This article is the first in a short series I plan to write about how to process the issues of our day:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
I think we could rightly add: “a time to reflect” to the mix. That’s how I’ve been feeling, and based on many of the conversations I’ve had with you, that’s how many of you are feeling. There’s a lot to think about.
Christians welcome reflection. It’s an important part of growth and change. We are always eager to learn what it looks like to follow Jesus in this fallen world. In the midst of this uproar, we can be thankful for this challenging opportunity that causes us to ponder important issues.
When Tragedy Struck
When tragedy struck in Palestine and certain people asked Jesus about it, he used it as an opportunity to call his people to repentance (Lk. 13:1-5). The tragedies surrounding us ought to make us pause. God’s message to the world, given through Christ, is “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:14-15). Christians are people who live in the posture of repentance. We gladly receive this moment as an invitation to pause, reflect, and evaluate if there are areas, patterns, or attitudes in our lives that are sinful and require repentance. Like David, we can ask the Lord to search our hearts and expose our sins (Ps. 139:23-24) because we know that there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Beware the Inner Lawyer; Beware False Guilt
Paul David Tripp likes to say that we all have an “inner lawyer” that rises up to our defense whenever we’re accused of something. In our study through Mark, we’ve seen that the Pharisees had an almost infinite capacity to delude themselves. We can be just like them. Our inner defense lawyer is highly skilled. He knows how to alleviate unwanted guilt by persuasively proving our innocence. We need to be aware of that.
At the same time, false guilt is a bad thing. We should not feel guilty for sins we have not committed. We can grieve over the sins of others. This is right. We can mourn over tragedy and loss. This is natural and good. It’s important to remember, however, that we are not guilty of the sins of others. False guilt leads to false repentance, false repentance leads to false humility, and false humility leads us in the exact opposite direction we need to go. That road leads to a new definition for sin, and if you redefine sin, you redefine repentance, and if you redefine repentance, well, I think you’ve just redefined the gospel.
The biblical way of dealing with sin is confessing it (1 Jn. 1:8-9). To confess sin means to name it, call it out, and see it for what it is. It does no good to confess vague, unspecified sin. Growth happens when we, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, see our sin for what it is, confess it to God, and receive forgiveness (Prov. 28:13).
Let’s Talk about Racism
So here’s my plea. The whole world is talking about racism. Let’s talk about it too. But let’s not talk about it like the world talks about it. And, before we start talking about it, let’s talk to God about it. Let’s ask him for the needed humility and Spirit-given clarity to see our own hearts. Let’s be willing to concede that there may be issues God wants to deal with.
Potential Sins of the Heart
Racism. Biblically, we’re all members of the same human race (Acts 17:28). The various colors we have are aspects of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. Heaven will be filled with the beauty of people from every “nation, tribe, and tongue,” and we believe the church should be a preview to that. Racism is when one “race” believes it is superior to another “race.”
It would be a violation of our belief in the nature of human sin to deny that racism is a possibility. No one denies the horrors that racist ideologies have enabled across the world and in America specifically. Racism has existed, exists today, and will exist until the Lord’s return. Let’s not act as if we’re immune to it. My friend and pastor “Gunner” Gundersen recently wrote this arresting paragraph:
Have we forgotten that every heart is “desperately sick”? We know that pride is insidious, lust is corrosive, anger is consuming, and envy has a thousand faces, but we speak as though “racism” is a simple binary, a “pass/fail” diagnosis that ignores the layered, subtle, deceptive, enculturated ways sin works in our hearts and communities.
Let’s pause and go before the Lord and ask the question: Lord, do I have racist thoughts, attitudes, or actions? Do I think, feel, or act like I am superior to other people who have different skin tones than me? Do I think, feel, or act like those with a different skin-color are inferior to me and others like me?
Favoritism. Not all racial problems are rooted in racism. Some could be more accurately described as “favoritism” problems. James 2:1 says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” God doesn’t play favorites (Rom. 2:11), and because God is impartial, we should be too.
James uses the example of a rich man and a poor man walking into the church. Which do we pay attention to? Which are we drawn to? He says if we show particular hospitality to the rich man while ignoring the poor man, we’ve sinned. “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas 2:4).
James uses a rich man/poor man contrast for his point, but his point has further implications for how we treat people who have different appearances. It is possible to be free from racism while still being partial to people who are like you.
Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, am I partial to people who are like me? Do I prefer them simply because it’s comfortable? Am I more welcoming to them because it’s easier? Do I ignore those different from me because I don’t want to deal with their problems? Do I play favorites?
Fear. Racial strife isn’t always racism or favoritism. It could be something even more basic: fear. The most repeated command in Scripture is some variation of “Do not fear.” The implication is that often we’re like shivering little animals, afraid of all manner of things - especially the unknown. If a person hasn’t had much time spent with people of different skin colors, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they might experience sinful fear and worry.
Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, I am afraid of people who are not like me? Am I afraid of the discomfort of getting to know them? Am I afraid of the challenges they might bring to my life?
Insensitivity. As a church, we have agreed to “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and with tenderness and sympathy, bear the burdens and sorrows of those who weep.” Whenever members in our church are grieving, we grieve with them, listen, and bear burdens - regardless of race, class, occupation, or issue.
It’s wrong and sinful for us to be completely insensitive to the struggles and trials of those around us, particularly our brothers and sisters in the church. Is there a possibility, that even if we’re not committing racism, playing favorites, or fearing those of a different race, that we’re insensitive to the unique struggles they’ve faced?
Not every black person’s experience is the same. Many, however, I’ve spoken to and learned from don’t have a “chip on their shoulder” or an “axe to grind” when they tell me about certain challenges they’ve had to face. Shai Linne recently wrote an article listing several of the varied difficulties of being black in America:
It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”
It’s easy for us to bear burdens we understand. It’s much more difficult to bear a burden utterly foreign to us; something we’ve never experienced. Let’s let this time help us think through whether we have been sensitive to the unique struggles of our black brothers and sisters. Have we sought to understand them? Have we demonstrated sympathy? Are we quick to write off their concerns? Are we willing to actually bear burdens?
Don’t Repent If...
Let’s seize this moment as a learning opportunity. Remember, we are not of this world, and do not respond to these issues as the world does. We pause. We pray. We think. We look at Scripture. We look at our hearts. We repent where necessary. We grow and change.
But we don’t manufacture repentance. This is important. If we want real, substantial change, we must deal with the heart. Our hearts first. That’s why it’s imperative that we do not repent of sins we have not committed. That bypasses true growth.
However, if the Lord has exposed real sin, praise the Lord! Thank him for his rescuing, eye-opening grace! Ask for forgiveness, receive his abundant mercy, and turn from the sin you’ve identified. Enjoy the wonderful forgiveness we find in the gospel.