Have you ever felt inadequate? I know I have. The sense that what you’ve done is not good enough and you’re hopelessly under expectations. Or that where you’ve been placed now is something you didn’t earn. With that always comes a sense of shame that not only what you’ve done isn’t good enough, but you aren’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself comparing my social media following to more popular celebrities my age. Then the question arises: Have I done enough for God and is what I am right now accepted by Him? Specifically, do I deserve to be loved?
The passage in Galatians 5 shows us something: the more we try to earn righteousness, the more we end up separated from it. It says in Galatians 5:3-4 “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” If we place ourselves willingly into circumcision as Christians, Jesus no longer is our righteousness. No, in fact the act of circumcision is meant to be a ritual to show that one is going under the law. In doing so one would nullify the grace of Jesus and willingly place themselves under sin again.
Doing good works is like making a staircase of sand to reach God in Heaven. It’s not gonna happen
Isn’t that what we do? A legalistic view of God says that we must in some way earn our relationship with Him. That we are sinful and can never measure up to God, so we have to find a rational way to close the gap. The problem is none of our works will ever be sufficient. Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before God. They can’t make us holy because the standard for holiness is perfection. Doing good works is like making a staircase of sand to reach God in Heaven. It’s not gonna happen.
For legalists in the Bible like the Pharisees, the Cross becomes a stumbling block. The Pharisees entered into something opposite of what they were trying to achieve: idolatry. Not only did they make others stumble, but they also elevated traditions and rules to the same place as God.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Matthew 15:3 saying, “He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”
The Pharisees became so obsessed with the external view of religiosity that they were completely missing out on a relationship with God
In this passage, Jesus calls out a trick some of these people would pull by dedicating all their possessions to God. In declaring all their possessions as a gift to God, they could say their resources were not available to their parents. This was outright disobedience of God’s Word. The Pharisees became so obsessed with the external view of religiosity that they were completely missing out on a relationship with God. They completely missed the point of God’s Word in the first place: to bring us closer to Him.
The offense of the Cross is that it requires nothing of us-not our laws, our religion, our rules, nothing. None of that can measure up to the cost paid on the Cross by Jesus. Jesus’ death freed us from having to earn our way to salvation and from the penalty of our sin (Romans 8:2). He gives us a way to step into Holiness by living in a love relationship with Him. What I said earlier about the standard for Holiness being perfection was true.
The kindness of God is found in Him not placing the burden of perfection on us, but on Himself. God fulfilled that standard by sending His Son to defeat the power of sin and death. The Pharisees denied the righteousness of Jesus and in turn pushed themselves away from true life. They disobeyed the law and caused others to stumble by placing ridiculous burdens on them. Jesus came to lift those burdens and show us the true meaning of the law: love. Galatians 5:14 says “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.””
When we today try to work for righteousness, then the Cross becomes a stumbling block for us. The law of sin and death held us captive, but Jesus came so that there would be no more condemnation on us (Romans 8:1). The Cross exists to realign our authority from sin to Jesus; from the law to grace (Romans 6:14). Our call today is not to earn love and righteousness, but to believe that we are already loved and free of religious burdens. God wants our heart, that’s it. We learn to live for Him each day and honestly it’s not going to be perfect. Nevertheless, the God who formed the universe says that we are worthy to be loved so breathe deep y’all. We’ve been freed by Christ, so now we get to live free of expectations and shame. In relationship with God is where we find all our questions of worth answered and the freedom to be loved.
The body of a human being is extremely intricate. In our body we have 206 bones and more than 600 muscles (How Many Body Parts Do Humans Have? (reference.com)). Some of our body parts are so small, but removing them would be catastrophic for the body as a whole. The human is the perfect example of what unity looks like. No body part is the same, but all are key in helping the body to function.
In the Body of Christ, God made each part to operate and have it’s own function. As it says in Romans 12:3-5 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
The Spirit gives grace as He wills, which is why we understand that members within a congregation have different gifts (teaching, prayer, mercy, encouragement etc.). We are united by the Spirit, so why does it seem that we as a Body are so divided? Why do some parts of the Body rejoice when the others are in pain?
Looking back at Romans 12:3 it is a reminder for members of the Body to not operate in pride and think of themselves higher than they ought to. When Jesus talks about pride, He mentions it as a sin that defiles us (Mark 7:20-22). Essentially, pride is a sin that corrupts us before God. Pride can become iniquity or sin that is premeditated, continuing, and escalating.
It is not anti-Gospel to look at history and be cognizant of the present. It is certainly not biblical to ignore other parts of the church when they are in pain.
We should understand God’s intention is that there is no division in the church (1 Corinthians 12:23-25) . That His love should propel us to care for our brothers and sisters. When other churches are struggling and in lament over issues that affect their congregation, that is not the time to try to call out bad theology or social theories. It is not anti-Gospel to look at history and be cognizant of the present. It is certainly not biblical to ignore other parts of the church when they are in pain.
1 Corinthians 12:26 is a call for the church as a Body to suffer together with the parts that are hurting. That doesn’t just mean to pray with these parts of the Church (which is absolutely needed), but to enter into the pain and approach the issue alongside them.
For example, one of the biggest oppositions to the Church posed by nonbelievers is the staunch history of racism in the Church. Not only did many Christians allow slavery, segregation, redlining, gerrymandering, racial profiling and many more acts of racial injustice to persist, they were perpetrators themselves. Also, many not just look at the history, but at the total ignorance some Christians have to relevant racial disparities and injustice today. I see that and I feel for those people.
