In Part One I showed how racial tension in the social context of the New Testament wasn’t much different than ours today. That doesn’t excuse it now or then. Rather, Scripture offers a solution that is bigger than the problem: All races and ethnicities “who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6). This truth is not an optional addendum to the Gospel. It is the Gospel. All colors, languages, and cultures are united in Christ.
On the cross, Christ broke down the wall of hostility that separates races (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus didn’t make peace by imploring people to “get along” or celebrate our differences. Not that he wouldn’t say or do those things, but what he does is so much more. He doesn’t just “make peace” on the cross. He is the peace! He reconciled all peoples “to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:16). In subjecting himself to an act of racial violence on the cross (a Jew being killed by Romans), Christ killed racial hostility.
The Apostle Paul then goes on to explain two profound implications of this newfound unity in Christ:
- We are all citizens.
- We are all family.
Welcome to the Country!
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. (Ephesians 2:19a)
I remember in American History in high school seeing the pictures and reading the stories of immigrants arriving from all over the world. They’d sail for weeks on the open seas, risking all just for a chance at liberty. Then when just when they thought they’d never make it they’d see the Statue of Liberty rising out of the foggy waters and they’d break down in tears of joy. They’d get off the boat and literally kiss the ground. The freedom they’d dreamed about for so long had finally come true. That’s a powerful image – one that I think we’ve all idealized in our minds (or at least, we used to) – America: Land of Liberty.
Paul is conjuring up that same sort of imagery. These people in Ephesus who were citizens from all over the world but living under Roman rule. The only way you could get citizenship in the Roman Empire was to be born into it or buy it, usually by serving years as a slave.
Citizenship definitely had its privileges. Citizens could travel freely around the Empire. They could vote, claim exemption from military service, and have the right to an appeal after trial. In short, citizens were just treated more nicely. No doubt, the many strangers and foreigners occupying Ephesus coveted such privileges.
But Jesus Christ offers something far greater than just earthly citizenship in a temporal kingdom. He offers the same citizenship in the eternal Kingdom of God to whoever will take it, regardless of race or ethnicity. This is God’s country! All are welcome here.
That sounds really good, doesn’t it? Open. Affirming. Politically correct. Most of us would agree and be satisfied to stop here in race relations. But that isn’t where God stops. He’s not interested in one nation of Jews and Gentiles, African Americans and Whites. He’s creating a whole new nation! One people. One identity. One new creation.
Welcome to the Family!
You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19b)
This is much more personal. This moves the metaphor from a larger corporate experience to a much deeper, more intimate belonging. Not only do we welcome you as citizens, we welcome you as family.
Whoa! Wait a minute! Family? Living in the same house? Under the same roof? I don’t know about that. That’s a little too close for comfort.
We have six children: three biological boys and three adopted girls. When the girls came into our family as foster children 7 years ago, it changed our family dramatically. Even before we adopted them, we never said, “This is our family and you’re going to have to learn how things work around here.” No, from the very beginning, we said, “We are a new family. Together we are being shaped and molded into something new and beautiful.” We weren’t just the same family with three extra children. We became an entirely new family, a new creation.
That’s how Christians are to be. We’re not the same family, but now we have the Korean church and the Hispanic church and the African American church. No, we are one new people! We are a new family that needs to figure out what each of us has to give and discover how each race and culture shapes us into a new familiar identity.
Make no mistake about it: as with our family’s adoption story, it is a lot of work! Perhaps that’s why we’re not quite there yet. Paul acknowledges that it’s a work in progress.
We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. (Ephesians 2:21)
The foundation has already been laid in the lives and teachings of the faithful, and Christ is supporting and holding it all together. But we’re still under construction. Still being fitted together – sometimes awkwardly; sometimes painfully; but never without hard work and effort. But this ordinary drab house when fitted together properly – with all the pieces of the mosaic – is growing into a beautiful ornate temple – where the LORD, himself, resides.
This is God’s glorious plan – that all people be reconciled to him and to each other through Christ. Jesus broke down the walls, but we keep building them back up. Right now, it may seem like the walls are insurmountable. There is so much pain. So much misunderstanding. So much hostility. How can we ever overcome it all?
It starts with Christians – those who say we love and follow Jesus. All people of every tribe, race, and ethnicity who have been reconciled through Christ must work hard to live out that reconciliation in our communities and churches.
Can you imagine the impact Christians would make in the world if African Americans and Hispanics are joined together in one loving family? The influence Christians would have if Asians and Indians lived together in peaceful harmony under one roof? Can you fathom the powerful witness of Christ’s redeeming love that would be evident in Iraqis and Americans embracing each other as brothers and sisters united in Christ? It would be something, wouldn’t it?
What can you do to tear down the walls of racial hostility and begin working toward racial reconciliation? We can’t ever be satisfied with being “joint-citizens.” We must do the hard work of living as one family reconciled in Christ.