What we need in this hour is a narrative that transcends the left and the right, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel Witness in the Midst of Racial Conflict

by Stuart Greaves
2/21/18 Artists and Authors

Twenty seventeen was an explosive year. Volatile emotions ran in response to the confrontation of injustice after injustice. From Minnesota to Virginia to Louisiana, scenarios of wrongdoing hit home and many of us—especially in the Church—were left with the question of how to respond amidst the racial conflict.

In the heat of this outcry last year, Tim Keller penned a one-page article with a few interesting statements, one of which I would like to draw your attention to. He says, “Racism should not only be brought up at moments such as we witnessed in Charlottesville.”* In other words, this is not a subject that we only want to talk about when there is a flash point in society.

He goes on to say, “The evil of racism is a biblical theme.”* Though the issues of race, racial conflict, and racial tension have been hijacked by the political arena, it is actually something that is far more central to the gospel of Jesus Christ than we realize.

Keller continues, “[Racism is] a sin the gospel reveals and heals—so we should be teaching about it routinely in the course of regular preaching.”* If you are a teacher, a pastor, a friendship group leader, a ministry director—whatever leadership position and there is instruction involved—I want to urge us to grow in this subject matter.

We want to be a people who are a local witness of the gospel.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, [or to all the people groups, or all the ethnic groups], and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

Last year, our nation witnessed incredible tension and turmoil, which ebbs and flows—it began very intensely and then seemed to decline. It later hit again and came to another reprieve. But it’s not going to go away.

Gospel Witness to Our Neighbor
Can we grow together to continue to embrace the gospel as the narrative, as the answer, as the standard guiding our response to what is happening? And can we continue to grow to have a vision to be a local, gospel witness in the city in which we live?

This issue is far more central to the gospel than we realize.

An example of this is found in Luke 10—the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus actually tells the parable in response to a question that is being asked: Who is my neighbor? Jesus’ response is: Let me tell you a story . . .

Now, when Jesus tells a story, it’s a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down a whole lot easier. Jesus could very easily have said, “The Samaritan is your neighbor.” Instead, He tells them a story to reveal that answer—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love the Samaritan (or neighbor) as you love yourself.

In those days, the hostility that existed between the Jews and Samaritans was so intense that if a Jewish boy married a Samaritan girl, the Jewish parents would perform a funeral, because they considered their son as good as dead. That was the environment that Jesus was addressing.

You can only imagine what the crowds felt when Jesus suggested that the second commandment includes loving the Samaritan.

In Matthew 24, a key end-time passage, Jesus paints a picture of the global landscape of the generation of His return. He starts out by saying, “See to it that no one deceives you.”

There are two other passages where Jesus brings up the same warning: Mark 13:5 and Luke 21:8. When the apostles ask Him about the end times, Jesus responds the same way: “See to it that no one deceives you.” Throughout the chapter, He keeps circling back to this issue of deception.

Now let’s look at Matthew 24.

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.’” (Matthew 24:4–5)

“Take heed.” In other words, Be very careful. Be on guard. Be on watch that no one deceives you. In verse 5, He says, “For,” or because. He’s giving the reason behind this warning: “For many will come in My name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”

The understanding of the Christ was spiritual but it was also social. They were expecting the Messiah to come to bring about social deliverance.

So when Jesus says, “Many will come saying, ‘I am the Christ,’” or—as He says later on—“There will be false christs and false prophets”—He is simply talking about false spiritual leaders who also have various social theories.

Jesus says we need to be very careful.

But in verse 6, He tells us why these “false christs and false prophets” are emerging:

“And you will hear of wars, rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled, for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. Because nation will rise against nation.” (Matthew 24:6–7)

Nation will rise against nation: people group against people group. Jesus is explaining that there will be pockets of civil wars all throughout the globe. And then He says, “And kingdom against kingdom.”

What happened in Charlottesville last year is a manifestation of “nation against nation.” From the lips of Jesus alone—regardless of what any news outlet tells us, regardless of what any social justice voice out there tells us—the issue of ethnic strife is here.

Be Wary of the Social Narrative
We need to take heed in this hour that we are not deceived by the social commentary that is taking place. The issue of deception is the primary burden of the passage, and we find out later that this deception causes various emotional responses. Jesus makes it very clear that this deception comes from social messengers who seek to connect our hearts with a different narrative than that of the gospel.

This deception bolsters the self—our own narrative, our own opinion—even though the issue of self is the very thing that Christ confronts on the cross.

What do we do? We are launching political “scud missiles” across the internet, hitting one another along the way.

