Our race has a problem. By “race” I don’t mean ethnic group, I mean our race—the human one. We have a problem. Descendants of Adam and Eve have consistently acted in self-interest rather than selfless sacrifice. The Biblical word for this is sin, and from Genesis 3 on we see it clearly and repeatedly described and condemned. Of course, we don’t have to look to the Bible to see sin, or to Charlottesville, we can just look in the mirror.
It’s maddening to think that we’re still dealing with racism, or adultery, or drug addictions, or greed, or gossip, or pride, but we are. Sin isn’t new; we’re just good at creating new ways of expressing it. Hate someone and want to hurt them? Use a car. Even though the problem is old, we should still be shocked and appalled when sin rears its ugly head.
We Desperately Need Help
Consider the first described act of sin after Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offered sacrifices, but the Lord wasn’t pleased with Cain’s. We are not told why, and it doesn’t matter. The Lord said to Cain, “If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). He proved he couldn’t rule over sin, and he murdered his brother in anger, jealousy, and pride. This is our problem. We prove we can’t rule over sin every day.
There Is Only One Solution
We cannot cure the root cause of ethnic conflict apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. People repenting of their sin and turning in faith to Jesus Christ is the only means of an eternally lasting peace. God has always been interested in solving conflict between ethnic groups. The mission of God to save sinners is a mission that transcends any division between people. God states this explicitly throughout the Bible for our benefit:
Ethnic division is a result of sinful pride and self worship. In Genesis 11:4 we said, “Let us make a name for ourselves…” Thus, to prevent self worship, God scattered humanity through the confusion of languages. Not all sociological divisions are language based, but many are.
Blessing all ethnic groups is the mission of the Messiah. In Genesis 12 we find out that God has selected one particular ethnic group, the Jewish people, to bless and use as a vehicle of blessing every “family.” He promises Abram in Genesis 12:3, “…all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This is a reference to the work of Jesus, son of Abraham.
Believers need to embrace God’s heart for all people groups. This is the point of the book of Jonah. Jonah is angry over God’s grace to the repentant people of Ninevah. In Jonah 4:4 God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” The answer to this rhetorical question is an emphatic no. God loves them, Jonah should too.
The testimony of God’s work is intended for evangelism among all nations. In Psalm 67:1-2 the author writes, “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may he make his face shine upon us (Selah), so that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”
Christians are called to make disciples of Jesus from all people groups. In Jesus’ great commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19 he commands us on the basis of his authority to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
The gospel is effective for all people groups. Paul argues this point explicitly in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”
By faith in Jesus, the gospel removes hostility between people groups. In Ephesians 2:14 the Apostle Paul says, “For he [Jesus] is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.” “Both groups” refers to Jews and non-Jews.
In the New Earth, believers from all people groups will worship the God of the Bible. In Isaiah 2:1-2 the prophet describes all nations coming to worship, “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.'”
Also, in Revelation 14:6 the Apostle John describes an angel delivering the gospel to all the earth, “Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, with the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people.”
These passages just scratch the surface of the multi-ethnic, global scope of the church.
From this Biblical line of thought we can make several points of application:
- Sin is the great equalizer. Because of the universality of sin, no ethnic group is superior to another. Any claims to the contrary are anti-gospel and false teaching.
- Anti-gospel or gospel-less solutions to ethnic conflict cannot ultimately succeed. They are a bandaid for cancer. We must not place our hope in politics and programs. Even so, we are called to act with wisdom and seek to live at peace with all men. We have serious work to do here.
- Because sin is the problem, the transformative power of the gospel is the only lasting solution. The only way we can actively contribute to the lasting solution to ethnic conflict is to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Christians must consciously and explicitly pursue the expansion of the gospel in all ethnic groups. We usually think of this in terms of spreading the gospel overseas, but we must also think in terms of spreading the gospel to other people groups in our own communities. Ideally, the mix of people in our churches will match the mix of people in our communities.
- Christians must consciously and explicitly confront the sin of claims to ethnic superiority (in all its forms, not just the ones in the news). Every people group struggles with this expression of sin, and God won’t give anyone a pass. We must first humble ourselves and look to our own hearts. Do we need to repent of exalting our group over another? Of not being sensitive to other people groups?
Hatred between ethnic groups is one of the very few sins that our culture is still generally sensitive about. But because we are Christians, our solution will be radically different than those proposed by our culture. As Paul argues in Romans 5:19, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
The best remedy to ethnic conflict is the advancing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us pray and act to that end.