Messages regarding racism surround us. Many claim to have the answer that will help resolve racial divisions and prejudices. Only time will tell whether these novel solutions will deliver what they promise. But what if the answer exists tucked securely in the pages of the Bible? What if our racial divisions need not something new but something that has always been there though underused?
The old seemingly dusty doctrine of justification by faith alone might seem out of place in discussions regarding racism. Yet, in the first century, this doctrine broke down ethical divisions that had galvanized over the course of many centuries, conflicts, and wars.
Racism manifests one form of prejudice, one people group prejudging another people group not based on merit but ethnicity, skin color, social class, etc. Thus, every prejudice roots itself in pride. Pride puffs people up. It says, “Because I am an American and live out the so-called American way, I am somehow superior to people who live in other countries.” It says, “Because I am white, I am somehow superior to blacks.”
Justification by faith alone swallows pride. Instead of placing confidence in one’s race, justification by faith alone places one’s confidence in Christ, whom neither my group nor any other holds a special claim to. “God is one,” the Apostle said, “who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Romans 3:30).” My only privilege is knowing Him whom I never deserved to know.
Justification by faith alone also frees us from denial. Pride puffs us up, but it usually needs some help. Denial serves as pride’s helper. When my primary identity rests on being part of a certain people group, I need to overlook my people’s flaws and failures. I get touchy and defensive when people criticize my people. Justification by faith alone frees me from denial. I can face the faults and failures of my people because my ultimate sense of worth rests not in them but Christ.
In the first century, the doctrine of justification by faith alone melded two opposing groups into one. Jewish and Gentile believers hated each other. But, through the gospel message with its declaration that justification before God is now by faith alone, the two groups started sharing fellowship with one another for the first time. Growth pains did arise, but Christ grew the two into one body, his Body.