What we need in this hour is a narrative that transcends the left and the right, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These fiery trials, this pressure cooker that is ebbing and flowing in our society, is designed to start a conversation within us that leads us to say, “I need to go and reflect on Christ and on His gospel.”

After Charlottesville, I said to myself, “You know what, I’ve got to think about Christ and His gospel.” I was surprised when I remembered that Paul the apostle was a nationalist! Not only was he a nationalist, but he was a zealous nationalist. Not only was he a zealous nationalist, but he was a zealous, religious nationalist. And not only was he was a zealous, religious nationalist, but he was violent on top of that!

What caught my attention were Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1. He is essentially saying, “You know what? This is a worthy saying. Jesus came to save sinners of which I am the chief.” Not only that, he continues, “I’m an example of the mercy God would extend to zealous, religious, and violent nationalists.”

This Jewish nationalist, after he turned to Christ and was saved, became a fierce advocate for Gentiles, the very people whom he had once despised. It was amazing. Later he would go to prison, because he would stand up for them.

The Power of the Gospel
The religion of politics is the religion and narrative of blame. The gospel frees us from that blame. Ephesians 1:4 tell us that blame is, by nature, self-justifying, and it does not produce the turning in the heart that occurs when one is justified by Christ.

Blame is nothing but the game of self-justification where we’re protecting our ideas—liberal or conservative. In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul called it, “elementary principles of the world.”

In the current social debate, it is striking how many historical figures are quoted and referenced, as well as how they would have handled the situation, but very few talk about what the King of kings and the Ruler of the kings of the earth has to say, and what He told us about this issue.

The church is the only answer and witness of how to go forward in the midst of a racially hostile environment. We must develop a biblical paradigm of a diverse worship community in love. This was central to the thinking of the New Testament apostles.

In fact, the church of Ephesus was birthed in the midst of a racial riot (Acts 19) in a Charlottesville-type reality. When Paul writes to the church of Ephesus, he’s telling them how the gospel addresses the tension that existed in their midst.

The vast majority of the unity passages in the New Testament were about racial unity. In Galatians, Paul says, “There’s neither Jew nor Greek nor Gentile nor circumcised nor uncircumcised.” He gives that specific list, because that was the demographic of the people that existed within the church, and those were groups of people that were naturally hostile against one another.

Racism or Racial Conflict?
The biggest problem right now in America is not racism. Yes, there are racial problems within the system, but that is not the biggest problem. The bigger problem is racial conflict.

What’s the difference? With racism, people are prone to point the finger and say, “Those guys are bad, and we’ve got to fix it.” With racial conflict, there is personal responsibility involved. The gospel addresses this issue of racial conflict. It addresses the issue of racism as well, but what is unfolding before us right now, more than anything, is racial tension and racial conflict.

In Colossians 3:10, Paul says, “Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, Scythian, barbarian, slave, free.” These were the people groups that existed within the church of Colossae. He is telling them, “But Christ is all in all.” In other words, these events and issues are pointing us towards the supremacy of Christ.

It’s not about the supremacy of the president or other global leaders—these men and women are pieces on God’s divine chessboard. He moves them as He pleases to create an environment that will raise up a victorious Church in love. It’s about the supremacy of Christ—that Christ would be all in all.

Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved . . .” In today’s context, “God’s elect” refers to black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Argentinian, Brazilian, and the list goes on. In other words, he is telling them, Don’t you know that you are the recipients of God’s affections? Now let His affections be formed in you and through you towards one another.

Paul continues, “Put on tender mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another” (v. 12). He is exhorting us to actually listen to one another and hear one another’s story, that we would not be not so quick to be dismissive.

. . . bearing with one another, forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you must do also. (Colossians 3:13)

Forgiveness is the most important thing. In order to become this New Testament witness, this shining city on a hill to the nations of the earth, we need to learn to forgive one another—even as Christ forgave us.

* https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/race-the-gospel-and-the-moment/

Listen to Stuart apply the truth of the gospel to the current climate, as he points toward the everlasting solution for peace in Christ Jesus here.

Stuart Greaves


  • Executive Director, IHOPKC
Stuart Greaves leads the Executive Leadership Team of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City. He has been part of IHOPKC since 1999. For 20 years, Stuart led the NightWatch—the section of the Global Prayer Room which goes from midnight to 6am every night. Stuart is recognized as one of the primary teachers at IHOPKC and International House of Prayer University (IHOPU). He teaches verse by verse through various books of the Bible. His passion is to equip people to cultivate intimacy by growing in their understanding of the beauty of Jesus and to engage in worship and prayer for the great harvest along with partnering with the Lord as He prepares the Church to be a ready Bride (Rev. 19:7). He has been married to Esther for 25 years.
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