Nevertheless, the Bible is clear: partiality in any form is a sin (James 2:1-13). Whether it’s perpetrated by a Christian or an atheist does not matter. If you are using your favorite politicians’ quotes to justify systemic racism, we are clearly missing important pieces of the Gospel. We are called to bear the burdens of our neighbors and in that fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Yes, even though our theology should inform our politics, many Christians have allowed their politics to inform their theology
In Galatians, Paul confronts Peter when he separates from the Gentiles because of his fear of the Jewish party (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter knew that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be saved; that grace is through faith alone (Acts 10:10-16). He let fear pull him away from doing the right thing and in doing that, he led other Jews astray (Galatians 2:13). The problem lies in that many Christians have done the same.
In the modern age, we have misunderstood what love for our neighbor looks like because of our love for politics. Yes, even though our theology should inform our politics, many Christians have allowed their politics to inform their theology. This leads to broken hearts, unfed mouths, and idolatry. Whether this is informed by fear, anger, ignorance, or hate the result is the same. Ultimately, our theology should not steal away our witness of the Gospel.
My questions to all Christians is do you actively love your brothers and sisters? Can you empathize with them? Are you loving in words or in deeds and truth? Do you see the tears of your black Christian brother who mourns over the loss of another black life? Are you caught up in the love of your neighbor and God or the love of the empire and power? As shown by Peter, one action out of step with the Gospel can lead others to do the same. Loving others is not just empathizing, but also stepping into the pain of our spiritual siblings. We should learn, listen, and act against injustice because that’s what Scripture shows us to do (Matthew 6:1-2, Job 31:23, Proverbs 31:8-9). Every day, we make a choice to share love with others or withhold it. We should always do the latter.
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Our nation is built on a system of laws. When people break those laws they receive punishment and there is retribution or payment. Within a perfect system, guilty people serve a just sentence and repay what they’ve taken from society. Obviously, our nation is proof that sin has a huge impact on how people judge and who they deem guilty. The rules are meant to be that those who break the law are condemned.
We’ve seen cases where judges have committed injustice and broken laws for personal gain or out of their misuse of power (Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench (reuters.com). Judges can easily judge with partiality and ignore the evidence needed to decide a case. Laws given by people can be easily misinterpreted and can lead to corruption. Knowing this, what does it look like for the law to be perfectly unbiased, fair, but also somehow full of grace?
What is the Law?
In the Old Testament, specifically in Leviticus, God lays out the duties of the Levitical priests and the laws that the Israelites were called to follow. Laws pertaining to the government, sanitation, ceremonies, and morals were given to God’s chosen people. Leviticus is written right after the tabernacle, so God’s temple is at the center of their camp. The temple was not simply a building, but a space where heaven and earth met. Sin is shown in the Old Testament to separate the Israelites from the presence of God and this space. So, bringing sin into the camp meant defiling the temple of God and allowing it into a space where God’s presence rested. Sin would defile that holy space if not for a reminder of the holiness of God. That is the Law.
It’s important to note that the Law is both the entire Bible (as Jesus shows us in John 15:25) and the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law in the Bible are the Ten Commandments and a long list of detailed laws which were recorded in the book of Leviticus. These laws were based on the covenant or agreement that God reestablished with Moses and Israel (Exodus 19:3-5). To obey God meant to keep their part of the agreement. If they did this, God promised to lift them up as His holy nation.
Ultimately, the Israelites would sin and break the covenant over and over. God knew they would sin and specifically gave instructions for them to give sacrifices to cover their sins. This was a system of atonement that never ended. No matter how many sacrifices, the Israelites were still separated from God because of their sin.
Despite our shortcomings being exposed by the Law, it is still holy and its commandments are “holy and righteous” (Romans 7:12). The Mosaic Law existed “in order that sin might be shown to be sin” (Romans 7:13). Without the Word of God or the Bible, we wouldn’t understand what actions, thoughts, and words separate us from Him. If God is the ultimate being, then it would follow that the standard for truth, love, justice, grace would be set by Him. He establishes the foundation for what is good or bad. The Garden of Eden shows us that when we seek to have control over our lives and live in our own understanding (the fruit of the tree), we end up further away from righteousness. We end up in sin and separated from God’s presence.
God is a Righteous Judge
We understand the importance of a system that tries and convicts those who are murderers, rapists, and so on. We also are capable of feeling indignation at injustice in our systems. Imagine your brother or sister was convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. How would that make you feel? That anger we have towards injustice is the same as God’s outrage towards sin. Psalm 7:11 says that “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” God is angry at sin and justly so. Sin robs us of fellowship with God and pushes us away from knowing Him (1 John 1:6). The wages of sin is death which is eternal separation from God and His favor (Romans 6:23). If our lives are led by sin, we will find ourselves separated from life and peace living our days out in fear.
The question is it possible for us to follow all the commandments and be righteous on our own? Well, James 2:10 says that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28 that if you look at a woman with lust then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. Also, if you have anger towards a brother you are liable to judgement. It’s not a sin to be angry, but anger can cause thoughts that are impure and sinful. Jesus shows us that the heart of the law is not just in our actions, but in our thoughts and words. The very thoughts and attitudes of our heart are judged by the Law/Bible (Hebrews 4:12).
