Shai Linne addresses the need for gospel conversations around the issue of ethnic unity. Division has long plagued the church, which stands in stark contrast to Jesus’s prayer for unity in John 17.
Much remains to be done, despite some helpful recent conversations. Linne offers three biblical directives for engaging in these needed discussions.
This message was originally given at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Shai Linne: My name is Shai Linne and the topic that I will be speaking on is The Gospel and Ethnic Unity. And I’m gonna be really upfront with you today. I do not wanna talk about this. That’s part of the reason why I was late. I do not want to talk about this. I would much rather be talking about something else to be quite honest with you. I would much rather be talking about the doctrine of justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law. I would much rather be talking about the glorious union of the believer with Jesus Christ. I would much rather be talking about the sweet doctrine of divine sovereign election. I would much rather be talking about the attributes of God.
So was I forced to talk about this? No. Did I choose willingly and freely to speak about this? Yes, absolutely. Well, if I’m free to talk about whatever I want, why talk about ethnic unity? Well, I think it’s similar to Jude in Jude 1:3 where he says something really interesting. He says, ”Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” So Jude wanted to write about one thing, their common salvation. He was eager to write about the thing that united them, their common salvation, but there was something else going on. There was a present situation in that case, false teachers that made Jude say he found it necessary to change the original topic of his letter.
Brothers and sisters, I feel the same way. There is a present situation that makes it necessary for me to talk about the gospel and ethnic unity.
The last few years has increasingly revealed a church in America divided over the issue of race. And there’s a number of pressure points that I think that we can point to that have led to where we are today. One would be the high-profile killings of unarmed black people by the police and the different responses to those things in the church. Another would be the presidential election of 2016 and the different responses to that in the church. More recently, there was the MLK 50 celebration and the different responses to that in the church. And then even more recently, you had the group of leaders who came together to draft the Statement on Social Justice and you have that and the different responses to that in the church. And I think what we’ve seen over time as these things have come up is that there’s been a few different effects, some good and some bad.
The good thing is that there’s been more dialogue, more attempts at understanding, more honest conversations, more partnerships have developed. That is good. But there’s also been a lot of bad fruit as well. Most of which you’ll find on Twitter and Facebook. Increasingly, lines have been drawn in the sand. So many have dug in their heels and become more hostile, more angry, more bitter, more unwilling to listen. And this has been true on both sides of the line. And then for others, I think, and I think many of us fall into this category, maybe you haven’t drawn lines in the sand, but you sat back and watched both sides of the argument. And if you were to be honest, it’s been more confusing than anything else.
You may see good points on both sides. And just when you start to feel sympathetic toward one side or the other, someone from that side will say something and you’re like, “Hold up, that’s not even biblical.” Or someone from the other side will say something and you’ll be like, “Hold up. I think you may be right. But why you gotta say it like that? In that tone with that anger, why you gotta be so snarky and sarcastic?”
So how do we make sense of all of this? Well, I think a few things are really important if we’re gonna honor the Lord and make progress in this conversation. I’ll name three. Number one, we must start and end with the Bible. We must start and end with the Bible. The Bible must have final say on this topic. I personally am not particularly interested in any discussion of this subject that is not rooted in, informed by and shaped by and guided by the Bible. The Bible must have final say. We will neither honor the Lord nor make progress in the discussion of ethnic unity unless believers on all sides are willing to have our own perspectives enlightened by, challenged by, corrected by and even rebuked by the Bible.
Number two, we must frame this discussion using biblical categories. We must frame this discussion using biblical categories. As Christians, one thing we wanna avoid is allowing the world to dictate our agenda. Ultimately, we wanna speak where the Bible speaks and contrary to what many Christians believe, the Bible actually has a lot to say about ethnicity. And I’m using the term ethnicity on purpose. The more common word that’s used in our culture is race. So usually in our context when people say race, they’re actually talking about ethnicity. And the problem of race, the idea of race as we know it is that historically in our context, race was constructed as a way to justify slavery in America. It has no basis in science whatsoever. It is not a biblical category. However, ethnicity on the other hand does have a biblical basis.
So let’s define our terms. Most dictionaries concerning ethnicity will say something to the effect of the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. Here’s an expanded definition, thanks to the scholars at Wikipedia. An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other based on similarities such as common ancestry, language, history, society, culture, or nation. Ethnicity is usually an inherited status based on the society in which one lives. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, religion, mythology, and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art or physical appearance.
