When the video of George Floyd’s death punched America in the gut last week, people from every quarter expressed outrage because another unarmed black man had died, gasping for air and pleading for his life, while a white police officer pressed his knee into the back of his neck. There are no words. It was senseless and wrong. Evil. Christians are particularly outraged, because George Floyd was an image bearer – created in God’s image, with dignity and worth. His death was an insult to his Maker (Prov 14:31).
A recent post from Acts 29 says it well:
“Racism is undeniably woven into the fabric of this nation—from our treatment of Native Americans, to the institution of slavery, segregation policies and Jim Crow laws, redlining in urban sectors, and the ever-evolving overt and covert modern practices in our economic, political, social, and religious spheres of life. Black men and women live under the particularly heavy shadow of generational pain that is the result of gross inequality and inequity.”A Call to Justice, Restoration, and Renewal, Acts 29
In light of all this, Christians are asking, “what can we do?” How can we bring an end to the evil of racism? How can Christians bear witness to God’s kingdom in a world of such violence, hatred, and sin? What can we do to make it stop?
I plan to write a follow up post to this one with some practical suggestions. But this post is more foundational. Christians have to be distinct – we don’t simply jump on the bandwagon with what everyone is doing. Hasty action is rarely wise. The church is a city on a hill. We operate on different principles. Yes, Christians can take action, but not every action that could be taken is available to us. We have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
So in this post, I’ve outlined five things that Christians need to do first before we rush to action. In a later post, I’ll suggest a few practical things we can do right away.
#1. Christians need to fear God more than anything else.
Christians are familiar with the Great Commandment to love God more than anything else (Matt 22:36-37). But the fear of God is what I’m talking about. Fearing God and loving God are not opposed to one another. In fact, fearing God is how we love God.
When it comes to injustice, God has suffered greater injustice than any of us. God patiently endures the sin of a wicked world, allowing time for some to repent, believe the gospel, and receive mercy. Jesus also suffered in ways unimaginable to us, enduring not only the physical agony of the cross, but the spiritual agony of bearing the Father’s wrath against sin.
So any discussion of racism and injustice begins with God as the reference point. These are big problems that need a big God to solve them. We need “big God” theology. Not just because it’s true and biblical, but because it keeps God and his glory at the center of everything. Progressive (or liberal) Christianity is powerless against racism, because it enthrones human beings and our desires and feelings above God and his glory. That’s not gonna cut it.
So the way forward begins with the fear of God. Sovereign. Almighty. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil” (Pr 8:13). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Pr 1:7). “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life” (Pr 14:27).
#2. Christians need to define sin properly.
Sin is breaking a command of God, either by commission or omission. In other words, sin is doing something God forbids, or failing to do something God requires. It includes both outward actions and inner thoughts and motives (Matt 5:28). The sin of racism is the sin of partiality. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). To show partiality in action, thought, or deed, according to one’s race or class, is the sin of partiality. Jim Crow laws outwardly subjected black folks to the humiliating and degrading sin of partiality. Praise God that we no longer have “white people” and “colored people” drinking fountains in America. And yet, racial prejudices still persist in people’s thoughts and motives. This, too, is sin.
Since God is our reference point for defining sin, partiality is wrong no matter which direction it’s coming from. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev 19:15). Recently, there has been a growing trend of treating “whiteness” as a sin, leaving many white people feeling guilty simply for being white. That misdefines sin. But if we define sin biblically, we recognize that both white people and black people can show partiality in various ways, and everyone is called to repent of partiality wherever it is discovered.
#3. Christians need to define justice properly.
A just society actively works to avoid partiality. God is just. God loves justice and hates injustice (Isaiah 61:8). Justice is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus died on the cross to satisfy the righteousness and justice of God. Christians are justified in Christ because God’s justice was satisfied at the cross. Having been justified in Christ, Christians are called to live lives of justice, righteousness, and peace (Isaiah 9:7).
America is more just for some people than for others. This isn’t a liberal vs. conservative issue – it’s fact. It’s right out in the open for anyone who cares to see it. The Washington Post recently published an essay about racial bias in our criminal justice system. That’s just one recent example. Of course, seeing the problem is easier than fixing it. That’s the question no one has a workable solution to right now.
Until recently, this would not have been controversial. But now, political and cultural movements rooted in critical theory and identity politics flies under a banner called “social justice,” which is actually not justice at all. It’s just the opposite. It is the sin of partiality rebranded and renamed. What is often called “social justice” nowadays is actually fighting injustice with greater injustice. We have a word for that. It’s vengeance. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ (Rom 12:19).”
Justice requires a system of just laws that are justly applied (Gal 3:19). Defining justice is easier than establishing it. Micah 6:8 famously calls God’s people to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Doing justice means establishing a true standard of what’s right and wrong and applying those standards with appropriate penalties. Biblical justice is impartial. Objective. Unemotional. Consistent. It favors neither the poor nor the rich. It does not give special treatment to blacks or whites. Rich or poor.
We live in a sinful world. No one is exempt (Rom 3:23). Jesus even said his own disciples were evil (Matt 7:11). How do you establish justice in an evil world? A just system needs to protect everyone from everyone else, while everyone has a different perspective on what justice is. It’s a delicate balancing act, like stacking golf balls on top of each other. Pray for God to show us a practical way forward.
#4. Christians need to have some humility.
The tools of the gospel are essential for Christians to make any difference with race relations. We are not, in ourselves, qualified to give justice to anyone, because we ourselves are unjust (1 Peter 3:18). Christians need to repent of their own sins before trying to fix other people’s sins. Have some humility. Take the log out of your own eye first. Failure to do so is hypocrisy (Matt 7:5). As everyone knows, hypocrites only make things worse.
#5. Christians need to fight spiritual wars with spiritual weapons.
What we are experiencing in America right now is the result of a well-coordinated and executed spiritual assault by Satan (2 Cor 10:3-5). Our country is being torn apart, piece by piece. When we see evil on TV or social media and demand “someone must do something!,” what do we mean by that? Can congress fix this? If they all united for one week to pass the greatest legislation ever known, how much difference would it make? Our problems are deeper than any legal action or charismatic leader can solve. We need a God who is big enough to kill evil at the root – in every human heart.
What I’m saying is this – right now, in America, what we need is nothing less than a miraculous work of God’s Spirit. What we’re seeing right now looks more like judgment than revival. We cannot win spiritual wars with the devil’s tools. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). We need more prayer and more fasting. We all need to humble ourselves, in fear and trembling, before a holy God, falling to our knees in prayer, and begging for his mercy, grace, and healing.
Forgive us, Lord. Awaken us. Heal us.