Essentially, if you’ve ever thought a bad thought towards someone, an impure thought or lied, you are already disqualified from being Holy. That’s why Romans says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Jesus was killed in our place, taking our punishment for our sins. By dying and being raised, He gave us victory over sin and death
Thankfully, God stepped in to justify us. The same burden that was placed on us by God was lifted by Him. Imagine that you just committed a heinous crime, but the Judge who gave the sentence gives his own son to repay the debt for your crime. That is what God did for us. Atonement was needed in order to satisfy the demands of the law and take away the basis for our condemnation. Jesus was killed in our place, taking our punishment for our sins.
By dying and being raised, He gave us victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:56). The new life we’ve been given allows us to be free from the slavery of our sin. Jesus is our justifier because He took away the consequences of our sin and gave us peace with God (Romans 5:1, Romans 3:26). Where our sins abounded, “grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Jesus fulfilled the law in three ways: 1. Morally He was perfectly obedient 2. Legally He endured the needed punishment for our sins, exchanging His righteousness to us and 3. Prophetically He fulfilled all prophecies set thousands of years before His death and ascension (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is God and He came in human likeness, so that sin would have no victory in our flesh. He came to fulfill the broken covenant with God through Himself, so that we may enter into a new agreement with our Father. The new covenant is simply this: By trusting in Christ Jesus we are saved from condemnation and delivered into eternal life. That because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God forgave us of our sins once and for all.
This is good news because we don’t have to carry the burden of trying to be perfect. We don’t have to wonder if we are good enough to be loved because we know we are loved regardless of our actions
Paul writes that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). This is important: to everyone who believes. This is to show us that being good doesn’t bring us salvation or peace with God. That we have only been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That by believing on Him, we are released from the old system of condemnation and brought into a new system that restores our relationship with our Father (2 Corinthians 3:9). We enter into a new law: the law of Christ. Turning from our sins, we get to inherit eternal life and walk into a fulfilling, purposeful life.
This is good news because we don’t have to carry the burden of trying to be perfect. We don’t have to wonder if we are good enough to be loved because we know we are loved regardless of our actions (Romans 5:8). Anyone who lives for Jesus is not condemned, but is free (Romans 8:1).
Though Jesus died for our sins, He didn’t just make us incapable of sinning. Until the day we die, we will always struggle with sinning because it’s in our nature. Thankfully, God didn’t leave us there. He saves us through His loving kindness which triumphed over the punishment for our sins. We don’t have to strive for a perfect life because Jesus already did that for us. Our command now is to seek to be more like Jesus and remove those things that keep us from being in God’s presence.
The black church is the greatest show of perseverance in Christ that we have seen in America. The very belief system that was twisted to prove their inferiority and command their submission to tyranny brought faith, hope, and love. The image of Christ displayed by slaveholders was cruel and unbiblical, turning black people into “beasts of the field” and scripture into a political device. How did the early black church come to be and how could the same scriptures used as a weapon against black people bring them hope?
They were taken from their homes in ships, packed into aisles like cargo. Ships built originally to store cargo were made to store humans like shipment. There were originally 350 of them on the San Juan Bautista: over 150 died, and over 50 of them were stolen1. The “20 and odd” Angolans that arrived at the shore had been taken by the Portuguese on a ship called the White Lion1. They were believed to be Kimbundu-speaking peoples from the kingdom of Ndongo, located in part of present-day Angola. Though free and enslaved Africans were present in North America during the 1500s, this was the beginning. The year was 1619 and the colonies’ first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.
Slavery to this point in history was common, in fact, most every civilization has used slaves or forced labor in some form or fashion. The difference in the trans-Atlantic slave trade was justification for the enslavement of Africans was found in their race. In 1455, Pope Nicholas V issued the Romanus Pontifex which allowed Portugal to have exclusive control over states and territories it claimed along the West African coast. It gave the Portuguese the right “to invade, plunder and “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery 1.” Spain, England, and many other countries would establish contracts that authorized the sale of captive Africans to colonies in the Americas 1.
Black people could not escape the discrimination and hate given to them by white colonists. To them, their black skin was a mark of inferiority
In the colonies, Africans were viewed as capital and treated as such. Especially near the beginning of slavery, there were no chances for upward movement for Africans. “The use of enslaved laborers was affirmed — and its continual growth was promoted — through the creation of a Virginia law in 1662 that decreed that the status of the child followed the status of the mother, which meant that enslaved women gave birth to generations of children of African descent who were now seen as commodities 1.” Black people could not escape the discrimination and hate given to them by white colonists. To them, their black skin was a mark of inferiority.
Fast forwarding many years later, in Pennsylvania in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress. A common misconception is that from that point forward America was a Christian nation. This is not entirely true. In a treaty with the Barbary Pirates in 1797, President Adams tried to stop the incessant Muslim raids against Mediterranean shipping and sought to protect American sailors from African slavery. The treaty said, “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion 3.” The founders of our country were most likely theistic rationalists. They kept pieces of religion that believed to be rational towards the building of a country and moved away from pieces that were not. This explains why their version of religion did not properly challenge the racist, destructive ideas that established the colonies’ early economy at the expense of Black people.
Christianity and religion were used as a tool for the moral founding of our nation in 1776. People were heavily influenced by ideas of the Great Awakening and this movement would motivate the colonists toward the Revolutionary War 3. Not only that, but it would also lead to a kind of religious revolution on the plantations in America.