And so it’s a group of people who identify with each other based on particular similarities. And so why is this important? Well, when we think about God’s original design, it was a diverse group of people united in proclaiming his praises and living for his glory. And the fall was an interruption of that design. God’s remedy for that interruption is the gospel. Embedded into the gospel is God’s plan for a diverse group of redeemed worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is all over the Old Testament. God is not just the God of Israel, but he rules over the nations.
Psalm 22:27, ”All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. And all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” Psalm 86:9, ”All the nations that you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord and shall glorify your name.” Now, there’s Greek word that I want to draw our attention to and that word is ethnos. Say ethnos.
Linne: Ethnos. That term properly means a people joined by practicing similar customs or a common culture, and it usually refers to unbelieving Gentiles or non-Jews in the Bible. So often that term is used to refer to everyone outside of the Jews. But the point here is that it’s referring to different people groups and that distinction is cultural. The Lord Jesus Christ is so glorious that one people group is not enough to reflect his greatness. He wants all of them. And most of us are familiar with the passages from Revelation 5: 9 and 7:9 where Jesus ransoms a people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Nation, ethnos. That’s our word.
John is going out of his way to give as many terms as possible for the different distinctions. And in fact, in those texts when he says languages or tongues, that actually includes dialects within different people groups. In Acts 17:26 the apostle Paul speaking says, speaking of God, ”He says he made from one man every nation or ethnos of mankind to live on all the face of the earth having determined a lot of periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
Now, these verses clearly have the fall in view. So it’s only in a post-fall reality that man would need to seek God in order to find him. But the purpose is still clearly a diverse group of people worshiping God. And so what the fall did was not only did it alienate people from God, but it alienated people from each other. And one of the main ways that that alienation is demonstrated is in sinful attitudes towards people who are different than us. And because ethnicity is something that is often so connected to our very identities, that sin can often be very pronounced, even if we’re not conscious of it.
And so because race is not a biblical category, that does not mean that there’s no such thing as racism. What it means is that when people speak of racism, the proper biblical category would be something like pride or anger or partiality in the realm of ethnicity.
Number three, our primary concern must be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our primary concern must be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when I say the topic is the gospel and ethnic unity, I’m not talking about unity between people of different ethnicities who are also united in their rebellion against God.
One classic example of this is the Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1 says, ”Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the East, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar.” Then they said, ”Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And if you’re familiar with that story, you know that that did not end well for them.
And so here we see here in that text a statement of unity. And we see the basis of that unity. Verse 1, they have one language, they have the same words. That’s what natural unity looks like, some external characteristic that brings people together. And in of itself, that’s not a bad thing. Speaking the same language is essential to effective communication, but the point is that there’s nothing supernatural about that kind of unity. It is natural unity. You don’t need the spirit of God to be united because you all speak the same language. People unite around all kinds of things.
I remember when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. I’m from Philly and I remember when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and we had our parade in Philly. And one thing that people pointed out more than anything else was just how diverse the crowd was. You had young, you had old, kids, adults, rich, poor, black, white, none of that stuff. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the color green, which was the Eagle’s colors. That’s the only thing that mattered on that day. Everybody was happy. There was no violence, there was no arrests, just celebration. And for some of the Christians who were there, it was bittersweet because on the one hand it’s nice to see unity, but on the other hand, we know one that ultimately it was empty, and two, we’re wondering why it seems to be so rare that we see that kind of thing in the church where the basis of our unity is much deeper than language or a sports team.
But in Genesis 11 we see a group of people with natural unity and we also see the outcome of that natural unity when it’s not accompanied by faith, which is that it’s a unity that is opposed to God and God ultimately thwarted their plans and dispersed them. And so our primary concern must be the church of Jesus Christ. And that’s because God’s primary concern in this world is the church of Jesus Christ. John 17:9. The Lord Jesus says, ”I’m not praying for them,” meaning his disciples. He says, ”I am praying for them,” meaning his disciples. ”I am not praying for the world.” ”I’m not praying for the world,” Jesus said. “But I’m praying for those whom you have given me for they are yours.” There is no reasonable explanation for this wicked world in rebellion against God to remain in existence for one more moment other than the church of Jesus Christ.
When the last person to be saved is brought in, that’s it. It’s a wrap. It doesn’t mean that we retreat from the world like monks, but that we remain in the world and join in order to point the world to the salvation that’s only found in Jesus Christ.
