Category Archives: Race and Spiritual Formation

Not Your Average Identity

During this season of Lent, a kind of forty- day challenge for some believers, I have been reflecting on surrender and what we mean when we say, “I give up.”  In the practice of our faith, according to the terms and conditions of our discipleship, giving up is a good thing.  Dare I say, it is the goal.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16.24).

In our surrender to the Spirit of God and the denial of self- gratification, we practice a little of Christ’s death.  In denying our carnal selves, we accept more of the spiritual life of Jesus.  Because he denied himself on a daily basis in service to humanity and as a servant of God’s will: “not my will but yours” (Luke 22.42).

He could have been full of himself.  He could have touted his successes.  He could have pointed to the number of angels that follow him.  He could have boasted of all his creations– but he didn’t.

But, the social construct of race does just the opposite.  It puts the confidence and the change in our flesh.  Whether privilege or powerless, it is a work outside of the Spirit of God.  Race says because of the social coloring of skin, beige, black, brown, red, yellow, white, we are valuable and worthy.

But, if we are following the social construct of race, we are walking in the opposite direction of Jesus Christ.  Race puts our flesh up front and says that if we are this “color,” then we are good, acceptable, blessed, righteous, pure, upright.  This is heresy.

It is not your average, run of the mill identity but competes with our identity in Christ Jesus.

Race say that there is no change, no room for improvement.  We are who the social coloring of our skin says that we are.  There is no wiggle room but these are our marching orders.  We can only fall in line as there is no place for those who would not surrender to the color- code.  But, we cannot be a disciple of Christ and race?  Either you are going to be a color or a Christian but you cannot be both– because Christ’s is not your average identity.

Race Has Bewitched Us

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing the faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?– if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”

~Galatians 3.1-5, Revised Standard Version

In this passage of sacred Scripture, Paul is disappointed with the Christian believers at the churches of Galatia. He has presented the gospel of Jesus Christ and they have so quickly turned to another gospel, a gospel that says that they are justified by the works of the law and not that of faith. “Who has bewitched you,” he asks? Paul’s presentation of the gospel, their subsequent confession of faith and conversion experience is different from the standards that the Galatians are living by now. The message has been changed. They have been charmed, led away in error.

The same can be said of most if not all of America’s Christians. We, too, have been bewitched, charmed by race, seduced by the power and privileges given to the social coloring of skin. Like the Galatians, we have been led away from the gospel that was presented to us. Though we know the means by which we came to know Christ, that we were saved by a confession of faith not because of the possession of a favored social coloring of skin, still we continue in the faith, living not according to the sanctification of the Spirit but of skin. But this is a false belief, a seduction of the flesh.

This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Race has nothing to do with our spiritual formation and despite the use of the word “race” in modern interpretations of the Bible, it cannot be found in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, the primary languages employed in the composition of the Holy Bible. There is only the use of “nation” and “people”; neither term is synonymous with race, the social coloring of skin, prejudice or stereotypes. To insert this social practice and belief would be a gross error. It would be to present another gospel. Race is not a part of our spiritual struggle but a social tug of war, evidence not of one’s divine chosenness but social favoritism.

We will be saved because of the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ not the social coloring of our skin. We are saved by faith not works of the law, including the laws of race. We are saved based on our belief in Jesus Christ and His power to save us from sin. This confession of faith is our only contribution to our salvation. We can do nothing else to be saved. There is nothing else, especially not the social coloring of skin, that would satisfy the penalty of sin. O foolish American Christians! Race has bewitched us.