The Great Awakening was the first period of religious revival in the 1730s. One of the most common themes of the Great Awakening was that every person could have a personal relationship with God and come to salvation. Not only were whites hearing this message, but also Natives and Black people. The concerted effort of both Methodists and Baptists led to many black people converting to Christianity. Despite this new found faith they were not allowed to meet, so they would meet in secret to worship. Before it was legal for slaves to meet, hush harbors were the common meeting place for community, worship, and meetings. They were secret meetings organized by slaves to worship in private 5. This would become one of the first ways slaves could begin to enter into faith and establish community.
As Black people began to believe in Jesus, impactful Black Christians began the early work of forming churches. One of the earliest Black Christian leaders was Rebecca Protten. On the rugged roads of St. Thomas, a colony in the West Indies, black men and women would come to listen to her preaching. She was possibly the most unlikely to be speaking in place of authority at the time as she was a young black woman. Despite this, Rebecca Protten’s preaching, mentorship, and teaching would be so emphatic she would be called the “Mother of the Black Reformation 8.” She was born a slave in 1718 and kidnapped at an early age from the island of Antigua. At a young age, she felt led that her purpose in life was to serve God and share the Gospel especially to the enslaved on the Island 8. Protten would eventually gain her freedom and join a group of German missionaries from the Moravian Church in 1736 8. Protten did not just give her voice to the mission of God; she gave her life. Jon Sensbach notes in his book Rebecca’s Revival that she would trudge “daily along rugged roads through the hills in the sultry evenings after the slaves had returned from the fields 8.” She was “a prophet, determined to take what she regarded as the Bible’s liberating grace to people of African descent 8.”
The early voices of the Black Christians would begin to be heard, even if only in the Church. The contributions of a young Rebecca Protten and others would set the foundation for George Leile and Andrew Bryan. These two would form the establishment of The First African Baptist Church congregation in 1773 under Reverend Leile’s leadership. The 1773 organization date for the church makes it clear that FABC is older than the United States (1776)15. It was organized on the Brampton Plantation in Savannah Georgia, even before Reverend Leile could legally preach. In May of 1775 Reverend Leile was ordained as the pastor and December of 1777 the church was constituted as a body of organized believers. Four converts Reverend Andrew Bryan, his wife, Hannah Bryan, Kate Hogg, and Hagar Simpson would form a part of the nucleus of First African Baptist Church’s early membership15.
Reverend George Leile would baptize all the members of the church including Andrew Bryan. In the 1780s, Bryan began preaching to a small group of slaves in Savannah, Ga. He first commenced prayer meetings at Brampton, then he began teaching to congregations of both black and white people6. His master and other whites would actually encourage him to continue preaching as long as his influence did not encourage any rebellion. Despite this, other whites would have Bryan arrested and whipped for preaching. Though they continued to beat the bodies of Blacks, they could not take the hope they found in the Gospel. Andrew Bryan and Sampson Bryan were “inhumanly cut and their backs were so lacerated that their blood ran down to the earth as they, with uplifted hand, cried unto the Lord; but Bryan, in the midst of his torture, declared that he rejoiced not only to be whipped but would freely suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ6.”
Reverend George Leile would leave the church and continue his mission in Jamaica. Before leaving, he ordained Andrew Bryan as a Baptist minister with full authority to preach the Gospel in 1982. With the help of his brother Sampson, they would meet with other slaves in swamps and in the woods. After much harassment and beatings by whites, they were finally allowed by the courts to preach in daylight. This paved a way for the certification of the African Baptist Church on January 20, 1788 as an official Church. This predates the establishment of the first white Baptist Church14. Ultimately, these men trudged on with steady faith even amid horrible tyranny. They never stopped preaching the freedom found in Christ.
The power of the Gospel message was found on other plantations as well. Richard Allen is the founder of African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born a slave of Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia but would soon be sold to a planter near Delaware 6. He was converted in 1777 and began preaching three years later. He and his brother would soon purchase themselves for $2000 and look for any menial labor they could find. While doing this, he would continue to preach wherever.
He preached with such power and fervor that traveling ministers Richard Watcoat and Bishop Asbury would give him assignments to preach in front of mostly white congregations. When he came to Philadelphia in 1786, he would be invited to the St. George Methodist Episcopal Church. The church, which included Absalom Jones, concluded that the increasing number of Blacks at the Church made it harder to have a mixed church 6. So, they left in body to seek a space where they could worship and commune away from the racism that had infiltrated the white church.
With the help of Absalom Jones, Richard Allen would organize the independent Free African Society. This society would provide mutual aid to Free Africans and was the first Black religious institution in the city of Philadelphia. This society paved the way for the establishment of the first independent Black Churches in the United States. Jones would go on to establish the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and Allen the African Methodist Episcopal Church. These Churches would be important as they fostered growth for other African churches across the U.S.. Historian Mary Sawyer notes that by 1810, there were 15 African churches representing four denominations in 10 cities from South Carolina to Massachusetts 5.