The Bible is clear. Sinful humanity is united in opposition to God. So three quick implications in light of that.
Number one, we as the church must be careful with who we align ourselves with. It’s right to find common ground with the world where we can for the purpose of reaching them with the gospel, but we never wanna align ourselves in such a way that it communicates that we’re joining them in their opposition to God.
Number two, we as the church must be intentional about what we emphasize when we come together as Christians. The gospel must be central.
We can certainly talk about all kinds of implications of the gospel and we should. That’s what this very talk is about. It’s about an implication of the gospel, but we’re not talking about diversity and things like that because it’s popular for the world in the world to talk about it. We’re talking about it because it glorifies God. That’s part of his design and creation and redemption. This is about the glory of Jesus Christ. But we can only talk about the implications of the gospel in the right way when the gospel is the most important thing. That’s why I’m here and not somewhere else, at The Gospel Coalition because those who started this movement understand the importance of the centrality of the gospel. You lose that, you lose everything.
Number three, we as the church must be counter-cultural in how we pursue unity with Christians that we disagree with. We as the church must be counter-cultural in how we pursue unity with Christians that we disagree with. When the gospel is central in my life, that shapes how I interact with Christians that I disagree with. It means that I don’t have to demonize other Christians. It means that I can speak the truth in love with kindness and gentleness and respect.
So to recap, if we’re gonna honor the Lord and make progress in these discussions, one, we must start and end with the Bible, two, we must frame this discussion using biblical categories and three, our primary concern must be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Okay. That was the intro.
So many people would think, okay, we’ve received the gospel. We’re Christians now. That just does away with any ethnic strife. That’s what many people say. Just preach the gospel and racism, bigotry, and prejudice that is just, it’s just all gone. But is that what we see? No, not at all. We don’t see it in American history. So with slavery and Jim Crow and civil rights, throughout all of those errors, there were people who preached the very same gospel that we embrace, and yet it did not stop racism and oppression from happening.
More than that, we see it in the Bible and this is where our systematic theology becomes so important. There’s such a thing as the doctrine of indwelling sin. What does that say? It says that though the Christian has been redeemed, there’s an aspect of our nature known as the flesh that wars against the spirit. Galatians 5:17, ”For the desires of the flesh are against the spirit and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things that you wanna do.” And so sanctification is real. That’s a true reality.
And so a big part of discipleship is gradually turning from sinful, old sinful attitudes and mindsets. Racism, bigotry, prejudice, ethnic strife, those things are rooted in sin and we don’t say about other sins, just preach the gospel and it’ll go away, right? We don’t say, just preach the gospel and pride is gone or just preach the gospel and there will be no more lust or anger. We don’t like, we don’t say that about other sins. No. We preach about those things. We warn against those things. We discuss those things. And when those things are not repetitive, a healthy church will discipline a person because of those things. So it’s not just gonna magically go away.
And so the New Testament gives us a few examples of this and I wanna talk about two of them today. The first is in Acts chapter 6 and you can turn there. Acts chapter 6. Acts chapter 6, it says, ”Now in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in their daily distribution.” Stop. Hold up. Wait a second. We are in the Book of Acts y’all. We’re talking about Pentecost. Three thousand converted after one sermon.
Everybody always says, ”Wait, we need to go back to the Book of Acts.” Don’t you hear that a lot? People say, “That’s what’s wrong with the church today. We got to take it back. We got to take it back to the original, back to the Book of Acts. You know what I’m saying?” That’s what they say. But here we are in the Book of Acts and what’s happening here. The reality, we see the reality of indwelling sin. You have two groups of converts, both of them Jewish but the Hellenists are the Greek speaking Jews. So that means they’ve adapted to the society around them, which was heavily influenced by Greek culture. And then you had the Hebrews who are Jews that maintain their cultural distinctives.
And this is a common reality that we can all relate to. This is something that you often see in first and second generation immigrants, right? You have immigrants who moved to a place, you have the first generation who had that attachment to their homeland. They still speak the language. But then you had that second generation that they become more indoctrinated with the culture that they’re in. And that can produce strife between those two groups of people. And so you see what’s happening here. You have widows who are being neglected in the daily distribution of food. What? Widows? You’re withholding food from a widow because of her culture? How sad. How low can you go? And this is in the shadow of Pentecost, perhaps the greatest revival in the history of the church.
