When Grace Conquers Race

Michael S. Horton
Wednesday, January 2nd 2008
Jan/Feb 2008

Although the events described in this 1992 reprint of Michael Horton’s article took place over 15 years ago, the core issues remain pertinent to us today and God’s grace is still the answer.

The far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen humiliated the reigning Socialist Party of Francois Mitterand last spring, even though Le Pen made breath-taking remarks about the undesirability of foreigners, particularly les noires, the blacks, many of whom come from such former French colonies in Africa as Algeria.

Also last spring, neo-Fascists swept into parliamentary seats all across Europe-in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Spain, and Italy (including the election of Mussolini’s granddaughter)-with “foreigners go home” slogans revealing a reawakening racism across the continent. Since 1984, over 3,500 Kurds have been killed-not by Iraqis, but by Turks. Serbs and Croats slaughter each other’s civilian populations in what are called “ethnic purges.” Meanwhile, in the United States Pat Buchanan was spouting much of the same sentiments as French and German nationalists, and a former “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, gave the country a scare in a Louisiana guber-natorial race that was too close for comfort; and the Los Angeles riots fired a warning shot concerning the ethnic tensions among white, black, Korean, and Hispanic groups.

Of course, the blame for the world’s woes cannot be simplistically placed at the feet of this demon of race; there are other overarching issues-injustice, inequity between the weak and the strong, bureaucratic governments and apathetic citizens. Each of these deserves our utmost concern, but the issue of racism is one moral scandal that cries out for a deeper solution than either the Republicans or the Democrats can offer this November.

The Problem

Few sophisticated “moderns” regard themselves as racists: that would be tantamount to confessing oneself a “redneck”-a designation more humiliating to most yuppies for its social stigma than its self-conscious racism. Most racists wear suits, not white hoods, and work in urban skyscrapers, not on rural farms. That’s because most of the population live in these urban centers and all of us-you and I-are partners in this crime.

Christianity holds up the standard of God’s righteousness and justice: perfectly loving God and our neighbor-regardless of race, color, status or creed-to the extent that we would willingly give up our own life and property for his or her welfare. If you read this sentence correctly, your response will likely be: “Name someone who has done that! Isn’t that a bit of an unrealistic expectation?” If so, it isn’t because God did not create us with that perfection, but because since Adam’s rebellion in Eden we have been following our own selfish desires and pre-ferring our own happiness to God’s and our neigh-bor’s. It’s called sin, and we are all sinners. No one, not even Mother Theresa nor you nor I, has lived a “basically good life.” We are selfish, greedy, proud, and self-centered. It’s not merely something we do from time to time, it’s what we are. It’s in our hearts to “look out for number one,” and a pagan culture that encourages this secular attitude is hardl y the first place we ought to look for solutions; that what happened in L.A. a few weeks ago doesn’t happen every night in every city and town is a testimony to God’s common grace.

Other religions will tell you what you want to hear: There is no such thing as evil-it exists only if we believe it does (Eastern religions, Christian Science, Unity); evil is the product of fate-we can’t do anything about it (Islam, scientific determinism). But the Christian analysis paints the picture, warts and all, leaving us in an unflattering light. The truth hurts.

Racism, therefore, is deeper than anything the anthropologists and sociologists can probe with their surveys and studies. Our society not only believes human beings are inherently selfish, it exploits this consumer craving. Trendy preachers will even sell their soul for it-and destroy others. Racism is nothing more than collective narcissism: I love my group above all others because I love myself.

The Solution

It’s a good thing Christianity has good news! By the first century, the Jews were anxious for the arrival of their long-promised Messiah or Savior. As a suffering people, many of the Jews saw the signs and wonders of Jesus of Nazareth, and were convinced by his unique fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that he was that Messiah. He showed them how superficial their religion had become-concentrating on making sure their own hair was in place by not associating with “sinners.” Jesus railed at the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. They wouldn’t bother to help a stranger beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road, but woe betide you if you were a poor person picking grain for food on the Sabbath.

Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s plan to bring both Jew and Gentile into one body through this Messiah. “They shall be one flock, with one shepherd,” said the Master. Suffering public execution at the hands of Jews and Gentiles as a substitute for Jews and Gentiles, Jesus took upon himself our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. Even though we are still sinners, if we trust in Christ we are viewed by God as though we had perfectly fulfilled the Law and never sinned. Out of this liberation from spiritual bondage Christians have found an inspiration for liberating men and women from worldly bondage as well. Take Saul, the chief Jewish persecutor of the early Christian community. On a dusty road Jesus confronted this man of zealous hatred and Saul’s conversion to Christianity was so dramatic he even changed his name to Paul.

This same Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, and when debate erupted over the assimilation of the swelling ranks of Gentiles into the Jewish-Christian church, Paul came down hard on bigotry and intolerance using Christ as the bond. Jewish men would pray in the synagogues, “Lord, I thank you that I am not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” But the church’s former adversary declared, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, male nor female. For all are one in Christ.” St. John saw in his vision of heaven the elders praising Jesus, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb, for he was slain and purchased for God with his blood people out of every tribe, kindred, language, and nation and made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God.” At last, grace conquered race.

You often hear even Christians making excuses for racism: “Blood’s thicker than water,” they say. It’s no wonder that this is all that non-Christians can say; but Christians have in baptism a kind of water that is thicker than blood, a common bath that washes away the sins of pride and prejudice without dissolving identity.


I know there are political and social solutions to many of the symptoms, but if the root problems of the human heart are to be cured, nothing less than God’s amazing grace is required. People are going to have to listen to the gospel. They will have to get right with God before they can truly love him and their neighbor without self-justification.

Reprinted from Modern Reformation, July/August 1992: “How Pro-Life Are You?”

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Wednesday, January 2nd 2008

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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