upon us God-given dignity, that he promises to redeem us, to reconcile us to himself and to one another through Christ, and to restore the entire creation through Christ. When racism seeks to dehumanize fellow image-bearers at either a personal or systemic level, Christians everywhere should be able to stand up and assert without hesitation, with absolute clarity, and with their Bibles open, that racism is evil because God created humans in his image (Gen. 1:26–27) and because God in Christ redeems some from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). Therefore, all Christians should read, listen to, preach, obey, and faithfully apply in their normal rhythms of life and in their own social locations what the Bible clearly says about human dignity and redemptive kingdom diversity, from the womb to the tomb, with their Bibles open and with common grace and a common sense in the power of the Spirit!

This piece was adapted and used by permission from Jarvis J. Williams’ Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God (Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021). You can order a copy here: http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.