And so how do the apostles handle it? We see in verse 2. “And the 12 summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ”It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” So much wisdom here. Now you see, they say, ”We’re gonna focus on what we should focus on, which is preaching the gospel.” That’s the primary thing, the preaching of the word. That’s what makes any church a church rather than a social organization. So that priority is correct. And yet they don’t ignore the problem either, but they address it. Look at verse 3, ”Therefore brothers pick out from among you, seven men of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Continuing in verse 5, ”And what they said pleased the whole gathering and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and Philip and Procorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”
A few interesting things to note here. Number one, they left it to the congregation to choose, so they weren’t heavy handed in their approach, but they trusted the work of the spirit amongst the people. Number two, all the names given here are Greek names, which indicates that they were probably Hellenists. So the people that were appointed to address the issue were part of the people that were being oppressed. That’s wise. That’s wise because they will know how to deal with that situation in a sensitive way.
Number three, this is not tokenism. So it’s not, “Let’s just pick a random Hellenist. Any Hellenist from anywhere. You a Hellenist? Okay, come on.” Like, nah, that’s not what they did. They chose people with godly character who were filled with the spirit and filled with wisdom. This is very instructive for us. Now, some people might look at this situation, I think back then and think, well, wait a second. These are two groups of Jewish Christians. How were they beefing with each other?
But that’s only if you look at the situation from a distance, but the closer you get in proximity to a group of people, the more you begin to see their distinctions that everybody’s not the same. You can’t just walk, kind of sweep everybody with the same brush. That’s one situation. Another situation I think perhaps the biggest issue in the New Testament concerning how God’s people interacted with each other is the Jewish-Gentile conflict, the Jewish-Gentile conflict. That thing runs throughout the New Testament.
It can be said that that’s one of the main themes in the New Testament is the conflict between Jews and Gentiles. And the conflict was over this issue, how are Jews supposed to rightly respond to Gentiles being included in the covenant people of God? That was a big question for them. It’s not so much a question for us today so we don’t think about it as much as we should today because most of us are Gentiles, right? So when we think about that, but back then in that context, that was a very serious question. What do we do with this group of people who for centuries and centuries were excluded amongst the people of God and now here they are with us right now? What do we do? Because originally, the first instinct was we got to make them Jews. In order, in order to get right with God, you have to become a Jew.
And so you’re part of that excluded group. You wanna have something going on with God, you gotta become a Jew. And for the Jewish mind, there was a serious adjustment that had to take place. For thousands of years, it had only been Jews with a few Gentiles sprinkled in here and there. And so what that meant is that Jews maintain a consistent culture derived from the law. In fact, the only way for a Gentile to have a relationship with God was for them to religiously and culturally become a Jew. And this was not just a religious issue. This was an ethnic issue. In the mind of Jews, Gentiles were unclean. There was, without question, some ethnic superiority at work. But with the coming of Christ and the spread of the gospel beyond Jerusalem and Israel, what we begin to see is many, many Gentiles come into faith.
And then the question became, okay, well what about all the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws? What do you do with that? Do they apply to Gentiles? What about circumcision? Do Gentiles need to be circumcised? And you really see this thing fleshing itself out in the Book of Acts. And in this we can see the wisdom of God because God knew that because of the fall, ethnic, racial and cultural division would always be an issue in the world until Christ returns. And so what God did was he took this Jewish Gentile ethnic cultural issue and inspired in scripture a working out of that strife and tension between these different groups of people.
And so this was so that wherever the gospel spread, until the return of Christ, the gospel or Christians would have tools for addressing these issues in ways that distinguished us from the surrounding culture. And that’s why I say the Bible has to be central. Like we have answers to these questions. We gotta open up the book. They’re there. God has given it to us to deal with these issues. And so for example, you have the situation in Galatians. Turn to Galatians chapter 2, Galatians 2:11-14. The apostle Paul speaking, he says, ”But when Cephas,” speaking of Peter ”came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned for before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles. But when they came, he drew back and separated himself fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by the hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ”If you though a Jew live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?”
So here we have a situation between two Jewish apostles, Paul and Peter. And the issue is that Peter, at one time he was eating with the Gentiles and in that context eating together, that was a sign of deep fellowship. How do you get a first century Jew and a Gentile eating together? How is that possible? It’s the gospel. Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility that stood between Jew and Gentile. He made the two one. So in sharing deep fellowship with Gentiles, Peter was living out an implication of the gospel, but then something happened.
