Would you join me in a word of prayer? O God, how we thank You for and rejoice in Calvary’s love. Thank You for reminding us of our great need and of Your even greater provision. Grant by Your grace that we might never become jaded or get used to the magnitude of Calvary’s love and its implications in our lives and in our eternities. Now as we turn our attention to the preaching of Your Word, continue to meet us in our worship; for our worship meaningless, unless and until we commune with You. Teach us, correct us, rebuke us, train us, conform us to the image of Your beloved Son. In other words, let Your Word have its way, for we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Let me just say as I begin here that once again it is a great privilege to be here. I am grateful for Dr. MacArthur’s ministry writ large, his ministry and the way that it has impacted lives, the way that it has impacted families, the way that it has impacted churches, the way that it has impacted a generation; but like the rest of you, I’m also grateful for the ways that it has impacted me personally and individually. I’ve said at other conferences and at other times that it is a unique privilege for me to stand behind this sacred desk.
I was born and raised right here in Los Angeles the same year that Dr. MacArthur started pastoring this church. So I’m grateful for the fact that we get to celebrate our 50th together, right? But I was born to a single teenaged Buddhist mother and never heard the gospel until my first year at university, so I was gone from Los Angeles before I ever heard the gospel. And so, for God in His providence and by His grace, to call me to Himself, to save me, to rescue me from my sin, and to bring me back to this place reminded all the while that is a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown. And to give me the privilege of being able to stand here before you, it means more than you could know and more than I can say.
Well, my assignment today is to address the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to issues of racial reconciliation, this particular idea and concept of justice that has been on the minds and on the lips of many as of late. And I want to do that couple of ways. One way that I want to do it is I want to bring a word of clarity, a word of clarification. Many people, again, when we have discussions, disagreements, debates, one of the tendencies is to mischaracterize or oversimplify the arguments or the positions of those with whom we disagree. And I certainly don’t want to be guilty of that, but I also don’t want to be a victim of that.
And I want to be clear about what I believe – and I can’t speak to everyone who signed this statement and help craft this statement on social justice and the gospel – what I believe about the importance of this moment in which we live and I believe about who our real adversaries are. And I do believe that we have real adversaries. In some instances, we have internal debates, these fraternal disagreements and arguments about specific issues, right, and they can be small points; and those are incredibly important. But what I had in mind when I became a part of the group that put this statement together was not that inside baseball – if you will – those small fraternal debates that brothers have over minor issues; but what I saw was a much larger issue, a much broader issue. And sometimes people have accused me of making veiled comments about this brother or that brother, sometimes of responding to articles that I hadn’t even seen yet. I don’t know if you remember, but I kind of live in Africa, and I’ve got more than I can say grace over with taking care of what God has called me to take care of there; so I don’t always see everything and I don’t always see everything soon.
But here’s another thing that you need to know about me: I tend to not be scared of people – just saying. And when I want to say something and direct it at someone, I tend to just do that. Amen. I believe that that’s our duty, our responsibility, and I believe that we have a model of that in the New Testament.
I love when Paul is writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy; and he doesn’t just say, “There’s a brother who did me harm.” He goes, “You know Alexander? You know, the coppersmith down there on Main Street around the corner when you go – you know who I’m talking about, right? That guy.” I believe we have a model for that, and that’s very important.
Another issue is that there are some who’ve argued that what we’ve addressed is an effort to get away from the real issues or to take something that is a big, broad, cultural, systemic issue and to reduce it to something less than that. I want to say something about that today as well. But the other issue is that we’re actually warring against straw men, that this big boogie man that we believe we need to address really doesn’t exist. So I want to address all of those things. But I’m going to start by addressing this idea that we’re fighting against straw men, that we’re creating straw men in order to strengthen our position.
I want to read something for you. This is from Union Seminary. Union Seminary is a real seminary. They train real people for real pastoral ministry in real churches. And they responded to our statement; and here is part of their response. I won’t take the time to read it all.
They begin, “Misguided sociological, psychological, and political theories have long fostered biblical misinterpretation.” Amen, that’s why we wrote what we wrote. “But we wish to address untruths this documents proclaims. Any treatise that says social justice is incidental to the gospel badly misunderstands both.” So I want to be clear that I’m not taking this out of context. These individuals are responding to our statement and to what they see as misrepresentations and untruths and errors in our statement.
