Responding to racism as followers of Jesus Christ
The book of Revelation repeatedly describes how heaven will be filled with believers from every nation, tribe, and language, all united in worship of Jesus who ransomed them for His Kingdom. By contrast, the picture on earth is quite different. We all have deep divisions and prejudices against one another, with racism being just one example.
Revelation 5:9 ESV And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
Revelation 7:9 ESV After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
Revelation 14:6 ESV Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.
Mankind originally began as one united people
Every one of us is made in God’s image and we are all descended from Adam, the original human “prototype”.
Genesis 1:26-27 ESV Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Acts 17:26 ESV And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
There was originally only one united people group that spoke one common language until the incident of the Tower of Babel, where people wanted to be like God and reach heaven on their own prowess. God could have eradicated them for their irreverence and rebellion, but in His grace, God separated them into different tribes, languages, and locations in order to confuse their communication.
Genesis 11:1,4-9 ESV Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Nonetheless, it has always been God’s will that we treat foreigners with respect and love them as we love ourselves. Our cultural, language, and social differences should never be allowed to become a hindrance to loving and respecting one another.
Leviticus 19:32-34 NLT … Fear your God. I am the Lord. “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself…
In fact, God’s Word repeatedly reminds us not to show any partiality. (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:19, Proverbs 28:21, Romans 3:22, Romans 10:12-13, Galatians 3:28, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 1:16, Colossians 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 1 Timothy 5:21, James 2:1, James 2:9)
Deuteronomy 16:19 ESV You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality…
These reminders are almost as numerous as the command to love another other. (e.g. John 13:34, John 15:12, John 15:17, Romans 13:8, Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 Peter 4:8, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 5)
John 13:34 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Why do we need so many warnings against prejudice or favouritism? Because bias is hard wired into our subconscious as a result of the sin committed at Babel. Only by dying to ourselves and calling on Jesus to save us and make us new creations, can we be transformed to love others with the love of God.
Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Every human being is born with a bias
Racism is not simply about the colour of one’s skin tone. It also encompasses certain biases against an ethnic group’s customs, values, and language. Even if we were born visually blind, we would still pick up such racial biases from our upbringing.
This bias is not only passed down from one generation to the next, but it is also instinctively implanted in us from the time we were in our mothers’ wombs. Every baby starts to listen to and learn its own family’s ethnic tongue after seven months and will know how to distinguish it from foreign languages directly after birth. This is to help the baby recognise and bond with its primary caregivers from birth. We all subconsciously feel safer and more comfortable with our own caregivers, language, and tribe as a result of it. One could say that this is how the impact of the tower of Babel continues today.
If we have never been taught how to respect and honour people from any early age, we will be influenced by the norms of this world – so much so that most of us have become blind to our own subconscious racial bias.
The Bible has some convicting warnings against this. For example,
- We watch movies with derogatory racial stereotypes and are no longer convicted this is divisive and wrong. | The Bible warns us: Jude 1:17-21 NLT But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them. But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
- We laugh at jokes that mock other ethnic accents, names, or clothing and call it “entertainment”. | The Bible warns us: Isaiah 57:4 ESV Whom are you mocking? Against whom do you open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit,
- We avoid certain people groups because we have been conditioned to see them in a certain way. | The Bible warns us: John 7:24 ESV Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
- We ignore the hardships of minority groups in our midst as if they are invisible to us | The Bible warns us: Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Racism is very much woven into the fabric of our society. Just consider the prevalence of racial politics, racially segregated districts, or racially skewed history books. Xenophobia leads us to fear that our jobs will be lost to foreigners while family prejudice means some people are disowned for marrying outside their race. Colonialism has encouraged the view that the ruling nations have been superior to their colonies.
No one is racially colour blind. Let us pause for a moment and do a test on our own hearts here – which people group do we think are more likely to be:
- Rude or too loud
Were any of our answers racist in nature?
Racial discrimination begins in our innermost subconscious thoughts. Any form of discrimination is a sin, even we don’t act upon them. God will judge the secret deeds of our hearts.