Verse 12 says that ”Certain men came from James.” These were people of the so-called circumcision party. These were the militant Jews and Peter perhaps out of fear of what they would say or do or think of him. It says that he separated himself from the Gentiles and that he even influenced Barnabas and that gets a sharp rebuke from the apostle Paul. And do you see what he says in verse 12? He says, ”But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel,” not in step with the truth of the gospel. So Paul didn’t say, “This whole kind of ethnic thing happening between you Peter and the Gentile, that’s a social issue. We just need to preach the gospel.” That’s not what he said.
He said that Peter separating himself from this group of people that has been reconciled by Christ and what he’s done for you to separate yourself, you’re not walking in line with the gospel. You’re not walking in step. It’s out of step with the gospel. What does the gospel say? The gospel says that Jesus died for all people groups, Jew, Gentile, Black, White, Latino, Asian, male, female. Jesus made no distinctions in who he laid his life down for in terms of ethnicity. And so if that’s true, then why would his people make ethnic distinctions in who we fellowship with? If Jesus didn’t make any ethnic distinctions in who he laid his life down for, then why would the people of God make ethnic distinctions in terms of who we fellowship with?
This means that racism, ethnic pride, bigotry, exclusiveness, that’s a gospel issue. Racial disharmony in the church, ethnic strife in the church is a gospel issue. The pursuit of ethnic harmony between Christians is a gospel issue. And so when we compartmentalize the gospel in unhelpful ways where we put rich doctrinal truth like justification by faith alone in one box and fail to see how that connects with pursuing relationships and understanding amongst Christians from different ethnic and ethnic groups, that’s a faulty wrong compartmentalization. The first step in applying the gospel in this area is to recognize that it is a gospel issue.
Another theme that we see that runs through the New Testament is this idea of unity, the importance of oneness. And we really see that in the Lord Jesus in his high priestly prayer in John chapter 17. I wanna encourage you to open there. In John 17 the Lord Jesus the night before his death, praying for his church has some amazing requests that he asks of the father. And I want you to look down at verse 21 where the Lord Jesus is praying for the people of God who would believe in the message of the apostles.
John 17:21, he prays “that they may all be one just as you father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me, I have given to them so that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.” And then look down at verse 26 the end of verse 26, ”I made known to them your name and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” So clearly the Lord Jesus is concerned about oneness and or unity.
And just four observations here from… quick observations from this passage. Number one, the oneness or the unity of the church is based on the oneness or the unity of God Himself. The oneness of the church is based on the oneness of God Himself. Verse 21, ”That they may be one just as you father are in me and I in you.” Verse 22, ”That they may be one even as we are one.” It’s one of those truths that we love to proclaim, the glorious doctrine of the Trinity, the God is one, one in essence or nature, three distinct persons, but He’s one. There’s one God.
Well, that rich doctrinal truth is meant to be applied to the church of Jesus Christ because God is one though He is a community within one, a community of father, son and Holy Spirit. Believers are one even though we are a community of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. So the oneness of the church is based on the oneness of God.
Observation number two, Christians are in spiritual union with Jesus Christ. Verse 23, ”I in them.” At the end of verse 26, ”I in them.” I cannot overstate the importance of this doctrine. This is a central theme throughout the New Testament, especially in the epistles written by the apostle Paul and it’s so important that it’s referenced in many different ways. So it was referenced in John 15:5 when Jesus says, ”I am the vine and you are the branches.” He’s getting at that reality of the union, of the believer with Jesus Christ. We see all over the place. ”The church is the body of Christ and Christ is the head,” 1 Corinthians 12:27. ”The church is the bride of Christ and Christ is the husband,” Ephesians 5: 32. ”The church is the temple of God. Christ is the cornerstone,” Ephesians 2:20.
All of these images are pictures of our union with Christ in the Bible. Not only uses these illustrations, but it describes each aspect of our salvation in these terms. So we were chosen in Christ. We are made alive in Christ. We are new creations in Christ. We’re adopted in Christ. We’re crucified with Christ. We’re buried with Christ. We’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We’re justified in Christ. We’re sanctified in Christ, and we’re glorified with Christ. You can’t even think about any aspect of our salvation apart from our union with Jesus Christ. Think about baptism. That’s a visible picture of our union with Christ. We’re baptized into Christ and his death, we’re united with him in his resurrection.
