GOD AND RACISM
1 Peter 2:9-12
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 11, 2013
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
-- 1 Peter 2:9-12, ESV
God and racism are two subjects that would seem to be mutually exclusive. God is great and God is good, so no one would ever even think Him to be a racist. Racism is for lesser beings like Adolf Hitler, Klu Klux Klansmen, and certain prophets for profit who hijacked the civil rights movement a reverse racism reservoir.
Can racism ever be good or godly? Jerry Seinfeld once remarked in character that he really wanted to date a Chinese woman. Elaine accused him of making a racist remark, to which he replied, “It isn’t racism if you like their race.” Touché.
God likes, even loves, people of all races. This truth is told in song (“Red and yellow, black and white ...”) and Scripture (ref. Acts 10:34-35). But the text before us today begins with the fact that there is a “chosen race” to God. It can hardly be called racism, because God certainly loves this race. Nevertheless, a single race of mankind has been chosen to bear special blessings and responsibilities before Almighty God, seemingly as all other races have been passed over. Which race is God’s favorite race?
Americans Are Not God’s Favorite Race
God has certainly favored the United States of America, at least historically. We are probably still the most prosperous, religious, and resource-rich nation in the world. Most school maps put the good old USA in the center of the picture. We relish the fact that we stand alone as the world’s only so-called “super power.” We expect everyone else in the world to learn English while we become ever increasingly incapable of speaking it ourselves. We act like we are God’s chosen people.
But, we are most certainly not. We were not dreamed of when God visited man in the days of the Old Testament, nor when Jesus walked the earth at the inauguration of the New Testament, and I doubt very seriously we are the “eagle” in the book of Revelation. Our founding fathers sought to build a “city on a hill” for God, but in two subsequent centuries we have transformed into a bunch of pagans on the plain. We constitute less than five percent of the world’s population but greedily consume far more than our fair share of the world’s resources. We’ve kicked God out of classrooms and courtroom and appear primed to boot Him out of the military and the mainstream of our lives.
All that being said, like Lee Greenwood I am “glad to be an American” and pray daily, “God bless the USA.” I have visited other countries, studied many more, and the United States of America is my favorite country. But, it is not God’s.
Israelis Are Not God’s Favorite Race
Well, if white people in general and Americans in particular are not God’s favorite race, who is? Most white Americans, especially Christians, would say Israel (in the present tense). This is at least a little disturbing.
Israel and America are strong political allies, in a way that makes some sense and brings mutual benefits to both countries. Israel and evangelical Christians in America have strong ties, too. To this day I hear many Christians call the Israelis “God’s People.” Recently I watched an evangelical television program promoting a new church funded by American Christians in Israel where the pastor proudly proclaimed, “We don’t have to be Christian, we can just be Jewish.” Something is wrong with this picture.
Americans and particularly American Christians strongly side with Israel in their ongoing conflicts with the Palestinians. Before the mid-twentieth century, however, the majority of Palestinians were Christians. Since the political re-birth of Israel, and since it was supported mostly by white American and British politicians, and since so many Palestinians were forced away from their homes and made exiles, the Christian percentage of Palestinians has shrunk to about 2.0%. Jewish people living in Israel who are Christians constitute about 0.2% of the population. The middle east is hardly the holy land, at least not in the biblical sense, any more.
But it was and they were, weren’t they? Even our text at hand takes us back to a place and time when the Jews were a favored people, especially beloved and blessed by God. Even evangelical Christians owe a debt of sorts to Israel, for from them came our Messiah, our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot be anti-semitic, we cannot be racist against Jews (or any other people group for that matter), but we cannot say with a straight face today that the Jews are God’s chosen people.
Then who are? Who is God talking to in this text?
Christians Are God’s Favorite Race
Granted, Simon Peter’s words were taken right out of Old Testament texts, especially Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 43:20-21, and Hosea 2:23. They were given to Israel through Israelites to show God’s favor for Israel. But, as Paul explained in Romans 9:6, “Not all who descended from Israel belong to Israel.” The promise of God’s favor is only for those who belong to God in the “Christian” sense, or “gospel” sense, or by grace alone through faith alone in God alone as God has revealed Himself to man.
