I grew up in a small community. As a teenager I can remember jokes being told on the school playground about people based on the color of their skin. As I transitioned into high school I noticed that the jokes continued. I had a tough time with this because some of my friends were a different race than me. People on my soccer team spoke a different language. My friends I ate lunch with didn’t always look like me. The common thread was that everyone made fun of people with a different color skin, it wasn’t just one group that was singled out.
I remember racial comments being spoke in my home; words were spoken about people just because of the color of their skin or language they spoke. I didn’t know if that is how I was supposed to talk and it was confusing to a young child. I began using hateful words because that was the environment I was in. When I look back on my life I can see the pain of those words.
But something happened when I was twenty years old: I placed my trust in Jesus. I noticed this change; my Christian friends didn’t make the subtle, or obvious, racist comments that my friends growing up had. My Christian friends spoke differently about people than my dad did. I also noticed that it didn’t matter where I was living, racism was alive and thriving. I thought that when the Civil War ended that racism was done too, but that wasn’t true.
Then it hit me, racism has been around for millennia. Racism is a way for people to feel better by degrading others. The sin of racism is still thriving. Think about your life. Think about times you heard racial comments and it didn’t sit well with you. Maybe you spoke up or maybe you had a gnawing feeling in your stomach because you didn’t say anything. Maybe you’ve been a voice for the unity of God’s people. There was a time that I would have to convince people that racism was still prevalent in our culture, but those days are gone. Racism has bubbled over and the church needs to lead the way in having right thinking about God’s people.
This sermon is not based on politics, media, or the economy. This is a sermon based on the Word of God. We are going to look at what God teaches us about how to live. I’ve titled the sermon: In the Image of God. And I’m speaking against racism.
Created in the Image of God
For us to accurately look at the topic of racism we have to rewind time. Not a century, not three centuries, but to the very beginning of time. On the very first page of the Bible we read that God created mankind in his own image.
(Read Genesis 1:26-27)
The Hebrew words we read hear are important in our understanding of this subject. We read the word yabirah, which means to create, shape, or form. It was God who did the creating. Many of us have created something in our lives. It might be a piece of art, a musical composition, an improvement in your home, a computer program, or a loving marriage. When we create something we take pleasure in that.
The Bible teaches us that God shaped each person. God created us. Think about every person you have had contact with in life, the guy speeding on the freeway, the lady in the airport, the kid in the store. Each of those people are created by God. Let me take it one step further, not just created, but created on purpose. God didn’t accidentally make people. God had a purposeful plan in creating each and every one of us.
God tells us another important fact here. We are created in his image. We have one Hebrew word: besalemhu that informs us we are created in the image of God. Literally it means the visible appearance of his image. God created us in his image. If we put this together we learn that we are created in the image of God. We are image bearers of God. Not just me. Not just you. Every person is an image bearer of God. Every person in the entire world is created in the image of God.
When we treat people in a racist way we are disrespecting God. It hurts to say that and it hurts to hear that. We need to make this personal if we are going to grow in our understanding of Scripture. When we speak, act, or think a racist thought we are insulting God for what he created on purpose. If I act in a racist manner, I am ignoring the image of God imprinted on that person. Some of us need to change the way we view people today. We need to view every person we’ve ever interacted with as created in the image of God.
Knowing my past and being around racism, it would have been easy for me to follow in that lifestyle. But Jesus radically changed my heart and my eyesight! When we had kids, Charity and I made an effort not to describe people by the color of their skin. Not because we don’t value how people are created but because we didn’t want skin color to be the defining trait of a person. Our kids would say things like: the girl with the pink shirt or the boy with the black hair. This happened time and time again. My kids didn’t define people by their race because we’ve seen that can lead to a way to devalue people. What I’m learning now is that we should have taught our kids more about the unique way God created everyone.
My life experience tells me that the way we view people can stem from what we learn in our home. I heard racial comments in my home growing up. My guess is that some of you also heard racial comments in your home. We need to work on this in our heart first, our home next, and then it will change the world.
We have a problem in our world right now. It is a sin problem. This problem shows up in the Bible pretty quickly after God created mankind. We call it the fall of mankind (Gen. 3:6). The problem is a sin problem.
Sin is anything that is contrary to God’s Word or plan. Racism is a sin. If you didn’t hear me say that let me say it again: Racism is a sin. The Holy Spirit might be convicting someone right now about careless words that have been spoken in the home or around your children. God might be reminding you of how you treated a person and the grievance offense against his creation. Today is a great day to repent of the sin of racism.
Rev. Lawrence Aker III says, “Racial issues impact congregations of all colors, because the Fall of Adam continues to trickle down.” At the end of this sermon we’re going to take some time to repent of the sin of racism. I’m aware that our kids and teens are worshiping with us this morning. My hope in this sermon is that we will be a church that teaches kids and students how to view people in the image of God. We long for all of us to live out the hope of Jesus in a fallen world.
One in Christ
We need to figure out how to move away from a sinful past and towards unity in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul gave his life to Jesus and began taking the gospel message all over the known world. He planted a church in Galatia and later wrote them a letter about how to keep following Jesus.
(Read Galatians 3:28-29)
I wonder if there was subtle racism happening when he wrote this. Paul starts with what could be separating and ends that thought process with uniting. There is no division of race but we are one in Christ Jesus. We need to see the diversity of the body of Christ. We need to embrace and appreciate that.