And so this has deep implications for how we interact with one another as Christians. So I don’t look at the Christian who disagrees with me as, oh, that’s just a Republican or that’s just a Democrat or that’s just a liberal. No, that is someone who’s been purchased and redeemed. That’s one of the excellent ones in whom is Jesus is all his delight. That’s a priest. That’s a royal priest we talking about. That’s a person that I am united with. Through faith in Jesus Christ we’re united with Christ and with one another. You can’t just demonize our brothers and sisters in Christ and just say, “Oh forget about them.” You can’t just say, “Later for y’all Christians.” There’s nothing Christian about that sentiment. “Later for y’all. I’m done with y’all. I’m through.” I understand this conversation can get tiring, but that’s no reason to just pick up your ball and go. These are people we’re gonna spend all eternity with. We’re gonna be worshiping Jesus together for all eternity. And we have something more in common with another Christian even if they differ from us ethnically.
We have something more. Look, I have more in common with a White or Asian or Latino brother or sister in Christ than I do with a Black man that does not believe in Jesus. What I have in common with another Christian is more foundational to who I am than my ethnicity. I’m not saying do away with it. I’m not saying be colorblind, act like it doesn’t exist, but what I am saying and what I think is clearly taught in the Bible is that our union with Christ which creates our union with one another, that is the central aspect of our identity, that is at the core of who we are. These other things have their place, but they must not replace that.
I like this quote from John Newton. He says this about union with Christ. He says, ”By nature we are separated from the divine life. As branches broken off, withered and fruitless, but grace through faith unites us to Christ, the living vine from whom as the root of all fullness, a constant supply of sap and influence is derived into each of his mystical branches, enabling them to bring forth fruit unto God, and to persevere and abound bound therein.” He continues. ”Our redeemer is our husband. Our debts were paid, our settlement secured and our names changed. By nature, we are hateful and abominable in the sight of a Holy God and full of enmity and hatred towards one another. By faith uniting us to Christ, we have fellowship with the father and the son and joint communion among ourselves, even as the members of the same body have each of them union, communion and sympathy with the head and with their fellow members.”
Amen. Amen. That is a beautiful, beautiful picture, faith uniting us to Jesus Christ and giving us the most important thing in common with one another. So much more could be said about that, but third observation here is that the church is one. The church is one. Verse 21 of John 17, ”That they may all be one just as you father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Verse 22, ”The glory that you have given me, I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one.” Brothers and sisters, these are not prayers that will go unanswered. Jesus gets his prayers answered.
Yeah. The oneness that Jesus is praying for was purchased at the cross. The church is united to Christ and united to one another across all generations. So then why are we to pursue unity if we already have it? Well, the answer is that when we pursue unity, we are living out the oneness that is already ours in Christ. When we pursue unity, we’re just living out the oneness that is already ours in Christ. It’s similar to Romans 6:8. So Romans 6:8 says, ”Now if we have died with Christ,” and then Romans 6:11 says that, ”You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.”
Well, wait a second, which is it? Is it a hypothetical thing or is it a real thing? He’s saying, no, it’s a real thing. And in light of that real thing, now walk in it. Walk in who you are, who God has redeemed you to be. And it’s the same thing here. Walk out that oneness. God has purchased that oneness for us, let’s walk it out practically. We ought to pursue it here and it will be perfected ultimately in eternity.
All right. As I close, I want you to turn over to Ephesians chapter 4 and we can close here. So much more could be said, and I’m not sure how much time we have, if we can have some time for some questions afterwards. Okay. We got a little bit more time, so, okay, turn over to Ephesians chapter 4 and this is a classic text on the question of unity amongst believers. Ephesians 4 beginning at verse 1 says, ”I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all who is overall and through all and in all.”
What I love here is how the apostle Paul points out those things that are objectively true of the Christian, that there’s one body, that there’s one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, all of these things that this pursuit of unity, part of it is contending for the faith that was once for all handed down. I think this has great implications for us as we think about this issue of ethnic unity. We are one, there’s only one God. There’s only one faith and if we’ve anyone who’s truly trusted in Jesus Christ has embraced that one true faith. And the path to pursuit of unity, from this text we see it’s gonna be a path of humility, of gentleness, of patience, and bearing with one another in love. If we’re gonna get anywhere in our pursuit of unity across the lines that divide us, it must be a path of humility, a path of gentleness, a path of patience, and a path of bearing with one another in love.
