Undoing Race: Putting No Confidence in the Flesh

“To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is protection for you. Watch out for dogs, watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus and do not put confidence in the flesh– although I once had confidence in the flesh too. If anyone thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness that is the law, blameless. But everything that was gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Philippians 4.1-8a

A familiar passage of scripture, often employed so that we might boast about the mature faith of Paul, we recite all of his achievements and his denial of them all so that he might accept Christ. We praise Paul for his expressions of self- abasement in service to Christ. We lift him up as a great example of discipleship, a true exemplar of the faith. But, this is not often followed by a list of our own to which we are willing to say as Paul: “But everything that was gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.”

Race is the supreme expression of confidence in the flesh and we, like Paul, can boast of our social standing because of it: light or white skinned, of European stock, of the Blue Vein Society; as to the law of race, white, half- breed, mulatto or quadroon, a racist; as to zeal, hating and killing those who do not look like me; as to the righteousness of race that is the law, perfect. But, unlike Paul, we do not count it as loss. This is a confidence that we are not willing to let go of.

In our minds, race is different. It has special standing in our lives and in our minds at least, does not impact or inform our faith. But, we know that this is not true.  What is also true is that our confidence in the social coloring of our skin is also our shame. As Christians, we believe that the essence of our being is not our flesh but our spirit. Our understanding of humanity is that we are all made in the image of God or at least most of us are. We are less confident of the humanity of others because of race.

We fold our hands, turn a blind eye and allow race to rob us of this assurance because it elevates our position. It is a forgetfulness that benefits us. But, I challenge you to not just talk about Paul but follow Paul as he so confidently followed Christ, rejecting the flesh and its attachments so that he might know Christ more fully in the Spirit. Count it all at loss.

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