Bloodlines - John Piper | Gospel Connections: The Roots of Racism and the Power of the Gospel
We are a gospel-centered church. But what does that really mean? Is this label simply a badge of honor? Or is it the lens through which we consider every aspect of life? The gospel is the good news of all that God has done to rescue sinners and restore creation's glory by establishing his rule and reign over peoples of all nations through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How does this truth intersect with our conversations on race? Unlike other ideas and philosophies for social improvement, Piper says that “the gospel of Jesus is like a dynamite that enters as the power of the Creator to reconcile people to himself and supernaturally make them new.” Piper offers concrete gospel connections on how the gospel addresses nine destructive forces that are at the root of racism. Let’s consider each briefly.
1) THE GOSPEL AND SATAN
Satan is a real supernatural being whose primary purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. It is easy to forget that behind the deep racial divisions in our country, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). We must not be ignorant of the schemes of Satan so that we would not be outwitted by him (2 Cor. 2:11). But the gospel tells us the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Only the gospel has the power to set people and structures free from the bondage of the devil.
2) THE GOSPEL AND GUILT
The stain of guilt mars the conscience of black and white relationships in America. When it comes to guilt in these conversations, our culture either denies it (the secular right) or exploits it (the secular left). Both options are hopeless and devoid of redemption. The Bible is clear that we are all guilty before God (Rom. 3:9-10) but the gospel washes away our guilty stains through the blood of Christ (John 1:29). Acknowledging our guilt before God can replace denial or exploitation of guilt with the overflowing joy that all guilt has been taken away in Christ.
3) THE GOSPEL AND PRIDE
Racial tensions are rife with pride - the pride of white supremacy or black power, the pride of having the right perspective and looking down on others who think differently. When pride is at work in our hearts, there is no hope for listening and understanding one another. The gospel exposes our prideful rebellion against a holy God and delivers us from it. The gospel makes plain that our pride required the death of the Son of God. This ought to cause us to be humble because, “what do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
4) THE GOSPEL AND HOPELESSNESS
Many racial and socio-economic disparities can be directly tied to a sense of hopelessness that leads to drug addiction, gambling, and sexual promiscuity, and other destructive behaviors that have a devastating effect on the person, the family, and their community. While we can blame all sorts of historical, personal, and institutional reasons for hopelessness, calling people to personal responsibility will not prove effective without awakening hope. The gospel of Jesus Christ comes to give us hope not only for the life to come but also for this present life (1 Tim. 4:8).
5) THE GOSPEL AND FEELINGS OF INFERIORITY
All humans fear being seen as inferior which can lead to depression, self-hatred, and self-doubt. There is a particular way in which black history and black stereotypes have affected the black psyche. This ought to cause us to grieve the experience of the black community. But the solutions the world offers of self-love or government programs that do more harm than good are ultimately bankrupt. Scripture tells us that we are all valuable because we are made in the image of God, and the gospel explodes into our sense of inferiority by giving us a new identity in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
6) THE GOSPEL AND GREED
Greed played a significant role in race relations since the day the first slaves arrived in America who were kidnapped by white men greedy for financial gain (Ex. 21:16). Greed universally afflicts all hearts, whether black or white, in different ways according to circumstances. Greed can manifest itself in the rich oppressing the poor for unjust gain, or among the poor who envy the wealth of the rich. The gospel obliterates our greed because we can now “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3: 8).
7) THE GOSPEL AND HATE
Hatred of other ethnicities has been the source of much racial animosity. Racial hatred because of past grievances of blacks or current responses from whites can be the source of much racial strife. The gospel compels those of us who have been forgiven in Christ to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4: 32– 5:1). The gospel empowers us to overcome hate with forgiveness and love just as Christ has forgiven us.
8) THE GOSPEL AND FEAR
Fear can often play a role in our hearts and minds when interacting with people of different ethnicities. Stereotypes of a people group cause our self-protecting defenses to go up instead of being freed to engage those different than us. Because of the gospel, we can be certain to enter any unknown situation with the peace of Christ (John 14:27). When self-protecting defenses that we put up because of our fears are removed, the possibilities for racial harmony are finally made possible.
9) THE GOSPEL AND APATHY
Apathy is passionless living that causes us not to be concerned with the suffering of others. Apathy causes us not to be concerned with issues that do not directly affect us. Our desire to passionately pursue justice and do mercy towards others reveals the fruit of the gospel’s transformation in our lives. The gospel tells us that Christ gave himself for us to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).
The Gospel is (specifically) Relevant
Piper has helped us see some of the specific ways in which the gospel addresses the roots of racism. I hope that we as Christians can begin to think through issues of racism primarily through the lens of the gospel instead of the prevailing lenses of personal responsibility or systemic injustice. In the next chapters, Piper will help us continue to lay a foundation of the relevance of the accomplishment and application of the gospel to the issue of ethnic harmony. There will a time to think about these issues from an economic and political perspective but let us make sure we build our foundations on Christ and the gospel so that our powers of discernment can be trained to distinguish the faulty foundations of secular alternatives.
- Which of these nine destructive forces continues to play a role in your heart?
- How can you grow to think about racism through the lens of the gospel?
- Lord, help us see how these destructive forces have affected our own hearts.
- Rejoice in hope that ethnic harmony is possible through the gospel.
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