What we see here is that this assumes disagreement, right? You have to assume that there’s gonna be disagreement here. Otherwise you don’t have to bear with anybody that you already agree with. Why would we be commanded to bear with someone if we already agree about everything? No, this assumes, it assumes there’s going to be a godly believer who loves Jesus just as much, if not more than you do, who has a completely different view on politics.
This means that there can be, that we have to have categories for godly spirit-filled Christians who don’t see the most important political categories in the same ways. We have to have these categories. And I think each of these implies a temptation towards the opposite. So we’re told that it’s a path of humility. What’s that mean? That means that the temptation is gonna be pride. It’s gonna be to be puffed up in finding my identity in something else other than Jesus and looking down on others that I disagree with. It implies the opposite of gentleness, that there’s gonna be a temptation towards being abrasive, towards being mean-spirited in how we correct our brothers and sisters. It’s gonna be a temptation towards just being sarcastic and just nasty and just trolling people.
It says patience. That means it’s gonna be a temptation, that opposite temptation to just say, “I’m done. Okay. We tried to work it out and we did it for a couple months or a couple of Facebook posts, but now I’m done. Because you just don’t get it. You just do not get it. So it’s over. I’m just gonna go and retreat and be with people who are just like me externally.” And then again, bearing with one another in love. That implies that there’s gonna be the temptation towards bitterness. I’ve been so hurt. I’m so upset. I’m so angry that I’m just, you know what, I’m done with you. This must not be, this must not be amongst the church of God. So listen and I’m done.
At the end of the day, y’all, the good news, the good news is that Jesus in his mercy, in his kindness and in his grace has done the unthinkable. He came into this world. He lived the perfect life that none of us could live. He died on the cross as a substitute bearing the full weight of the wrath of a Holy God. He bore that wrath in himself as a substitute. He didn’t have any sin himself, so it wasn’t for his own sins. He died for the sins of others. And he died for the sins of those who would place their trust in him and turn from their sins. And he did that so that if we do that, we have the promise of being saved by his grace and being with God for all eternity, to worship him forever amongst the redeemed people of God.
And the good news y’all is that God will accomplish his ultimate purpose. So the time is gonna come where all ethnic beef between Christians is gonna be removed. It’s gonna be gone. And the only thing that we’re gonna be able to see is the lamb. We’re gonna be gathered around him with Jesus as our glorious worship leader, proclaiming the praises of God amongst the congregation, amongst his brothers from Hebrews 2.
And all sin and darkness and betrayal and hurt and bitterness, that’s all gonna be removed. And we have that hope because of what Jesus Christ has done in the gospel. And so in light of that hope, we are now empowered to pursue our brothers and sisters across these ethnic lines. And we’re free to pursue them with humility, to pursue them with gentleness, to pursue them with patients, to pursue them while bearing with them in love.
And the beautiful thing is that we have the Holy Spirit so we can cry out to God because this is not gonna be accomplished in the flesh. We’re not gonna be able to muster this up in our own strength or just by virtue of our own good moral background or because I grew up in a house where it just wasn’t a prejudice household. So that’s just, now I’m just gonna be able to do it. No, we need the spirit of God to help us to pursue understanding with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ on these issues. So much more could be said. Thank you for listening.
Let’s pray. Let’s pray. Lord, Lord, we thank you for the gospel. We thank you for that which unites us. And Lord, we thank you that ethnicity is not something that is intrinsically sinful, but that it’s beautiful because you created it with a purpose in mind that we might ultimately point everything back to you and glorify you through Jesus Christ. And so would you help us? Would you keep us from two temptations? One is the temptation of idolatry, seeing ethnicity as everything. The other would be the temptation of apathy, just not wanting to even deal with it because it’s so hard. Would you help us with that?
We thank you that you have made us one through the gospel. Would you help us to walk out that oneness in practical ways? Lord, we need you. Apart from you, we can do absolutely nothing, but we thank you that you’ve given us everything that we need in Christ, in the gospel and in your spirit and in your word. So would you help us to apply these things, to use these things that you’ve given us in your grace? That at the end of the day, you might receive all the glory for the glory of your name we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
So I’ve… yeah, I don’t know if we have any time. I think his time is up. I don’t know. Time’s up. Okay. All right. I wanna stick around for a little bit. Anybody want to talk? But thanks.