James 2:9 ESV But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 ESV For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Jesus came to debunk discrimination
We worship a Saviour who was discriminated against, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Isaiah 53:3 ESV He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
- Jesus’ mother was pregnant when she got married to Joseph and He was not His earthly father’s son. He was initially rejected by Joseph. | Matthew 1:18-19 ESV This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
- He lived in an area that people despised | John 1:46 ESV Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”…
- He was seen only as the son of a carpenter, not the Son of God | Mark 6:3-4 ESV Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
- He was mocked and bullied for His identity | Matthew 27:27-31 ESV Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
God chose to identify with the low and despised in order to humble the proud. He received and ate with those whom others labeled as “sinners” and even spoke with a person from Samaria whom the Jews would have scornfully called a “dog” or a “half-breed” due to their mixed Jewish-and-Assyrian ancestry.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Luke 15:2 ESV And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
John 4:9 ESV The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
It is Satan who amplifies our differences
Jesus came to redeem every race and tribe with His own life. Every ethnic group is valuable to Him. Jesus wants to cleanse us and make us His own people, united with Him and with one another in love.
Titus 2:14 NLT He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
Ephesians 2:14 ESV For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
Satan, however, will tempt us to scorn and despise other ethnic groups. We are prodded to amplify our negative views of others to judge and curse them, rather than humble ourselves before God, honour others, and be united in love.
Romans 12:10 ESV Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
One crucial battle tactic Satan uses against mankind is to get us to fight amongst ourselves and destroy one another, so we cannot stand against him. We need to remember that when we too look down on, despise, mock, or show partiality against other races, we are in fact, playing into Satan’s hand.
Mark 3:24-26 ESV If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand…
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
How will we respond if we are targets of racism?
God is impartial and if we are to truly be God’s children, we need to reflect His impartiality towards others as well. But what if we are at the receiving end of racist scorn, hatred, and attacks? Racism can be even more jarring when we encounter it if mutual respect is one of our core values. The contrast seems so stark.
Romans 2:11 ESV For God shows no partiality
1 Peter 1:17 ESV And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
1. Remember that Jesus suffered too
There are some of us who encounter hurtful racial slurs and slights regularly, sometimes almost on a daily basis. While we can choose to graciously overlook such incidences, we must also take care of our souls because the impact on our hearts is very real and cannot be denied.
Proverbs 19:11 NLT Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.
Thank God that when Jesus came to earth, He chose a path of suffering. He too was the target of verbal abuse, ridicule, social discrimination, and physical attacks. He shows us that He sympathises with us when we are upset, pained, and grieved at the hurtful ways people have treated us.
Hebrews 4:15 ESV For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
God will hear all our cries when we humbly seek Him. In fact, He instructs us to pour out all our anxieties to Him and give Him our emotional burdens.
Psalm 69:32-33 ESV When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Psalm 55:22 ESV Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
We also see that in spite of all that He went through, Jesus never retaliated. Our Saviour knew that His vindication would come from His Heavenly Father, who will exact punishment on all His attackers on Judgement Day. We too can take comfort that God is a more powerful and just Judge than we will ever be. We do not need to retaliate because it is much more fearful for our enemies to fall into the hands of the living God, than into ours.
Hebrews 10:30-31 ESV For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
2. We have been forewarned
In His grace, God always forewarns His people of suffering and persecution ahead of time through His prophetic Word.
Amos 3:7 NLT Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
We are told that in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves, proud, arrogant, abusive, heartless, slanderous, without self-control, brutal and swollen with conceit. Aren’t all of these typical trademarks of racism? Therefore, we should not be surprised at the increase in prejudice and brutality in the world. Jesus has warned us that there will be great persecution before He returns to rule on earth.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
1 Peter 4:12 ESV Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Matthew 24:21 NIV For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.
3. Repent of our own racial prejudices
Before we condemn racism in general, we need to first check for racial biases in our own hearts and see if there is a log in our own eyes.
