Racism: A sin against God, humanity and the gospel

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Revelation 5:9

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Hot Button Topics, and we are looking at a number of hot button issues in our society today and what the Bible tells us about each of them. So far, we have looked at abortion, assisted suicide and alcohol. Today we will look at the hot button topic of racism. (Read Revelation 5:9 and pray.)


Racism is a huge hot button issue in our society today. Our country has a long history of race-related issues, starting of course with slavery, but then extending into segregation, civil rights, race riots, and more recently the various shootings such as Ferguson, Missouri, Charleston and others. Sociologist Michael Emerson states that we live in a “racialized society,” one in which “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 847)

John Piper helpfully offers the following definition of racism from a 2004 statement by the Presbyterian Church in America: “Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.” Notice that according to this definition racism can be either explicit or implicit. Notice that racism can also be a matter of either belief or practice. Piper writes: “The focus of this definition is on the heart and behavior of the racist. The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart. And that sin is called racism. The behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another is a sinful behavior. And that sin is called racism.” (John Piper, Bloodlines, p. 240)

Of course, the problem is bigger than just black and white, and it goes both ways. We also live in a society where Hispanics face off against other Hispanics and where our Asian brothers and sisters are often stereotyped or dismissed. This also ties in with refugees and immigration. And racism is not anything peculiar to our time or society. As far back as you go in history, there have always been racial conflicts.

Our country is rapidly changing but it is still majority white, which means it is harder for white people like myself to truly understand the effects of racism on others. As John Piper points out in his excellent book, Bloodlines: “When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It’s just the way it’s done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color.” (John Piper, Bloodlines, p. 71) That is a profound statement and one that I am still trying to learn and understand.

Today we are not only going to look at the topic of racism. We are going to look at the sin of racism. It’s been said that racism is not a skin problem; it’s a sin problem. Or more specifically, it is a sin problem that has to do with skin.

Racism is a sin against God, humanity and the gospel. As such, racism is a serious sin which permeates our culture and affects us in subtle ways that we may not even be aware of at times. We are all affected by it in various ways, and we need to dig deep in our hearts if we are to root out this sin which divides us in so many ways. (see outline and resource sheet)

I. Racism is a sin against God

First of all, racism is a sin against God. Now in one sense, all sin is a sin against God. But racism is a sin against God in two particular ways.

   A. We are created in God’s image
      – Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9-10

First of all, racism is a sin against God because we are created in God’s image. We read in Genesis 1:26-27: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’ … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) Or again in James 3: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness…. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10) Every human being is created in the image of God, and when we devalue a person based on their race or ethnicity, we sin against God in whose image they are created.

You may have noticed that this is the third time we have turned to these particular verses from Genesis in our series on Hot Button Topics. We looked at these verses in our message on abortion and again in our message on assisted suicide. We will return to these verses again later on in the series when we talk about marriage, homosexuality and transgender. That’s six out of eight Hot Button Topics that begin with the Biblical truth that we are created in God’s image.

There’s a reason we keep coming back to this passage in Genesis. This is a foundational truth in Scripture that once we get wrong, we wander down many different pathways. Many of the problems in our culture can be traced back to a lack of understanding that we are created in God’s image.

   B. God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself
      – Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:25-37

A second reason that racism is a sin against God is because God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself. You might wonder what loving your neighbor has to do with God. Jesus himself tied the two together in Matthew 22 when he said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus said loving God is the greatest commandment. But then he also said the commandment to love your neighbor is like the first one. Jesus tied them together as one. What is one of the main ways that you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? By loving your neighbor as yourself.

According to the gospel of Luke, when Jesus affirmed that these were indeed the two greatest commandments, an expert in the law tried to wriggle out of it by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). One of the things the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us is that we are not to limit the idea of neighbor only to people who are like us, but we are to help all people without any discrimination or prejudice. Every fellow man or woman within my reach is my neighbor.

When it comes to racism, if I am to love my neighbor as myself, I must get past the differences and learn to see the world through another’s point of view. Which means we need to talk with each other. We need to hear each other’s stories. As a white, middle class man in a majority white culture, I need to hear what it’s like for someone who is not a white, middle class man in a majority white culture.

Matthew J. Hall and D. A. Horton write: “For those who were not raised in an impoverished community, who have never been racially profiled, ridiculed because of their skin color, or felt the daily pressures of systemic oppression, they would do well to hear the hearts of the believers who express their painful experiences that include such details.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 982)

Some of you have shared your stories with me. I also try to read about other people’s stories. For example, I have learned so much from reading the book, Under Our Skin, written by football player Benjamin Watson. Benjamin Watson was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. He went on to play tight end for the New Orleans saints. He is also a committed Christian. In his book he talks frankly about his experiences with race as a black man in America from a Christian perspective.

