A guest post by Jarvis J. Williams
In my previous blogs on racial reconciliation, I discussed the need for racial reconciliation and the provision for racial reconciliation. In post 1, I proposed that racism fundamentally exists because of sin. In post 2, I argued that God’s solution to racism and his provision for racial reconciliation is the gospel of Jesus Christ that centers on the cross and resurrection. In this third and final blog on racial reconciliation, I will propose that Jesus’ death for all sins and his resurrection from the dead actually (not hypothetically) accomplished reconciliation for all who trust in him by faith. This post will also suggest that racial reconciliation can be experienced and must be intentionally pursued by Christians. Paul’s remarks in Ephesians 2:11-22 will guide my discussion.
In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul reminds the Ephesians that their race excluded them from Jewish blessings. He offers a startling litany of things from which Gentiles (i.e. non-Jewish people) were excluded prior to their faith in Jesus. He asserts that they were uncircumcised (Eph 2:11), they were called uncircumcised by Jews (Eph 2:11), they were without Christ (Eph 2:12), separated from the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12), strangers of the covenants of promise (Eph 2:12), and they were without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12). However, Paul’s remarks dramatically shift in Ephesians 2:13 with the words “but now.” Before faith in Christ, Gentiles were excluded from the people of God and (just as fellow Jews) they were dead in transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1-11). But now by means of the death of the Christ (the Jewish Messiah), Gentiles have been incorporated into the people of God, and his death has killed the enmity that separated Jews and Gentiles from one another thereby recreating Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians into a new race. Paul confirms this throughout the rest of the text.
In Ephesians 2:13, Paul asserts that Jesus’ death has brought the Gentiles into the people of God. In Ephesians 2:14-15, he declares that Jesus is peace (i.e. ends hostility) for Jews and Gentiles because he put to death and shattered by his death the dividing wall of the law between Jews and Gentiles with the result that he recreated two groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one new race and with the result that he reconciled them both to God and to one another. In Ephesians 2:18-22, Paul expresses that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians both have access to the one God who is the father of both groups, they are both fellow citizens in God’s new economy of the people of God, they are both being built up as one people upon the same prophetic and apostolic foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and they are both being built up as the temple of God in which God himself dwells by his Holy Spirit. God and Jesus killed the ethno-racial division and racism that sin brought into the world and that is still present throughout the world because of sin. In other words, at the cross of Jesus Christ, God and Jesus actually accomplished racial reconciliation by killing enmity for all races that trust in Jesus by faith.
The Practical Pursuit of Racial Reconciliation
If the above is true, perhaps readers might be thinking: why is racism so prevalent in Christian churches and in Christian institutions? I think the answer is that sin and the devil keep many Christians from fighting against the evil of racism and from fighting for racial harmony in both church and society. In other words, racial division continues to exist in many Christian circles because too many Christians are unintentional to pursue racial reconciliation.
Racial reconciliation is not automatic. Yes, Jesus’ death has actually accomplished it. But Christians must responsibly pursue it with intense rigor or else they will not experience it in their churches or in their circle of influence. One way Christians pursue racial reconciliation is we must all acknowledge that we all have racist attitudes toward different people groups or maybe even toward those within our own ethnicities. Thus, we must intentionally strive to fight against these attitudes that arise in our hearts by confessing them to the Lord as sin and by looking intentionally for ways for us to live out the gospel of racial reconciliation in both church and society by incorporating into our circle people who do not look, act, smell, or sound like us. Just as Christians fight against lust, pride, greed, and other sins, so also we must intentionally fight against racism and fight for racial reconciliation. To clarify, my proposal is not a spiritualized version of Affirmative Action. Instead, I am proposing a gospel-centered, God-centered, Christ-exalting, and Spirit-filled fight for racial reconciliation that is motivated by love and service to one another in Christ. By God’s grace, may he allow Christians and gospel-centered Christian churches from the confederate south to the remotest tribe in Africa to believe, love, live, preach, and pursue gospel-centered racial reconciliation in both church and society.
This article first appeared as a part of a series on the Broadman & Holman Academic blog.
Jarvis J. Williams is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a preaching pastor at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of several scholarly articles and books, including One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology and Galatians (New Covenant Commentary Series). He is married to Ana and is father to Jaden.