GIVING DUE REGARD
By Randy Nabors
Recently I was given the opportunity to speak at a major Evangelical organization about diversity, cross-cultural ministry and reconciliation. For this particular occasion I organized my thoughts into these 7 points.
- REGARD NO ONE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH. We begin with a passage from 2 Corinthians 5, verses 11-20. I especially focus on what Paul says in verse 16, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
This is part of Paul’s revolutionary transformation in regard to his conversion. All of his life he had been trained to regard people according to the flesh. Philippians 3 makes this abundantly clear as to his Jewish and Pharisaical background: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” He lived his life separate from Gentiles, he thought Jesus was a blasphemer and a pretender, and he helped to kill Stephen in a zealous and mistaken passion to crush the followers of Jesus.
This is what the Spirit of Jesus does to us of course, he changes the way we see Christ. He is indeed the very Son of God, not just a man claiming special status. He is not a pretender but the actual Messiah. Once we see Jesus in a new light we are forced to no longer look at any other human being the same way. We no longer “regard” them “according the flesh.” At least, not if we really understand who Jesus is and how he, and the Father, feel about human beings. The Apostle Paul no longer despised the Gentiles, but in fact became a missionary to the very people with whom he formerly could not even eat or enter their homes.
- REGARD EVERYONE IN AND FROM THEIR OWN CULTURAL/ETHNIC/AND HISTORIC CONTEXT. 1 Corinthians 9:19ff. “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might some.”
The counter-intuitive application of not regarding people according to the flesh is to see them in their cultural context. It would seem to not regard a person according to the flesh would be to deny all that is obvious to our senses about their appearance; their ethnicity, their color, and their gender. Yet the Lord God made them what they are, and sovereignly placed them in that context. It is not a mistake. This is the Scripture’s strategy for cross-cultural missions. We don’t encounter people in a vacuum, nor do we deny them their identities since those were given to them by God.
We can’t really love an individual fully and at the same time hate their people group. In order to do effective cross-cultural missions we in fact must become their slave, not just to an individual but to their cultural group if we are to love them meaningfully and if we are to “win” them to the Savior. To willingly make oneself a slave to others is a denial of self in its’ radical form, especially if previously there has been enmity, hatred, or oppression in our former relations.
3. REGARD EVERYONE AS CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. Each person has the Imago Dei. (Genesis 1:26) “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Though the image of God in man is “bent” or marred because of sin, it is still there. This implies innate dignity for each and every human being. It does not matter how ignorant, poor, “savage,” sick or handicapped, corrupt or even how different from our own background anyone might be. To despise a human being is to despise not simply a creation of God but someone who bears the likeness of God, and belongs to God, and thus it means we despise God himself.
4. REGARD EVERYONE AS A PERSON TO WHOM WE ARE INDEBTED TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, AND INCLUDED IN THE RECONCILING POWER OF THE CROSS. Paul said in Romans 1:14-17, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” The cross of Jesus is for everyone because as the Scripture says in Romans 3:22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” There is no difference in our need to be saved and in how we are saved.
At the cross of Jesus Christ we are not only redeemed by his blood but we are also reconciled. Reconciliation is a Biblical word, not simply involving “racial” reconciliation. Reconciliation is not something that happens later between people, after we are saved. It happens in the moment we are reconciled to God, at least it its theological sense. It is not optional because it is foundational to the Gospel and what happened at the cross, for Jews and Gentiles, and thus for all subordinate ethnic groups.
Ephesians 2:13-16, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
The practical application of biblical reconciliation is built on truth, humility, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, and love.
5. REGARD EVERYONE AS A NEIGHBOR AND AS SOMEONE WE MUST LOVE AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. The Good Samaritan story sets us straight about what is required from us about loving people, even across ethnic lines. “Who is my neighbor?” is the energizing question in that story, and the answer is “the one who had mercy on him.” Our neighbor is anyone who needs mercy from us. This arises from the 2nd great commandment, and it is not optional for the Christian.
6. REGARD JUSTICE AS THE EXTENSION OF LOVE TO OUR NEIGHBORS. The book of Proverbs helps us understand that wisdom means living a righteous life, and being righteous means treating people justly, and this is indeed what it means to love people. Wisdom means to live righteously, living righteously means we are to be people of justice, and giving people their due (rights and protections) is to love them. Justice is an attribute of God, it is who he is, and therefore it is something we must be concerned about. Justice is not ethereal and abstract, it is how we treat persons in very practical ways. Therefore justice is always social because it is a relational concept. We must be just in our relationship with God and he certainly is with us, and he will give each person his due. If we cannot give justice to our neighbor, how can we say that we love them?
7. GIVE REGARD TO THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE SURROUNDING THE ISSUES OF RACE, RECONCILIATION, JUSTICE, AND RACISM. Ephesians 6:10-12, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s scheme. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
And, because we are in a war God has not only given us armor, but weapons. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
- Discerning the Holy Spirit or Satan in the struggle for reconciliation and/or anti-racism.
- Discern the language and camps in the issue of racial and social justice.
It is important to understand and analyze some of the rhetoric and polemics of racial discourse. Racism is Satanic, it is a destroyer of people and an attack on people made in God’s image. Race is a socially constructed idea framed to create, preserve, and extend privilege. The devil is a liar, and we fight him by telling the truth, and telling the truth in love.
Some of the reactionary ways people speak about and discuss race, ethnicity, and justice come from opposing points of view. Some is politically motivated, either from a conservative world view that seeks to dismiss the reality of racial injustice and history, is fearful of losing privilege (real or imagined), rejects responsibility for disparities in society and the application of justice, and seeks to analyze life solely as individual stories of merit, grit, or luck. Some views come from a way of looking at society as power competition between classes and groups (critical theory), and or tribal competition (post modernism), and when these two are married becomes “Critical Race Theory.” These perspectives, though sometimes having some or a part of the truth, usually alienate and increase divisiveness. They may have useful terms for understanding social dynamics and group interactions but neither perspective is adequate from a biblical point of view. Our concern is not a political ideology but rather to be true to Scripture, to be true to the character and calling of God, and to seek first the Kingdom of God and all of its righteousness.
Much of racial discourse is intense, and therefore provocative. Even a gentle presentation of racism’s history can incite shame, guilt, anger, and sometimes confusion. There are certainly historic reasons for hurt, anger, grief, guilt and shame. It is important to make a distinction between guilt and responsibility, especially for the Christian who has a remedy for any and all guilt at the cross of Christ. The Christian is able to shoulder responsibility, and thus move to restitution and redress, because he doesn’t have to carry the load of guilt for himself, or his ancestors. To allow the cross to bear the weight of our sin and guilt is to be free from Satan’s manipulation, shame, and paralysis. The cross of Jesus also humbles us in the reality of our own failures so our condemnation of others must give way to mercy, even as we should continue to hate the evil of those who have not yet repented of their violence and practices of injustice.
Responsibility is what each person has according to their privilege, whether acquired by the sins of fore-parents or self, or from the natural gifts of birth. Not all privilege is a result of sin or a result of something I have taken from another. If I enjoy benefits in my privilege how do I use them, especially for the people from whom some of those benefits were stolen? To be a biblically adequate antidote for racism and injustice any Gospel preached should and must result in a demonstrative reconciling community in the local church lived out by the people of God. It is not enough to simply shelter in our segregated communities and shelter from the pain of the past or present injustice, or the fear of the unknown and unmet. We must seek to live out the reconciliation for which Jesus died, with Holy Ghost empowered courage and faith, and live out love which is our sole identification of being his disciples.