Though many times people see the black church as uniform in thought and doctrine, this is not true. Just like the “white” church, there are many denominations and with it a diversity of people, opinions, and biblical interpretations. If there is any denomination within the black church that exudes diversity of thought, it is the Pentecostal-Holiness Denomination. Namely, the Church of God in Christ. In 1897, the Church of God in Christ was founded by Bishop Charles Harrison Mason. Before the founding of the church, Elder Charles Harrison Mason would meet with other established preachers Elder C.P. Jones of Jackson, Elder J.E. Jeter and Elder W.S. Pleasant. They became close companions in 1896, and traveled to Jackson, Michigan, where large numbers of people were converted, sanctified, and healed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Despite the many people being saved, the teachings of Elder Mason on the doctrine of sanctification caused his expulsion from the Baptist denomination under the Mississippi State Convention14.
In 1897, when he and the other preachers returned to Jackson, Michigan, Pastor Mason delivered his first message from the steps of the local courthouse14. They had an overwhelming number of attendees which was too much for the steps of the courthouse. Thankfully, they were offered the use of an abandoned warehouse. After much toil and progress, the land was bought, and Elder Mason established a small church. Alongside Elder Jones, Elder Pleasant, and 60 charter members the Church of God in Christ was formed14.
Hope in Black Biblical Interpretation
One could go on into the immense history of the Black Church, but the Early Black Church provides a solid starting point into understanding black biblical interpretation. Especially during slavery and even after emancipation, white southerners sought to maintain control over African Americans’ worship as many Black Churches doubled as stations on the Underground Railroad 7. White southerners would twist scripture to make slaves subservient to their masters and content in their bondage. Their goal, to continue the sin of slave trade by convincing slaves of God’s conformity to racism. Slavery was seen as God’s means of protecting and providing for an inferior race (suffering the “curse of Ham” in Gen. 9:25 or even the punishment of Cain in Gen. 4:12) 11. Africans were not seen as members of the white churches they attended and faced discrimination in those same pews. Working-class Baptist and Methodist church services brought together African and European forms of religious expression to produce a unique version of worship 7. This worship reflected the anguish, pain, and occasional elation of nineteenth-century Black life in the United States 7.
Many Black ministers would use poetry and drama in their sermons as well as vivid imagery in their biblical accounts conveying understanding of the rewards of righteousness and the wages of sin. They stirred their congregations to strive for a more profound faith and more righteous way of living in a world of adversity provided spiritual guidance for a people whose faith and capacity for forgiveness was tested daily 7. These Christians had met the “white man’s Jesus” before who preached a Gospel not of reconciliation or consummation, but of bondage and subjugation. The theology they adapted was unrecognizable from the blatant twisting of scripture by white preachers and slaveholders. As Dr. Yolanda Pierce said, “African Americans adopted Christianity, but they also adapted Christianity. They made it their own.”
Jesus chose to identify with the weak and disinherited, being born in Nazareth a place despised and looked down upon by many
The Early Black Church found in the scriptures not a God that was far off and separated from their oppression, but a God who loves every man and woman equally (Gen 1:27) and is deeply concerned about injustice (Psalm 146:7, Psalm 113:7, Leviticus 19:15-16, Proverbs 31:8-9, Proverbs 11:1). Scripture was consistently used to justify slavery and reinforce racism towards black people as holiness.
Despite this, Black Christians found that the Word paints a different picture of what is true and holy. They saw that Jesus does not look at their skin and see imperfection. That Jesus does not join in the chorus of so-called Christians who use their power to abuse the marginalized. No, Jesus chose to identify with the weak and disinherited, being born in Nazareth a place despised and looked down upon by many (John 1:45-46, Isaiah 53:3). The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection was a message of liberation from their present pain into joy, holiness, love, and forgiveness. They found that forgiveness was an active discipline that brought freedom and was an active rebellion against the hatred of their white slaveholders. They understood that their oppressors could hurt their physical bodies, they could never take away the promise of eternity and future glory from God (Romans 8:18).
Black Christians were able to identify with the Word of God. In Exodus, God liberates the people of Israel from the Egyptians. He hears the cries of oppression and slavery that come from His beloved. God was not seen as a God who stands idly by amid tyranny and oppression, but who delivers His people from the hands of it. Slaveholders would try to bifurcate the spiritual from the social/political to silence the cries of injustice from Blacks. They did not see it that way. No, Black Christians knew that the economic, social, and political oppression of the people of God is nothing more than the physical manifestation of the spiritual sickness at the heart of the empire 13.
The theology of the Black Church would permeate every part of their lives. Christianity gave Black Christians identity and dignity that has prevailed for centuries. They formed a community that was strengthened by their pain and fastened by steadfast love. The innumerous amount of early church pioneers would inspire the likes of Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, WEB Dubois and so many more. Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and David Walker would later arm themselves with the same truths the early Black Church leaned on to argue against slavery. Martin Luther King Jr. would as well by arguing for the Imago Dei: the image of God in man, a theology distant from the slaveholders’ religion. It’s just as Frederick Douglass said, “Of all the forms of negro hate in this world, save me from that one which clothes itself with the name of the loving Jesus.”
The Black Church remains possibly the most enduring institution of the African American Story 8. You could fill volumes with the vastness of history in the Black Church. The Black Church is extremely diverse in thought, rich in history, and evolving still today. The pain, murders, lynchings, torture, and enslavement of black people should have been enough to destroy their dignity and community. By the grace of God, it was not. The perseverance of Black Christians still abides in this age amid systemic injustice and is inspired by the beliefs of those strong, faithful Black men and women.