He talks about how the running joke on so many black sitcoms on TV was someone would ask: “Why are you late getting home from work?” and they would respond, “I got pulled over.” (Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin, p. 88) Then he shares how he got pulled over by the police when he was simply driving his pregnant wife to the hospital to deliver their first baby. He was not given any explanation. It was a frightening experience for both him and his wife. Now this is nothing against the police who serve our communities so well every day. This is simply reporting an experience.

Watson explains: “White people have no idea of the fear that black people feel toward the police. I cannot say that strongly enough, loudly enough, or forcefully enough. I believe it is a huge point of division between black people and white people.” (Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin, pp. 91-92) That was something I didn’t know, but now I do. Now I could ignore it, defend it, try to assign blame or explain it away, but if I love my neighbor as myself, I will be appalled that this is a common fear that people of color experience here in 21st century America.

Did you know that low-income communities of color have 50 percent fewer grocery stores within the radius of their neighborhoods than those in higher income, predominately white communities? Did you know that in low-income supermarkets, there is 20 percent less produce available, and what is available is 30 percent more expensive? (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 993; see also http://www.policylink.org/resources-tools/the-grocery-gap-who-has-access-to-healthy-food-and-why-it-matters) Why is that? There are many factors at play, of course, but once again, if I love my neighbor as myself, I will care about such things and work and pray for change.

Evangelist Billy Graham took a stand against racism back in 1952. He was scheduled to preach a Crusade in Jackson, Mississippi, and when he got there the blacks and whites in the audience had been segregated and roped off from each other. Graham personally went over and pulled the ropes down and refused to let them be put back up again. He went back to the platform and said that we are all equal before God, and he determined never to speak before a segregated audience ever again.

Racial reconciliation is possible, but once again, it starts with talking to each other. Another person I’ve been reading and learning from is Trillia Newbell. Trillia is an author and the Director of Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Trillia explains: “Putting your faith in action with regards to racial reconciliation means you must be willing to: speak to your neighbor; gain knowledge; and see those around you…. These conversations don’t have to be difficult…. This can be as simple as inviting someone to lunch…. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s just ignorance…. Pursuing racial unity really isn’t about diversity at all. It’s about loving others. So as you step out in faith to get to know those who are not like you, it’s not about quotas or because you must; rather be compelled by the love of Christ to love others as He has loved you.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle locations 589-623)

I find it interesting that Trillia talks about truly “seeing” others. I have had people of color in our own church tell me that sometimes they feel people don’t see them. People walk right by them in the sanctuary or fellowship hall and don’t even stop to greet them or say hi. Now once again, when I hear that, I could get defensive or try to explain it away, but if I love my neighbor as myself, I will listen to that and try to do better.

So that’s our first point this morning. Racism is first of all a sin against God. Why? Because we are all created in God’s image, and God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself.

II. Racism is a sin against humanity

Secondly, racism is not only a sin against God; it is a sin against humanity.

   A. God created us as one human race
      – Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:26

The Bible teaches us that God created us as one human race. We read in Genesis 3:20: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” (Genesis 3:20) We read in Acts 17:26: “From one man God made every nation of men.” (Acts 17:26)

In reality, there are not multiple races. There is one human race with many different cultures and ethnicities. Genetic research shows that there is very little difference between the races at all. The physical differences that we use to distinguish the races make up such a small part of our DNA. According to Francis Collins, who headed up the Human Genome Project, all human DNA is 99.9 percent identical. Our differences are based more on culture and geography than genetics.

Benjamin Watson shares how at the birth of his fifth child in the hospital, he was filling out a form that asked for his race. He says: “For the first time on a form like that, I selected ‘other.’ Not because I’m not proud of my skin color, my ancestry, or my heritage, because I am. I checked ‘other’ because I know that the real humanity, the soul and spirit under our skin, is what makes us who we are. And on the blank line next to ‘other,’ I wrote HUMAN.” (Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin, p. xix) I like that.

   B. God created us with diversity
      – Acts 17:24-26

God not only created us as one human race. He also created us with diversity. We read in Acts 17:24-26: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:24-26)

I grew up in an all-white town and attended an all-white school. I still remember when the first black family moved into our town. After graduating I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston where I experienced true diversity for the first time. After graduating from Berklee I moved to Los Angeles where I really experienced diversity. And I loved it. I had grown up singing the song, “Jesus loves the little children, red and yellow, black and white,” but for the first time in my life I was actually living it.

The Christian band D.C. Talk had a song called “Colored People” where they proudly proclaimed, “We are a skin kaleidoscope.” I’ve always liked that lyric. We sometimes hear that we should be color blind when it comes to race, but I like what Trillia Newbell says about that. She says: “You are not color-blind, you don’t need to be color-blind, and you should strive to not be color-blind. If you’d like to grasp the full beauty of God’s creation, see color. Instead of pretending like we are color-blind, let’s celebrate God’s creation. Ethnic differences aren’t the result of the Fall; celebrate the unique beauty of each and look forward to seeing heaven filled with the colors of all nations.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 566)

Or as Benjamin Watson declares: “We should preserve and celebrate our cultural differences, embrace the uniqueness of our histories, and pursue the distinctiveness of our arts and enterprises. We are beautifully different. But we are commonly human.” (Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin, p. 63) God created us as one human race, and God created us with diversity. Therefore, racism is a sin against humanity.

