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One, Two, Many: God’s Word on Race

January 24, 2021

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Acts 17:26, 1 Cor. 15:21-22, Rev. 7:9-10

Introduction

Sanctity of Life Sunday, Jan 24, 2021. An annual remembrance of the Roe v Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision which opened the floodgates in America to the sin of abortion. It was Ronald Reagan in 1984 that inaugurated what we call Sanctity of Life Sunday or Santity of Human Life Sunday.

Ronald Reagan did something else during office. In 1983 he established MLK Day, the third Monday in January as a Federal holiday. Eventually it would become a state holiday recognized in all 50 states.

Last weekend the Town of Apex first ever series of events connected to MLK.

This makes January the convergence of two issues we care about, protecting the unborn and establishing that personhood begins at conception; and seeing an end to discrimination and injustice based on skin color.

We take one sermon in January, hit either issues of race or issues of being pro-life. This year we invited Willie Harris but COVID interrupted. Lord willing we can have him back when we’re past the pandemic.

But over the last year or two, the idea for this sermon got into my head. No way we’ll tackle all issues surrounding race in America and a Christian’s response to that.

We can establish some core understandings, so that as we individually navigate these waters we can avoid saying or doing things too wide of the mark.

I’ll read Acts 17:22–31 but the sermon will focus on only one verse in it.

Prayer

I. One Race (Acts 17:26)

The place we want to start is the beginning. As in the beginning of all races.

And he made from one man every nation (ethnos) of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)

  • “From one man” = “out of/by one.”
  • “Every nation.” The Greek here is helpful. The word for “nation” is ethnos. The root of our word, “ethnic” or “ethnicity.” For our modern context it’s helpful to read it as:
  • He made from one man every ETHNICITY of mankind.

Even our DNA adds confirmation to this:

  • All people share 99.9% of their genetic makeup.[1]
  • Obviously that .1% is a real difference.
  • Biologically, what makes us people is almost identical between all people.

Recall the 6th day of Creation when this happened.

We’ll start with the “FROM ONE MAN.” Genesis 2:7:

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Gen 2:7)

The man is the combination of simple dust and a God-given “breath of life.”

The other part of the 6th day recorded in Genesis 1:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Unlike the creatures of the earth and the constellations in the sky, man is made “IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS.”

Image & Likeness are ideas that speak of SIMILARITY but also DIFFERENCE.

  • “IMAGE” & “LIKENESS” is like the real thing but also profoundly different.
  • The SIMILARITY = We have life (2:7), a heart (thoughts, a will, desires), a home in paradise, dominion, relationships, virtues (made with a moral rightness, capacity for holiness).
  • The DIFFERENCE = Finite (God infinite), Changeable (God unchangeable), capacity to disobey (God impeccable)

Point is this is true of ALL PEOPLE. All are made in the image and likeness of the living and only God.

  • When you read about the history of a sinful nationalism or really entrenched racism, it’s so often combined with a distorted view of the races. It thrives with the lie one race is superior to other races.
  • Seeing that “he made from one man every nation on earth” changes everything.

There is no clear thinking about race until you see this fundamental fact about all people: Every person you’ll ever see, who ever lived, is made in the image of God. Whatever their differences in appearance or language or culture, Every person you’ll ever see is made in the image of God.

Of course, this means that if you try to define humanity without God or pursue racial causes without acknowledging the God of the Bible, you throw out one of the most powerful arguments for racial equality.

Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
“The Declaration of Independence,” July 4, 1776

II. Two Races (1 Cor 15:21–22)

Apostle Paul now divides up humanity into two races.

1 Corinthians 15:21–22:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21–22)

In this passage there is a distinction introduced:

  • The one race is divided into two races.
  • Speaks of two MEN. All are in the one man or the other. No third option.

The difference is life and death.

  • Well, technically, it’s death and resurrection.
  • Everyone dies. Question is whether you’ll experience “the resurrection OF THE DEAD” in Christ.

All 7 billion people alive today and all in history = in Adam or Christ.

  • Either dead in Adam and destined for judgment.
  • Or resurrected in Christ and destined for glory.

Response?

The unity of Christians within the people of God.

  • In Creation, we all trace ourselves to Adam.
  • In Redemption, as Christians we all trace ourselves to Christ.
  • No “Black Church” or “White Church,” only Christ’s Church.
  • No “Black Christianity” or “White Christianity,” only Christianity that is faithful to God’s Word or Christianity that isn’t.
  • The Church is the Body of Christ, Christ is the Head of his body.

But as those who are “in CHRIST” we know there’s room for more!

  • Those IN CHRIST evangelize to those IN ADAM.
  • We want those IN ADAM to experience the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, the new heavens and new earth.