Our minds are like computers. In fact, they are even more complex. As the mathematician Ian Parker says,”If our brains were simple enough for us to understand them, we’d be so simple that we couldn’t.” We are constantly learning and attaining new information. We are deep thinking beings who are continuously seeking to understand more and know more. Despite this desire, there is so much we don’t know. Even science, which exists as a pursuit of knowledge into uncovering truths and fundamental laws, is only a vehicle to understanding deeper truths, but in itself is not a source of wisdom.
Wisdom itself is foundational as defined by John Piper is “the factual knowledge and situational insight and the necessary resolve that together succeeds in attaining full and everlasting happiness.” Now while I said earlier that science is only a vehicle or means to knowing more, also wisdom is a means to reaching a goal. Proverbs says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).” The beginning or start of wisdom is found in our recognition and honor of God.
1 Corinthians 2:12 says that the Holy Spirit we have received has allowed us to understand these things freely given by God. Paul argues from the greek philosophical premise that like is known only by the like. Essentially, you can assume what someone is thinking but you won’t know unless they tell you. In the same way, the Spirit indwells in us and speaks to us about spiritual truths, leading us into the hidden wisdom and power of God (1 Corinth 2:7). As God is the foundation of wisdom, there are truths we can only know by His Spirit revealing them to us.
Now, though God reveals to us truths and a new standard of holiness through the Spirit, this has not absolved natural or wordly men from judgment. Ephesians 2:3 says that we were “by nature deserving of wrath.” Though we were deserving of wrath, God’s love has punctured through darkness. By the Holy Spirit, we have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). By the grace of God we receive new minds (Romans 12:2) and the Spirit indwells in us. This is possible by believing in Jesus, in His life, His death, and resurrection that freed us from the shackles of sin. By repenting of our sin and making Him Lord, “the Holy Spirit comes to the believer, filling him or her with the understanding and hope of a future inheritance” (CompellingTruth). God’s ways, judgements, and knowledge are deeper than what we can comprehend by our human understanding (Romans 11:33).
“Having the mind of Christ gives us insight into the divine qualities of God and allows us to understand more of His heart”
Further, having the mind of Christ gives us insight into the divine qualities of God and allows us to understand more of His heart. The Word is foolishness to someone without the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). This way of thinking describes a materialist or someone who lives as there is nothing beyond this physical life. Having the mind of Christ, we are called to walk in pace with the Spirit. We have a new understanding of the temporal body we have on Earth and the promise that is given through Jesus (Romans 8:18-21). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) become apparent qualities to us of God.
Not only this, but also we understand that these qualities (or fruits of the Spirit) display the intended aim that God has for our hearts and minds. True wisdom is found in following God. As our minds are renewed, we understand what it means to love God (1 John 2:15-17, 1 John 5:3-4). We are given new desires that conflict with our human nature, drawing us closer to Holiness and godliness. The Holy Spirit changes our minds to allow us to fully pursue the will of God and produce the fruits of the Spirit.
Over a week ago now, the Capitol was attacked by rioters. Watching Trump supporters almost literally walk straight into the Capitol gave me a multitude of emotions: shock, frustration, rage, hopelessness, discouragement. I saw an almost entirely white group of supporters moved to violence and ultimately, people would lose their lives. I saw rioters, many of which were carrying blue lives matter flags or gear, attack the police and be met with little resistance. I felt that the efforts of an almost entirely peaceful movement (BLM, over 90% peaceful protests) are continually met with violence while terrorism is being dealt with with no concern for the people inside the Capitol.
Is this patriotism? Or is this Christian nationalism charged by the inflammatory and false narrative that our democracy is compromised and the election was stolen? Maybe one of the most infuriating things I saw was the flag that read “Jesus Saves.” Where now, political idolatry and evangelicalism seem to be one in the same.
To clarify, I’m not pointing Evangelical Conservative Republicans to follow Democratic policies or vice versa. Nor am I declaring my allegiance with either side. No policy will fully do the work of the Kingdom and we have to realize that. Much of our division as a Church has come from the over reliance on world systems and our lack of reliance on what scripture says. I’ll go into this more later.
If I am honest though, I have been disappointed by the inaction in the Church. I am moved to tears by the American Church’s apathy towards the marginalized. Many in the American Church have turned to idolizing their religious freedom along with political figures who swear to protect it.
Unfortunately, the American Church has a history of this. In the 19th century, slave holders used the Bible and religious freedom to justify slavery. They quoted scripture like Genesis with the “curse of Ham” and verses like Ephesian 6:5 to show that God made black people to be slaves. Then, after the Civil War, politicians, pundits, and even preachers redeveloped a theology that “defended the reconstituted Southern racial order as divinely ordained.” “Separate, but equal” became not just a legal doctrine of constitutional law, but a God ordained statute.
The entanglements of racism and religious freedom have even been found in seminaries. Bob Jones Sr. was a fundamental evangelist who founded a college in 1926 in Panama City, Florida and they would eventually move to Greenville, South Carolina. This college would become known as Bob Jones University. When classes started in 1927, admission was only given to the members of the white race and this would persist until 1971. Even after allowing black students in the university, they didn’t allow interracial marriage. As stated by Jonathan Pait in 1998, a public relations spokesman for the university, “God has separated people for his own purposes. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established.”
While at the same time that there is spiritual unity in the body by Christ (Ephesians 4), division is apparent among the American Church. We are united spiritually, but separated structurally. I believe that people who fall into the trap of Christian nationalism think that by blindly following their party, they are defending God. That they are standing for truth, love, and righteousness as they break into the Capitol building and “preserve the democracy.” If anything, it seems as though conspiracies and lies have done more to twist truth in our democracy than many politicians ever could.