III. Racism is a sin against the gospel

Racism is a sin against God. Racism is a sin against humanity. And then, thirdly, racism is a sin against the gospel.

   A. Jesus died for all
      – Romans 3:22-23; 5:12,18-19; 1 John 2:2

It is a sin against the gospel first of all because Jesus died for all. We read about the righteousness that comes through Jesus in Romans 3: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23) The book of Romans tells us we are united not only by creation but also by the fact that we are all sinners. We read in Romans 5: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12,18-19)

1 John 2:2 says about Jesus: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Racism is a sin against the gospel first of all because Jesus died for all.

   B. Jesus died to make us one
      – Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-16; Philippians 2:1-2; Colossians 3:11

Secondly, racism is a sin against the gospel because Jesus died to make us one. In all four letters of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, Paul strives to make this point. He writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

And again in Ephesians 2: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16) In it’s original context this passage is talking about Jews and Gentiles, but by extension we can apply it to racial barriers of any kind.

We read in Philippians 2: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

And then again in Colossians 3:11: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

John Piper writes about this verse: “This was an absolutely staggering statement in his day. Greek and Jew … were divided by ethnicity, religion, and culture. The reference to barbarians and Scythians is a reference to the way the cultured Romans and Greeks viewed anyone whose speech or manners or habits were foreign and seemingly uncouth and unrefined…. The reference to slave and free is a reference to the deepest divisions of class…. Brother and sister are the terms that replace slave and free.” (John Piper, Bloodlines, pp. 164-165)

A 2015 report in Christianity Today magazine states that: “Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group.” (Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin, p. 10) That’s a shame. Jesus died to make us one, and the church should reflect the diversity of God’s world.

Now that doesn’t mean every church should be diverse. If you’re a church that is situated in a non-diverse community, it would be difficult if not impossible to be diverse. But it is healthy for the local church to reflect the diversity of its community. I like the way Trillia Newbell puts it: “We should be united in Christ. He’s got a colorful family, and therefore so do we.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 532)

   C. Heaven: “from every tribe and language and people and nation”
      – Genesis 12:3; Psalm 22:27; Revelation 5:9

Racism is a sin against the gospel because Jesus died for all, because Jesus died to make us one, and finally because heaven will be populated by individuals from every tribe and language and people and nation.

This has been God’s design from the beginning. God said to Abraham all the way back in Genesis, the first book of the Bible: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) In the book of Psalms, right in the middle of the Bible, we read in Psalm 22:27: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.” (Psalm 22:27) And then when we get to the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, we see God’s purposes fulfilled when they sing to Jesus a new song in heaven: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

J. Daniel Hays, drawing on the work of Richard Bauckham, points out that: “This fourfold grouping (tribe, language, people, nation) occurs seven times in Revelation (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). In the symbolic world within the book of Revelation the number four represents the world while the number seven represents completion. Thus the seven-fold use of this four-element phrase is an emphatic indication that all peoples and ethnicities are included in the final gathering of God’s redeemed people around His throne to sing His praises.” (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 306)

Once again, this instructs us that our churches should reflect our communities. I like the way one person put it. When people wander into our churches, they should be greeted with a real-life brochure of heaven as we read about it in the book of Revelation. (Moore & Walker, The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, Kindle location 1034)

CONCLUSION: Racism is a sin against God, humanity and the gospel. As such, it is a serious sin, and it has no place in your life or in the life of the church. Racism is a sin against God because we are created in God’s image, and God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself. Racism is a sin against humanity because God created us as one human race, and God created us with diversity. Racism is a sin against the gospel because Jesus died for all, Jesus died to make us one, and in heaven there will be representatives from every tribe and language and people and nation.

The good news is that if racism is a sin against the gospel, the gospel also gives us hope in the face of racism. And that is encouraging news indeed. In Christ we are one, and in Christ we can overcome the evil effects of racism in our world. We all bleed the same color red, even our Lord Jesus who bought with his blood men and women from every tribe, language, people and nation.

© Ray Fowler

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Click here for more messages from the Hot Button Topics series.
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Recommended Resources on Racism

Books (* = highly recommended)
A Biblical Answer for Racial Unity by H.B. Charles and others
*Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper
Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age by David Platt
*The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation by Russell D. Moore and Andrew T. Walker
*Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race by Benjamin Watson


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For full text manuscripts of the messages in this series: rayfowler.org/sermons/hot-button-topics/