This second truth is meant to combine with the first truth:

  • If my neighbor is a Tunisian Muslim, I will commit myself to protect love him, respect him, treat him justly and fairly. I do this because every bit as much as me he is made in the image of God. I do this because we come from the same human ancestor, Adam.
  • But he’s not just a Tunisian. He’s also a Muslim. He’s dead “IN ADAM” and not alive “IN CHRIST.” So, I’ll seek opportunities to preach the gospel to him.
  • Here we’re imitating Paul himself. Remember what Acts 17 is doing. It’s preaching Christ:

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29–31)

III. Many Races (Rev 7:9–10)

For this third point we pick up on something hinted at in the Acts passage:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)

God “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” God’s sovereign plan is what determines where and for how long a people will live where they live. God’s control of the details of this world is called his PROVIDENCE.

This point deals with what we think of with the term “RACE.”

The key text for this point is from Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9–10)

Throughout Revelation there is this repetition of “nation, tribe, people, tongue” (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15).

Hard to exactly parse out the differences between these terms. But it seems meant to capture all the ways we distinguish between people in broad ways. Not by common interests (those who play guitar), but racially and nationally.

The terms used in Revelation 7:9:

  • “Every nation” (παντὸς ἔθνους) – BDAG: “A body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people; people groups foreign to a specific people group [Gentiles vis-à-vis Jews]”
  • “And tribe” (καὶ φυλῶν) – BDAG: “A subgroup of a nation characterized by a distinctive blood line, tribe; a relatively large people group that forms a sociopolitical subgroup of the human race, nation, people.”
  • “And people” (καὶ λαῶν) – BDAG: “People, in a general sense; the mass of a community as distinguished from special interest groups like leaders, Pharisees, priests; a body of people with common cultural bonds and ties to a specific territory, people-group, people; people of God.”
  • “And tongue” (καὶ γλωσσῶν) – BDAG: “organ of speech, tongue; a body of words and systems that makes up a distinctive language, language, tongue; an utterance outside the normal patterns of intelligible speech and therefore requiring special interpretation, ecstatic language, ecstatic speech, tongue.”

A “tribe” here would more-or-less map on to what we mean by “race.” We’re all connected to some “tribe.”

But notice, the important thing is not skin color but your ancestors. Who are you descended from? Not just your parents but your bloodline.

“Tribes”: Are you a black African or an African-American? A white descended from Brittain or a white descended from Scandinavia? Are you descended from Spain or Latin America? These are all different “tribes” biblically speaking. The distinction is not skin color but ancestry.

Skin color in the Bible is hardly mentioned. Hard-pressed to find any mention of skin color in the OT or NT. Remarkable, given how prominent that is in our culture today.

We tend to read skin color into the Bible without thinking:

  • Adam and Eve a mixed marriage?[2]
  • Moses’ married a black African, a Cushite (Num 12:1) (See Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation)
  • Place of Cush/Ethiopia in the Bible (Hays)
  • Early church and men like Augustine who were north Africans
  • Imagining that scene in Rev 7 – tend to see our race as the dominant one in that snapshot

By the time you get to this third category, these differences become much less important. Relevant in understanding a person. But as a basis to separate?

“Racism” is not mentioned in the Bible. But “partiality” is.

James 2:1:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1)

James speaks of “partiality” on the basis of wealth—partial to the rich and marginalizing the poor. Racism is simply “Partiality” on the basis of race, sinfully preferring one race over another.

Francis Schaeffer point about co-belligerents.

My observation among many young pastors and others is this. Suddenly they are confronted by two camps and they are told, “Choose, choose, choose.” And by God’s grace they must say, “I will not choose. I stand alone with God, the God who has spoken in the Scripture, the God who is the infinite personal God, and neither of your two sides is standing there. So if I seem to be saying the same thing at some point, understand that I am a cobelligerent at this particular place, but I am not an ally.” The danger is that the older evangelical with his middle-class orientation will forget this distinction and become an ally of the Establishment elite, and at the same time his son or daughter will forget the distinction and become an ally of the New Left elite. We must say what the Bible says [even] when it causes us to seem to be saying what others are saying, such as “Justice!” or “Stop the meaningless bombings!” But we must never forget that this is only a passing cobelligerency and not an alliance. 
Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century[3]

E.g., Black Lives Matter, being advocates for the poor or immigrants. 

Conclusion

A list of action items:

  • Remember, our race and cultural background is not “the norm” in the Bible.
  • 6 Best Sermons Out of Africa in 2020 — https://africa.thegospelcoalition.org/article/top-6-sermons-of-2020/ 
  • Don’t make assumptions about worldviews based on the color of someon’e skin.

If you try to define humanity without God or pursue racial causes without acknowledging the God of the Bible, you throw out one of the most powerful arguments for racial equality

The Great Commission:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18–20)

Prayer

Closing Song

[1]https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Genetics-vs-Genomics

[2] “Biblical Ethics: An Overview” by Wayne Grudem, Daniel Heimbach, C. Ben Mitchell, Craig Mitchell, from ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008), 2535-2560.

[3] Schaeffer (IVP, 1974), 36–37. First published 1970.

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