Point Number One, the Scripture: “While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It was written by men over centuries, and thus, reflects both God’s truth and human sin and prejudice. We affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.” This is no straw man, this is a real seminary training real ministers for real ministry in real churches.
I’ve written about and addressed critical theory, critical race theory, its cultural Marxist roots, and I’ve often been accused of going after boogie men that do not exist. Listen to this again. This one I want to read again. Just marinate on this for a minute.
“While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It was written by men,” – so the Bible can’t be trusted, the Bible’s not trustworthy, the Bible’s not sufficient – “written by men over centuries, and thus, reflects both God’s truth and human sin,” – and again, this characterization of the way that the Bible came to us, the way that the Canon came to us, this characterization is rooted in classical liberalism – “reflects human sin and prejudice. We affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.” So when we read the Bible, we have to discern what of this comes from and what of this comes from man and his sin and his prejudice; and biblical scholarship helps us to do that, but also critical theory helps us to do that.
Critical theory, which is a modern theory from the social sciences, critical theory rooted and grounded in modern sociology and psychology and political science, critical theory outside of the Bible helps us to read the Bible rightly and determine what God is saying versus what sinful man is saying. So we have a new Canon here, and when we’re applying critical theory – there’s a couple more of these points, but I really want you understand this one – when we’re applying critical theory, because many times when we’re having discussions about these issues, people will say, “Well, you haven’t done your homework.” “What do they mean? What do I need to read?” and you get a list of books, not from theologians, but from sociologists and psychologists, political scientists who are rooted in critical theory. And what many are now doing is they go to critical theory.
Critical theory says that there is a new unpardonable sin. Jim Wallis actually writes a book about this new unpardonable sin, and the title of Jim Wallis’ book is America’s Original Sin: Racism. America’s Original Sin. Now Jim Wallis from Sojourners does not believe in the doctrine of original sin as it relates to Adam and humans. But he definitely believes in it as it relates to America and critical race theory.
So we read this new Canon, right, of Scripture from sociologists, political scientists, right, from psychologists, and this new Canon of Scripture identifies for us this new unpardonable sin of racism. Then we bring that to the Bible and we bring that to other theologians, and we dismiss theologians in history based upon what we find from our new Canon from sociology, psychology, and political science. But that’s just the beginning of it. Let me a couple more of these.
Let’s read the statement on sin: “We affirm that all people, systems, and institutions are affected by sin. We deny, however, that we’re only responsible for our own personal sins. God calls us to understand how we benefit or are harmed by structural oppression and breaks sinful system down.”
Salvation: “We deny that salvation is only found through Christianity, that God’s salvific grace is exclusive to any single faith or religion. Moreover, in God’s eyes, there is no difference in spiritual value or worth between those who are in Christ and those who are not.” This is a real seminary training real people for real positions in real churches. This is not a straw man.
Let me read another one. Sexuality in Marriage: “We affirm science and theories confirmation that God created humans to live in various sexual orientations and genders. The spectrum of human sexual experience attests to God’s expansive love. We deny that any love that does no harm should be rejected.”
Let me do one more. Complementarianism: “We affirm that this doctrine has long been used to propagate Christian patriarchy. It amounts to separate but equal, cloaked in religious language. We deny that women are unfit to lead as pastors and know the church desperately needs their leadership.”
I could go on, but I think the point has been made, that this is not a straw man, this is not the invention of my imagination, this is real. And I’m so grateful for the fact that it is in the open and that I can stand here and not talk to you about, you know, egghead theories and how these theories are theoretically influencing people, and how if we listen to this or that we can trace this theory. But, no-no-no-no-no, that’s not what we’re doing here. This is here they are, open and honest, denying the authority of Scripture, denying the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, denying the sufficiency of Scripture, and elevating ideologies that are antithetical to biblical Christianity and elevating things that the Bible clearly identifies as heresy, and doing so based on the fact that there is an authority to them that is higher than the authority of the Bible; and it is the authority of the social sciences to the degree that they support their presuppositions.
So what do we do? I’m glad you asked. If you have your Bibles with you, open them to the book of Ephesians, the book of Ephesians, Ephesians chapter 2.
And again, let me just be clear about this. I am not arguing at all. One of the things that happens here is there’s some straw men here, like a straw men that argues that the position in this document or the position at this conference or the position from those who are fighting against the kinds of things I read, that our position is that the gospel only deals with how we get to heaven and has no implications for how we live our lives in relation to one another. That’s a lie. That’s a straw man. That is absolutely a straw man. But the problem is, when we talk about the implications of the gospel and how we live in relationship to one another, that the gospel is not just what we use in order to determine how we are made right with God and then put it over to the side when we determine how we live in communion with one another. No, no, no. The Bible is sufficient on both sides of the equation, and the way we approach the Bible is to submit to it, not to call it to submit to theories in the behavioral sciences.