The unfortunate piece is some American Christians have fallen into the pattern of basing their prejudice toward others off lies, the media and poor exegesis. In the same way, some have launched themselves into a full social “wokeness” that is performative and ignores/degrades the people it is meant to help. My friends, fundamentally we are reading the Bible wrong and not fully expressing God’s love (1 John 4:12). Just as Charles Spurgeon said “Divisions in Churches never begin with those full of love to the Savior.” To use the words of Benjamin Watson “there can never be unity without justice.” Our own personal relationship with God is a result of justice served to Jesus in our place, taking on our sin and making peace with the Father.
Christians should not be tempted into the power of empires and politics, but called into the “saving, serving, sacrificial power of Christ.”
The Jesus of the Bible is not subservient to political parties and worldly power. Instead, He offers His Love which comes through us repenting, giving our lives to Him and loving Him. Christians should not be tempted into the power of empires and politics, but called into the “saving, serving, sacrificial power of Christ.” When our own allegiance to a world power ignores the disenfranchised and marginalized, we have crossed over from patriotism into idolatry. For example, many Christians rightly speak up against abortion (Proverbs 31:8-9). As we should, but we should also provide resources to women who feel, from their economic circumstance or emotional/mental instability, their only option to be aborting a life.
Have people in the Church been so focused on religious dedication that they’ve actually pulled further away from the Word of God? I would go so far as to say that the “fasting and praying” that many do to hear God’s voice is not accepted by Him. That people in the Church go to Church and sing worship songs while simultaneously ignoring the immigrant, the poor, and the oppressed.
This leads us to a very important passage in Isaiah portraying God’s heart and His justice. Isaiah 58:6-9 says ““Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”.
This whole passage reveals the true motives of these Israelites: their fast is only to appear Holy while actually ignoring God’s commands. Fasting draws us closer to God and lets a fleshly need be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. The word used in verse 8 is aruwkah (healing) which literally means wholeness. By Christ Jesus we are united, but as the Body of Christ, we haven’t loved each other like we are. We don’t bear each other’s burdens like we should (Galatians 6:2). Instead, it’s easier to attach ourselves to a side and conspiracies than to actually listen to our brother/sister struggling. The pains of hate, and racism have not just been enabled by the American Church, but they’ve been perpetrated by it. I contend that for too long the people of the church have “fasted” to God, but have ignored seeking His Heart. Some earnestly seek God, but at the same time fight and quarrel with members of the body who call for active faith.
Wholeness is found in abiding in the heart of God. His heart is with those who are weak and we are called to serve them.
You will never be made whole by ignoring the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the slave, or the marginalized. Wholeness is found in abiding in the love of God (John 15:10-11). His heart is with those who are weak and we are called to serve them. God’s blessings (peace, restoration, fullness) come forth in our obedience to His call for us to act in tzedeqah, or primary justice which outpours from our relationship with God and makes right all relationships in our world.
God continually, without ceasing, guides us as we pour out ourselves for the marginalized. As we seek to pour ourselves out for others something amazing happens: God fills us (Matthew 5:6). The reward for giving, loving, and showing mercy to our neighbor is not a political victory, but is wholeness. In verse 9 it says that if we take away “the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness” God will make our “gloom be as the noonday” and makes us like a “spring of water.” This is the fast that these Republicans of the Church should seek as well as Democrats: To love their neighbors and come to a deeper understanding of the heart of God. Did Jesus identify with the powerful, or did He choose to be counted with the weak?
I write as I myself am guilty of apathy. I find myself trying to ignore all the darkness in the world and just focus on my own walk. Racism, slavery, poverty, and abuse of power are still rampant even in a post-Christian culture. The thing is God continually points me back to being a light in darkness and putting His love in me into action. We can’t be apathetic to those in need. “When we reject apathy, we make room for something else. We align ourselves with the life-giving mission of Christ. We pair our unique passions with the work God is already doing through His Church.”(Kelli B. Trujillo)
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There is something so sweet about gifts. When we receive them, we feel loved, appreciated, and seen. When we give them, we feel a sense of satisfaction as we share our love not just in words, but in actions. The person receiving the gift may never reciprocate the same type of love and they can even reject the gift. That is the beauty of gifts though: they are free both ways. Neither side has to give or receive the gift. It is done freely.
Reading through Romans 3:21-24 there is a transition from the judgement that comes through sin to the justification that comes through grace. The standard of Holiness is shown through the law. The law is not meant to be a burden, but rather to reveal our sinfulness and need for God (Romans 3:20).
Despite the holiness of the law, the law itself can not justify us and brings us into righteousness. In Psalms 14, David writes that “there is no one who does good, not even one.” The Psalm shows us that we don’t seek the Lord by ourselves. By our very nature, we reject the Lord and turn the other direction. God seeks after us because we ourselves won’t without His help.
God is loving, but He is also just. Psalm 7:11 reveals to us that God is just and angry at us because of sin. Sin itself destroys and defiles the good God has made in the world. It turns our hearts away from the perfect purposes of God. In Leviticus, God dwells literally in the middle of the Israelite community. As sin enters in the community, it will also reach and defile the temple of God.