Paul didn’t want the early church to see a separation based on ethnicity. He wanted the church to see the value of people and the unity of the church. Each of us need God to do a transforming work in our lives to see people how God sees them.
Paul didn’t say it once. Paul taught unity to the church in Colossae also (Col. 2:2-3). His longing was for the church to be united in love. If there is racism taking place, that will not equate to unity in the body of Christ. Paul spoke towards unity in the church which means a ceasing of racism (Col. 3:11)!
If there is going to be a healing between people of different ethnicities, it needs to start in the church. We are the ones commissioned to bring hope to a hurting world. We are the ones with the only message that heals. We are to bring a message of unity and ethnic diversity; the Bible calls for it!
Michael Emerson says, “If anyone should be doing something about the radicalized society and if anyone has the answers to the race problem, they said it is Christians. Their religion calls for it, and their faith gives them the tools and moral force needed for change.” You might feel ill-equipped, but let me tell you that you are more than equipped. Your trust in Jesus Christ calls for racial reconciliation. Your faith gives you the tools to be an agent of change in our hurting world. You have the Holy Spirit!
I think if we are going to see a change in our world it has to come from the church. We are the ones that God has commissioned to see people in his image. There are people in our world who still think they are better than others and that must stop. It means we need to get out of our comfort zones. It means we need to expand our little circle and include more people in the family of God.
After I gave my life to Christ I went back to college. I was working on my Associates Degree and registered for classes late. The only history class I could get was a Black History class. I knew God wanted to change my thinking but I didn’t think it would happen this quickly.
My first night of class I had been out of jail for maybe a couple weeks. I had a shaved head and was one of two white people in the class. Every Monday night I went to that class and sat and listened. I learned about racism that still took place in our country. I saw how my brothers in Christ had been hurt. I saw how my sisters in Jesus had been mistreated. I made a silent commitment that I would fight against that type of hatred. I knew that racism was not symbiotic with the gospel message. Check out the order here: Christ changed me first and then Christ used the class to accelerate that change.
The next time we look at a person we need to look at their eyes. We need to see them as created in the image of God. We know there is a problem with race in America right now. We also know what the Bible teaches. Jesus tells us, in John 13:34-35, that the heart of a Jesus follower must be filled with love, that is how the world will be able to tell us apart. Jesus has called us to a higher calling.
I don’t expect any of this to be easy. Pushing for unity in the body will be an uphill battle. It will require each of us to speak up for the truth of the Lord. It will be an exercise in seeking unity. It will be the writing of a new chapter in the church.
I love this quote from Re. Lawrence Aker III, “Perhaps the next chapter of Christian history can be written by those who are willing to leap over the color line.” I’m ready and willing to leap over the color line. I’m also looking for some people who would like to join.
The Mind of Christ
What we truly need is the mind of Christ. The New Testament teaches us how to live as a new creation.
(Read Rom. 15:5-6)
We need a new attitude, the same attitude that Jesus took. Jesus was not a racist. Jesus didn’t ignore people based on their ethnicity.
If you thought that Jesus came to save only one race, you need to re-read John 3:16. Jesus came to save the entire world. Jesus came for every person that chooses to believe in him. There is no asterisk in my Bible that states only one people group. The love of God is for all people. The best thing we can do is spread this message of love. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Love covers a multitude of sin (1 Pet. 4:8). We need to spread the message of love.
This might be a mindset change for someone today. The Spirit is moving in your life. At this point, I think about what my seminary prof said: “Jesus calls us to ‘embrace’ in love rather than ‘exclude’ in fear and anger those who do not belong to our niche group” (Dr. Paul Metzger). The church was always meant to be multi-ethnic. Since I arrived, three years ago, we have seen that happen. We want to see everyone find the hope of Jesus Christ. Our community is diverse and we long to experience that diversity that Scripture calls us to.
Everything we’ve talked through today leads us to this one logical conclusion: God values all people. We read in Genesis that we are created in the image of God. We looked at the fall of mankind and how sin entered the world. One of those sins is racism. I’ve seen racism first hand. You’ve seen racism. Now we have the tools to begin a healthy stance against racism.
I want each of us to make a commitment to shun any form of racism. I want us to make a commitment to seeing people how God sees them. A commitment to asking God to change our thinking.
Let me remind you of the great words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” What we need to do today is repent of racism and commit to be different. Let me say that one day of repentance will not erase thousands of years of sin. We need the Holy Spirit to fill us and unite us so we can move forward in Biblical truth.
Lord, we know that Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Today we confess any form of racism that we’ve participated in. Lord, we confess any racist thought, action, or mindset. We confess that we have not spoken up when we should have. We confess that it was wrong if we intentionally or unintentionally taught racism to any person.
We confess not just our sins but the sins of our fathers. We confess that racism has been allowed to live as an undercurrent in our nation. We confess that people of color have been treated differently and your Word calls us to love everyone. We confess that racism is not in line with your will Lord. We confess that men, women, and children have been hurt by racism and we are so sorry for that.
Today we repent of our sins. We repent of any form of racism that might live within us. Lord, you are a holy God and we are sorry for the sin of racism that we have not yet addressed. We pray that you will forgive us of our sins. We pray that you will convict us and wash us clean so we won’t participate in them again. We pray that you will sanctify us by the power of your Holy Spirit. We want to live in right relationship with you and others. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.
Neal Benson is the lead pastor of Coastline Bible Church in Ventura, California.