And so, Ephesians chapter 2. I call this, the second half of Ephesians chapter 2, the forgotten section, right? We know and love Ephesians chapter 2, or we say we do, right? What we really mean is we know and love Ephesians 2, the first paragraph. If you can’t say amen, you ought to say ouch, right?
Somebody says, “Open to Ephesians 2:11,” and we’re like, “Wait, there’s a verse 11? You’re making this up, right?” And I’ll be the first to admit that Ephesians 2:1 through 10, that’s as good as it gets. Amen? You don’t even have to be Pentecostal to read Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1 through 10 and feel like you need to shout. Amen?
But it’s not as though Ephesians 2:1 through 10 gives us the good stuff, and then in verse 11 we get something less. Actually, in Ephesians 1 through 10, we get the picture of our need in Christ for salvation from our sin. Because of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we’re dead in our trespasses and sins, and we have to be made alive together with Christ. Amen?
And that’s just good news. We must be born again. We must have our sins dealt with. Our sins must be nailed to the cross, and we must be reconciled to God: amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord. But it doesn’t stop there. We are also reconciled to one another. And that’s what we see beginning in verse 11, that this reconciliation to God opens up, lays the foundation, and is the source of our reconciliation to one another; not sociology, psychology, or political science, but the same gospel.
Beginning in verse 11, look at it there: “Therefore remember.” Now “therefore,” – therefore harkens back to verses 1 through 10. “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands.”
“Now remember, you Gentiles.” He’s dividing the world – and this is important, when we talk about the sufficiency of Scripture, for our reconciliation, right, the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to justice in this regard between us as people. First of all, we see its sufficiency in that it makes clear who we are and how we are divided. We see two groups here: Gentiles in the flesh and the circumcision. Remember that you were at that time three things: separated from Christ; secondly, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel; thirdly, strangers to the covenants and promises. Because of that, we had no hope and were without God in the world.
Just two things here that are incredibly important. One, is it identifies the distinctions that matter, and secondly, it identifies the division that exists. Now these distinctions that matter are important, because oftentimes we talk about distinctions and we talk about being distinct from one another in terms of our race. Race is actually a social construct. The concept of race is not a biblical concept, it’s not a biblical idea, it is a constructed idea. You won’t find the idea of races in the Bible unless you find it in the proper historical context where we see, number one, that we are all the race of Adam. Amen? One race, one blood. We are all the race of Adam. There is less than a 0.2 percent genetic difference between any of us in this regard.
In fact, we’re not even different colors. Amen. Technically, from a genetic perspective, from a biochemistry perspective, we’re all actually the same color. Our color comes from our melanin. We’ve all got melanin, just at differing degrees. So it’s not that some of us are this color, some of this are that color. No, we’re just different shades of the same color; some of us just have more melanin than others. And I want you to listen to me on this, listen to me! Just because you don’t have as much melanin as I do, don’t you dare think God doesn’t love you as much as He loves me because He gave me more. You learn to be satisfied with the little you have.
But there is another separation. There is actually a separation that we do have here in Scripture, it’s a real separation. The separation is that we have the racial categories that we have are artificial, they are not biblical in nature, nor are they genetic in nature. They are artificial based on people’s hair and their features and their skin color and things like that. That is artificial. It’s not real. We’ve been convinced that it is, but it’s not real. But the Bible does talk about a real distinction, and that is between Gentiles and Jews.
Now racial distinctions are things that we have made up to divide ourselves as individuals, and it’s crazy, it’s logically inconsistent. I read these forms, and people, you know, are like, “What is your race?” Human. “Actually, actually, no. Actually, you’re African American.”
How is that a race, because one of them is a nationality. Amen? That’s crazy talk. How is that my race? And how is it that I get to be an African American, but if somebody comes over here from Egypt or Algeria or Morocco, they don’t get to be African American? Because the first part of our race is based on my continent. “Well no, not actually. Only the Black of your continent.” Oh, wow, okay. So why use the name of continent, right?
And then this second part is based on your nationality. How do you get race from nationality? We made this up. It’s not real. But this distinction is real, and we didn’t make it up, God did. Follow me on this because it’s going to be very important later on.
