Gospel Power in a Divided World

About a thousand protesters march down Washington Street in Boston in outrage over the killing of George Floyd among other pritests nationwide. (Jesse Costa/WBUR

Christians must learn how to think and act Christianly. Christianity offers a vision of the world and how it operates informed fundamentally by God’s revelation through His Word. The Bible is our primary mechanism for interpreting all that happens around us. When we see world events and experience cultural moments, we begin with our Bibles open and seek to make sense of it within the categories and principles taught through the pages of scripture. Perhaps even more importantly, when we look for answers, we always root our answers in the hope of the gospel to transform lives and replace sin-filled hearts. So… how does the Bible inform our current cultural moment set ablaze by the murder of George Floyd and the protests that ensued?

The Christian is never surprised (though we do lament and grieve from the depth of our heart) at the level of sin and wickedness in the world. When we are confronted with racism, we are sickened because of our awareness that every human being is made in God’s image. Violent videos of unjust murder fill the Christian with a righteous indignation to see justice satisfied. The Christian adequately explains why terrors like racism, anger, violence, murder, and abuse of authority exist in this world. The reason is sin and nothing less. The Christian worldview begins by pointing the finger at the sin that lies within each human heart, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).” And further, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8).” The world is full of vice and wickedness because every human being alive has rebelled against a holy God, has become tainted at a heart level with the evils of sin, and has become complicit agents of darkness. Jesus told us, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matt. 15:19).” Humanity has a heart issue, and every form of vile wickedness that flows out of a person or out of a society is ultimately a product of a faulty heart in rebellion to God.

[See this message I gave for a further exploration of the depth of sin in the human heart]

The Christian must then recognize that if the root of the problem is hearts in rebellion to God, then the ultimate solution we argue for, and the hope we point people to must be saturated in Christ and His work on the cross. The term Gospel simply means “good news.” And the good news of the Bible is that God has intervened in human history physically through Jesus Christ. He has once and for all dealt with the world’s problem of a rebellious human heart stained by the toxicity of our sin. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus alone is able to save sinners and transform their hearts. This must be proclaimed over and over and over again by every Christian in every circumstance. Ending racism from our society and abolishing injustices within our systems is not just a matter of new law and new leadership and new systems. Neither is it simply a matter of proper training and education. This does not to deny that just law and good government are not wonderful instruments that we must pursue zealously (Romans 13:1-5), or that Christians should not be at the forefront of better training & education on Biblical issues like these. It is to say however that we must aim for more than a reconfiguration of systems, we must strike at the root of the disease. We must aim to fix the hearts of sinful men by proclaiming the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin. And we must do so unrelentingly, for if we truly believe that the gospel alone holds the keys to heal the human heart, and we fail to proclaim that news with vigor and zeal, then can we truly claim to be our brother’s keeper? Will we be so short sighted as to be satisfied with solutions that don’t actually solve the root of the problem?

Will we be so short sighted as to be satisfied with solutions that don’t actually solve the root of the problem?

Further, the gospel is not simply the message of forgiveness for our individual sins, as if somehow our private spiritual lives were detached from the real world sinful realities and broken systems that pervade the world today. No, that’s only half the story! Regenerated people must regenerate systems. Remember how Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-10).” When we pray the Lord’s prayer we are asking God for Earth to reflect heaven. In a sense we are saying, “God we want your will and your desires and your Kingdom, with all of its love and virtue and worship, established here on this Earth, just like it already is in heaven.

The prophet Isaiah, prophesying hundreds of years before the life and death of Jesus foretold the righteous fruit that what would flow from God’s people serving faithfully underneath the reign of the Messiah. He said:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains… that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law… and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:2 & 4 (ESV)

This is prophetic language that describes the very age that we are living in now. The “mountain of the Lord” that has been established is a reference to Jesus’ current Kingdom rule and reign. And just as Isaiah foretold, people from all over the world flock to Christ every day to learn his ways. “His law” goes forth wherever His gospel is proclaimed. We are told that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…” What this means is that when people truly have their hearts changed by God through Jesus, they will no longer be filled with rage and jealousy and anger and racism, but rather will put down those violent ways and will follow the way of the Master, the way of peace. This is our current reality! This is also the history of the last 2,000 years of men and women (myself included) who have fallen on their knees before a Holy God and had their lives changed from the direction it was going, to one of love and gentleness and justice and peace and worship of the one true God. Only Jesus can form this divine love and sacrifice in a human heart. There is no other way. We must preach no other way.

What I have been grateful for over the last week is that we have seen a mass demonstration of agreement that racism and abuse of authority are wrong and wicked. We can thank the Bible for those truths! And when Christians participate in these protests I believe they are giving an effort to living out 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” I love the zeal, and I affirm that Christians of all walks and all colors have much to learn about stepping into very real brokenness of minority communities around them with more than trite words. To live like Jesus we must give more of ourselves than a tweet or a nod, we must build actual relationships around our dinner table that change the way we think and expand our understanding of the issues. This is what Christians do best, we are a love-saturated others-oriented relational people that major in stepping into other people’s brokenness with empathy and the full force of the Holy Spirit.

Where I am concerned as a pastor is that in the midst of a mass movement for a good cause, I have seen very little proclamation by Christians of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means necessary to truly fix broken hearts and broken systems. I have seen Christians joining in protests where some of the loudest voices leading are touting solutions and values that are not Christian in their origin or aim. I have seen the phrase, “Defund the police” on constant repeat and its more extreme form “Abolish the Police“. I have seen the words, “By any means necessary” regularly. At face value these are not rooted in Christian ideology. One of the challenges of blindly joining mass protests without knowing the leadership is that you may find yourself accidentally standing behind voices and doctrines that you fundamentally disagree with, and yet there you are.

Passivity and silence in the face of injustice are not Christian values. But, a Christian’s zeal to do the right thing must be matched by their zeal to do it the right way. Wherever Biblical justice is being fought for, Christians can come alongside and labor together. Wherever Biblical wrongs are being set straight, Christians can co-labor. But in the midst of it, we must root ourselves firmly in the Gospel as the deeper truth upon which we stand and upon which we labor. We must learn to think Christianly, and ensure that our voice is one of consistent gospel proclamation, as we seek to love our neighbors with a Christ like sacrificial love. Many of the ideas that are quickly becoming normal in our way of thinking are not Christian ideas, as good as they sound are actually false gospels that will only lead to more death and more brokenness. There is a good and righteous fight to fight, so long as we do it as Christ would be pleased.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)

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