Israelites are still sinful, just as we are, so they need a covering or atonement for their sins. This covering came through sacrifices, which were meant to be a symbol of life and death from righteousness and sin (Bible Project). It also was shown to be a substitute for their impurities. God is Holy and without fault. By that standard, anyone who breaks away from righteousness because of sin is disqualified from the blessings that come from the Lord.
Thankfully, God is not only just, but He is also loving. God in His grace gave the Israelites a way to continue to enter into His presence and atone for their sins. Now, God in His grace gives us the opportunity to literally carry His presence and live in relationship with Him (1 Corinth 6:19). How is this possible? Romans 3:23-24 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
There are three themes in salvation: justification, redemption, and atonement. David Guzik says in his commentary of Romans, “Justification solves the problem of man’s guilt before a righteous Judge. Redemption solves the problem of man’s slavery to sin, the world, and the devil. Propitiation solves the problem of offending our Creator.”
Looking specifically at justification, it is a legal term that shows the demands of justice have been satisfied therefore, there is no basis for condemnation. Romans 3:20 shows us that “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.” Essentially, being a good person is not enough for us to make it into Heaven.
The beauty in verse 24 is found in the word freely. Freely used in Greek is dorean meaning truly free and not just “cheap.” This means there is nothing in us that is worthy of being justified. All the reasons lie in God’s grace, that He would freely send Jesus to die for us, acting as a sacrifice by taking on the penalty of our sins, so that we could have eternal life and peace with Him. Now we are not counted unholy, but holy and not wicked, but righteous. Not because of our actions or anything, but because God loves us enough to give the gift of life. Freely God gives to us salvation and freely we can receive it.
Look up. The clouds move ever so slowly and the waters of the sky stand still. The cloud and skies come together in a beautiful symphony of colors and shapes: blue, yellow, purple, small, large and wide. The Sun shines down mighty beams of light that blind even the strongest of eyes. Look closely. Every color comes together, meets, and stops at a specific point. They collide and transform into a magnificent design that no human mind could imagine on its own. Darkness comes. The stars, light years away, still fill the night sky with compelling, but eloquent light.
Staring at the eternity that exists in our universe, you can’t help thinking about your own significance. Eternity is in each of our hearts and our heart evokes us to seek the meaning of our life. “Within the vastness of the universe, where do I find my purpose?” The heavens and skies in their glory draw us closer to our purpose. Our purpose that is found in the Creator of this masterpiece which is our world.
I have found myself at times struggling to understand the mysteries of God. I struggle with His will and how ultimately it will all come together for good. When we have doubts, we should seek out answers. Many atheist thinkers alike have asked this question: “What evidence shows me that God exists?”
David constantly throughout Psalm 19 writes poetically of the glory of God revealed in nature. Verse 1 and 2 say “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” He beautifully declares that the attributes and characteristics of nature characterize the wisdom, knowledge, glory, and sovereignty of God.
Verse three and four go on to say “They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.” (Psalm 19:3-4) The Hebrew word used for “voice” is qav. This means a measuring line. Essentially, the skies do not literally speak to us by sound or voice, but the workmanship of God is revealed by lines and shapes that go across the sky and earth.
Without speaking or saying one word, their “words” go out to the ends of the earth and declare the existence of a Creator.
Each line and each detail purposeful and intentional. The sky itself is held together by God that in Him and through Him the world has form. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The craftsmanship of God can also be found in each one of us as well. Evil is easy to find in our world today which leads to some either blaming God or claiming that evil existing in our world proves there is no God.
My friends this is not so! How do we even define what evil is? From where do we reference what is evil and good? It’s like asking the question how do we know that a straight line is not a curved line? Each person (whether they want to admit it or not) inherently follows moral objective law that narrows their behavior separating their actions evil from good. The existence of evil doesn’t point us away from God, but rather further proves the existence of a law-giver. Our design and nature point us towards the reality of a Creator. Without His Natural law placed in us, the lines of good and evil would blur and exist to us in similarity.
Without a law, all things fall apart. For example, some argue that not as many miracles happen in this day and age. It’s easy to find ourselves looking for miracles when our culture is looking for a sign that God exists. God, though, does not want us to look for “signs”, but to know the sign of Jonah which is that Jesus came to Earth, died becoming the propitiation for our sins, and rose again on the third day freeing us from sin and death. Within that promise lies where we place our hope.
Besides, miracles exist all around us! When we go for a drive in our car, how are we sure that the car will not start flying into the air? When we walk to the park, how can we be so sure the earth won’t open up and swallow us whole? How are we so sure that most of the time, the world will hold itself together? It’s because we have an understanding that the world is held in place. We know that the laws of nature won’t be broken to where things fall into chaos.
Like a carpenter putting together a table, the workmanship is held together because of the intentional design. And why? Because the intentional design is held together by the creator.
The Lord in His intentions, by His love, grace, and wisdom, is faithful to reveal Himself to those who seek Him even if they seek Him without knowing what it is they are truly seeking after. God knows we all are seeking wholeness because He created us that way. He placed eternity in the hearts of us all (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He seeks us out so we can have a true love relationship with Him. Then, in coming into relationship with Him, we abide in His infinite love and our joy is made complete (John 15:9-11).
He reveals Himself through Jesus, but also He wishes that each of us would just look up and then, look closely. He reveals Himself also by the skies and heavens above us. So not only so we would only know the masterpiece that is our universe, but also that we will know the Master who has pieced us together beautifully.