Jarvis J. Williams (PhD) is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous academic works on salvation in Paul in its early Jewish context.
Curtis A. Woods (PhD) is the associate executive director for convention relations and communications for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and an assistant professor of applied theology and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
They are co-authors of The Gospel in Color: A Theology of Racial Reconciliation for Families.
On August 3, 2019, a shooter entered a Walmart shopping center in El Paso, Texas, and murdered 22 image-bearers and injured dozens of others. According to news reports, the gunman was a white supremacist, and he is rightly being identified as a domestic terrorist.
This massacre marks the latest overt example of white supremacist terror in the US. The shooter allegedly wrote an online racist “manifesto” in which he refers to Latino/a immigrants as invaders into Texas who could only be stopped by deadly force. The shooter’s statement castigates immigration, making racist verbal attacks about “the heavy Hispanic population” in Texas. Of the 22 he murdered, news sources reveal that the terrorist targeted Hispanics and killed eight Mexican image-bearers.
Recent attacks like this one remind us that racism is a reality. With the rise of 21st-century hate crimes over the past several years, racism enflames the souls of those who allow the embers to burn. Racism will always be a matter of life and death for any image-bearer adjudicated by the racist as an enemy of the state.
Certainly, legislation and policies are important responses to the dangers posed by racism and white supremacy. However, for Bible-believing Christians and our churches, the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a supernatural weapon by which to take all racist ideologies and actions captive in Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ can help Christians, with ears to hear, courageously speak in love the truth against racism and white supremacy. Through the power of the Spirit, the gospel can help Christians, with willing hearts, engage in the spiritual battle against racism and white supremacy, even when doing so is unpopular.
The Present Evil Age and Racism
The apostle Paul explains in Galatians that Jesus died and resurrected to deliver ethnically diverse groups of people from the present evil age and to redeem them from the curse of the law (1:1, 4; 3:13). Jesus also died for our sins to deliver us from God’s wrath, justify us by faith, reconcile us to God, and reconcile us to one another (Rom. 3:24; 5:7–10; Eph. 2:11–22).
Christ’s redemption results in the redeemed receiving the Abrahamic blessing, namely, the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:13–14). Scripture tells us again and again that walking contrary to the Spirit is opposed to the gospel and makes us complicit in the evil works of the present evil age (John 3:3–21; 14:15–31; 16:4–15; Gal. 5:16–26; Eph. 2:11–3:12; 1 John).
The present evil age at least consists of a cursed universe because of sin (Gen. 3:1–19). This is one reason the Bible speaks of the need for a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15; cf. Isa. 65:17–25).
The present evil age also consists of false ideas (Gal. 1:8–9, 4:8–11; Col. 1:21; 2:8), wicked behavior (Gal. 5:19–21; Col. 1:21), depraved human beings spiritually dead and walking in the path of trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–10), and corrupt earthly and demonic systems and authorities (Eph. 1:19–20; 2:1–3; Col. 2:14–15; Rev. 17:1–18:24).
The present evil age both enslaves people under sin’s power and is also enslaved to sin’s power (Rom. 3:10–18; 6:6, 20; Gal. 4.3), to the demonic forces of evil (Gal. 4:9-11; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17–19; Col. 3:20), and to everything within the present evil age (Gal. 1:4; 4:3). Racism and white supremacy are part of the present evil age because they are opposed both to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the love produced by the Spirit (Gal. 5:13–26).
Jesus Christ himself gives us good news (Mark 1:14–15), because he is the good news (Gal. 1:15–16). He delivers his people by faith from the present evil age and gives ethnically diverse Christians his Spirit (Gal. 1:4; 3:13–14; 4:4–7).
The Spirit enables followers of Christ—people with beautiful Asian, black, brown, and white skin; with a range of immigration statuses; with different accents—to pursue mutual sacrificial love for one another in the power of the Spirit as the people of God (Rev. 5:9; 7:9–10). Christians must walk in love in the power of the Spirit as opposed to the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:13–26; Rom. 8:1–16; 1 John 3:1–24).
One way we do this is by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, instead of taking advantage of our freedom to gratify our sinful desires or to serve the demonic forces of evil. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:13–14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping with this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This Spirit-empowered love can move willing Christians to speak against and to seek to defeat every form of racism and white supremacy with the supernatural weapon of the gospel, the inerrant Word of God, and God’s common grace.
Racism is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who willfully live to gratify the sinful desires of racism “will not inherit the kingdom of God” because they reveal they might be still enslaved to the present evil age and to its seductive powers (Gal. 5:17, 19–21), instead of being freely enslaved to love by the power of the Spirit as those redeemed by Christ and bound for the promised land of new creation.