“Why are you focusing on politics?”
“Systems don’t sin; people do.”
“If you want to destroy racism, just preach the gospel.”
If you talk about race much in the American evangelical context, these are the kinds of responses you’ll likely encounter. Not every sin receives this gag-order. Churches in America, thankfully, are united and active in condemning the sin of abortion, for example, and still Preaching the Gospel.
This is not a post to explore the reason why racism provokes these questions. I want to explore whether they are true. Is preaching the gospel the cure for racism?
In one sense, it is very important to say, “yes.” We have considered the case of Tom Tarrants at some length. He was a klansman—a white nationalist and domestic terrorist. God saved Tom and turned him into a believer and champion of racial reconciliation. Only the gospel does that. We rejoice whenever and however God brings about justice in this world, but nothing compares to what God had done through His son.
To listen to our episode with Tom Tarrants, click here.
Believers passionate about racial reconciliation must take care to remember our first love as we encounter resistance to our efforts. There are no Christians without the gospel. There is no hope without the gospel.
My objection to this question about just preaching the gospel is that one little word—just.
We need to be wary of an essentialism that wrongly puts God in a box. Scripture is full of examples of God working justice in the world through unjust governments, unbelieving kings, and faithless judges. God rules over every human government, and will do with them what He wills (Proverbs 21:1). Christians should work with the government and in submission to it. It is a wrongheaded essentialism that causes so many evangelicals to scorn the public square rather than enter it. We need more thoughtful Christians involved in politics! But, as we all know, government cannot finally save or fix this world. So while the gospel isn’t the only cure for racism, it is the ultimate cure.
However, there is a way to just preach the gospel which actually undermines the gospel and our ministry in light of it. To get to what I mean, consider Jesus’ words when he commissioned the church for gospel ministry in Matthew 28. He said,
“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” – Matthew 28:19-20
Faithful gospel ministry involves reaching all peoples, preaching the message of Christ’s forgiveness of sin, and then training up converts in obedience.
The gospel is, in a sense, an exchange. When the eternal Son of God became a man, he did so to live a life of perfect obedience to the Father on our behalf. He died the death we deserve for our sin. God then raised him from the dead, paving the way to Heaven for all who are united to Him by faith. God takes and forgives our sin and gives us his new life.
What a message.
But we undermine and subvert our preaching by giving quarter to sin. Christians don’t obey our way to God’s favor, but we must hate sin. Faith without works, after all, is dead (James 2). We are called to stir one another up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). In other words, gospel ministry includes more than just gospel proclamation. King Jesus has claims on the lives of his subjects, and those claims are comprehensive. We are to obey everything he commanded.
Knowing how sinful we are, we should not be surprised that our world is full of sinful people. Sinful people create imperfect, unjust laws. We apply justice with partiality. These failures are not in some separate political category. These are questions of obedience to Jesus.
We must oppose all sin, including the sin of racism. Christians must condemn racism from the pulpit, pew, home, street, voting booth, and anywhere else we can. Racism is not the only sin we oppose, but it may never get a pass.
When Jesus offers us his new life, he demands everything we have. He will one day bring perfect justice, destroying every wicked and unjust power of this world. Christian, take special care never to shore up a wall the King has set for demolition.
So, yes, let’s preach the gospel. Let’s help each other to obey everything Jesus commands. Let’s remember that he is with us to the end. And let’s pray that he would come soon and end this evil age.
- Take a minute and praise God for saving wretches like us
- Pray that He would save folks trapped in sinful, hellish racist ideologies
- Pray that Christians would stop biting and devouring each other