In the Old Covenant, almost all believers were Jews living in or around Israel. But many believers, from Jethro to Rahab to the people of Hosea’s prophecy to the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion came to God by grace through faith during or at the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
When the New Covenant completely fulfilled and replaced the Old, most of the early Christians were Jewish, but soon were dispersed across the landscape of the known world (this is Peter’s primary audience in this epistle). But as the gospel spread, the church became comprised of people of all races and nations who held one thing in common. They all came to a covenant relationship with God by grace through faith in God, as God revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. That is why today, God’s favorite race is limited to true Christian people, without reference to their earthly race.
God’s attribute of love and His common grace falls upon all people, all races, all nations. But His sovereign, saving grace, His covenant gift of faith, His bestowal of salvation through His Son, is only for one race of people, the people running in the Christian race. Running this race is owed to great blessing and it comes with great responsibility.
The Blessing and Responsibility of the Christian Race
While the first three points serve as a long, necessary introduction, this fourth and final point gets at what God is saying to us through this text in 1 Peter. Being included in God’s people makes us favored and humbled. It is a great blessing and a great responsibility. It is grace, through faith, not by our works, which empowers us to live, worship, and work for God.
Being “a chosen race” is a blessing. We did not elect God to be our leader, He elected us to be His followers. Election is the privilege of a sovereign God to chose the persons He wills to be His children. It overrides our stubborn, sinful, self-will to do as we please and transforms us into a people that desire to please God. It is not conditional based upon any actual or predicted works or decisions man my make. And all whom God purchases for Himself with His Son’s blood will come to Him and never be cast out. If you are following Christ today, it is as Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
Being “a royal priesthood” is a responsibility, as is being part of “a holy nation.” All Christians are responsible to believe, to pray, to worship, to bring sacrifices, and to bring people to God. We do this by maintaining our character, our integrity, our speech, and our associations in a way that is distinct, godly, “holy.” And we don’t live isolated lives from one another, but are in covenant and communion together as a “nation” in our respective churches.
Being God’s “own possession” is a blessing. God owns everything, but He has chosen to possess certain people. As His precious possession, God has His eye on you and will never take it off. His hand is over us and will never move. Trials chisel us and victories polish us to make us more and more beautiful, valuable, and eternal in the realm of our God and Savior.
Being able to “proclaim” the gospel of God’s “light” and “mercy” is a responsibility. We do this with our lips and our lives by representing God on earth as “sojourners and exiles” who “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” When I visited Romania, Russia, and Israel on short-term mission trips, I was indeed an alien in the land. Coming home, I realized my life here is a short-term mission trip. That is why it is imperative to capture every opportunity to share Christ with family, friends, and people you meet. That is why it is so important to live lives that are spiritually true and morally pure. We have such a short time to point others in the right direction, and we cannot proclaim and point if we are not walking the narrow road ourselves.
And even when you “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,” many of the race of unbelievers will still “speak against you as evildoers.” The first Christians were accused of being atheists and seditionists. It took the better part of three centuries to overcome these false accusations. I wonder today if the church is marching forward or failing in retreat. Can others really “see your good deeds?” Does our church “glorify God” on Sundays and every day? We will be ready to meet God and influence others to be ready “on the day of visitation” when Christ comes again?
I have worked as an Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity officer for a company. I abhor racism of any kind. I long for the day when race really doesn’t matter when it comes to employment, opportunity, or any other earthly thing.
But race matters in spiritual and eternal things, and in the way we should conduct ourselves during our time on earth. It is time for the Christian race to run the Christian race. To be born again is a special blessing from God . To live as God’s preferred race of people on earth is a tremendous responsibility. Let us be the race, and run the race, that pleases and glorifies God!
GOD AND RACISM
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org