Matthew 7:1-5 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Did we pass the test for racial impartiality mentioned earlier? Do our own church communities comprise people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” like God’s Kingdom does? Do strangers of different ethnicities feel comfortable when they join us? Do we actively reach out to various minority races and care for the downtrodden? Or do we prefer to stick with our own homogenous crowd?
Before we decry the racism that we see in this world, we must first repent of the biases in our own hearts.
4. Resist the temptation to fall into counter-racism
Racism tends to breed counter-racism, meaning that we start to develop racist attitudes towards the people who have been racist towards us. We start to condemn “their race”. Our hearts turn darker and darker with bitterness, self-righteousness, and hatred.
James 2:4 ESV Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
This may make us feel self-justified but in God’s eyes, we have become murderers (1 John 3:15) and children of the devil (John 8:44). Are our salvation and eternal life worth throwing away just so that we can feel self-justified in this life? This is a temptation we need to firmly resist.
1 John 3:15 ESV Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
John 8:44 ESV You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
5. Choose to be God’s instruments of righteousness
Fire does not put out fire. In fact, it may only ignite a larger flame and cause greater devastation. It has to be countered with something radically different in nature, which in this case, is water. Similarly, racism and hatred cannot be overcome with more racism and hatred, but love.
As believers, we are called to overcome evil with good. God’s Word reminds us to bless those who persecute us, not hate or curse them. Otherwise, we will become just like the people we seek to condemn and we exalt Satan’s work on this earth. Instead, we should glorify Jesus’ work to restore people to wholeness.
Romans 12:14-21 ESV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
No one is born to practice hatred, bigotry, and animosity. It is something we are taught by our upbringings, social circles, or the media. Perhaps those who have become racist were taught by their parents or elders to be afraid of other races or foreigners and are simply acting out their fears. There is a reason why Jesus calls all of us “sheep without a shepherd” who “know not what they do.” Sheep are known to simply follow the flock, even if it means jumping over a cliff.
Matthew 9:36 ESV When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Luke 23:34 ESV And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Racist people are the lost sheep of God. They need our compassion, not our hatred.
Matthew 18:12-14 ESV What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Here are some practical things we can do.
- Acknowledge our anger about racism to God and tell Him all our grievances. Don’t hold on to anger overnight. Otherwise, it will poison our hearts and our health. | Ephesians 4:26 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
- In our own households, practice control of our tongues and do not give racism more airtime or attention than we need to. It is good to educate our children about how to respond to racism, but to condemn and curse other people would make us no different from those who sin against us. | James 3:8-10 ESV but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
- Screen what we watch or read about. The more we expose our hearts to racial stereotypes and bigotry, the more we will absorb such messages subconsciously and yield to their influence. God’s Word calls us to meditate on things above, not the things of this world. | Colossians 3:1-3 ESV If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
- Forgive racial discrimination – not because those sinned against us have repented, but because we have repented before God and received His forgiveness. | Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- Choose to behave as God’s chosen ones, and put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other” | Colossians 3:12-14 ESV Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
- Do not hold on to grudges. Resentment only makes our souls sick. | Leviticus 19:18 ESV You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- Where possible, choose to educate friends with gentleness and kindness. People often act out of ignorance. For example, they could simply be repeating some sarcastic remark they heard from a talk show without realising how offensive it can sound to others. We simply need to respectfully say, “Have you ever thought about what making that statement says about you?” | Matthew 18:15 NIV “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
- Be willing to stand against racism in society at large in a kind, not quarrelsome, manner, and be willing to endure evil and teach others. For hearts to really change, education needs to be done on an individual level. As people observe Christlike behaviour in us, they may start to change their minds and may even become more open to hearing about Jesus from us. | 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
- Finally, avoid hardened, unrepentant racists. There will be people who will be driven by Satan to steal, kill, and destroy others. These are people we ought to avoid. | Titus 3:10-11 ESV As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Micah 6:8 ESV He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
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