The distinction between Jew and Gentile is a real distinction, and God made the distinction; but it’s a covenantal distinction, not a racial one. How do I know that? Because the first Jew had to become one. He was of the same ethnicity and race, if you will, as all the rest of his kinfolk. Amen? God didn’t say to Abraham, “Be still, I’m getting ready to change you at the genetic level so that your descendants will be genetically different from the other descendants. This might hurt a little bit.” No. He made an external adjustment: circumcision. Did not change him genetically. So the Jew-Gentile divide is not a genetic one, it can’t be. You can’t try to make it one; that dog won’t hunt.
So God actually makes this distinction. It’s a real distinction and it’s a covenantal distinction. Why am I laboring this point? Because the question is, Scripture is sufficient. Yes, the Scripture is sufficient because one of our big problems is we allow a manmade category to divide us, but the all-sufficient Word of God says to us, “That’s a lie, stop believing it!”
But beyond that, he goes to what the real problem is. The real problem is – again, this separation is artificial, but this separation is covenantal. And verse 12: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ,” – there’s your problem – “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, outside of this community, strangers to the covenants and the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” That is as bad as bad news gets. Amen?
What’s our favorite part of the first half of Ephesians 2? Our favorite part is verse 4: “But God.” Amen? Because there’s some bad news in verses 1 through 3, and then you get, “But God.” Watch this. Verses 11 and 12, you get bad news. Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus.” The news is bad in the first half, “But God.” The news is bad in the second half, “But now in Christ Jesus.”
Look what he says: “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” What is this an illusion to? This is an illusion to the temple, worship of God’s people. You come up the steps in Solomon’s Porch and you want to come in; and ultimately, we know that inside the Holy of Holies it is there where the presence of God is seen to dwell. And nobody goes there but the high priests, and that only once a year. And then outside of that, there’s a place where the priests minister, and then there’s an area where the Levites can go, and then there’s this area where Jewish men can go, and then there’s an area where Jewish women can go, and then back here, way far off, you have the court of the Gentiles. They’ve come to know and love Yahweh; but even though they’ve come to know and love Yahweh, they still, when they come to worship Yahweh, have to be way back there, as far away from the presence of Yahweh as you can possibly get.
But Christ dies, and the veil of the temple is torn in two; and now all of a sudden, in Christ, you who used to have to sit way back there have been brought near by the blood of Jesus! Christ has reconciled us to God. That’s the picture that’s in mind here.
Verse 14. Why? “For He Himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the diving wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself on new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
We were far off, and we’ve been brought near. What’s that about? That’s about reconciliation to God. We were far off and we’ve been brought near by the blood of Christ. But the blood of Christ doesn’t just bring us near to God, and the blood of Christ doesn’t just bring us near to one another. Notice what he says: “The blood of Christ makes us one man.”
It’s an amazing mystery. It’s very similar, if you will, to the mystery of marriage. It’s an amazing thing. You know, my wife and I are not related by blood, yet she’s my closest living relative. Just think on that for a minute. She’s my next of kin, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. She’s my good thing, y’all. Why? Because of this mysterious, supernatural work of God that has united us and made us one. And the same thing happens with Jews and Gentiles. God brings them together and makes them one.
Listen to this. We love Galatians 3:28, but we stop too soon. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord; don’t stop reading. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Did you catch that? Father Abraham had many sons. Amen? Many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you.
Back to our text. He makes us one. But before we do that, before we do that, let me make this point. I told you I was belaboring that point for a reason, because the idea that we are many races, right – and we have different ethnicities, and the Bible speaks to that, right? The word “ethnicity,” ethnos. In the Great Commission, we take this message and we go and preach to panta ta ethnē, right, every people group, every ethnic group. We do have different ethnicities; but that’s different than saying that we have different races.
There are different cultural distinctions among us and other things that distinguish us: our languages and things of this nature. But that’s different than saying we have real legitimate things that separate us. Why is this important? Because if the things that we believe separate us are made up and we see in this text that a real separation that God created is overcome by the blood of Christ, if the blood of Jesus can obliterate a real distinction that God Himself created, then how much more can it get rid of artificial distinctions that fallen men created.
Let’s look at the next part of this; all of this turns around. Verse 17. Verse 17 is incredibly important: “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Is Scripture is sufficient for us in this area of reconciliation? Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think verse 17, it may be the clincher for all of this. “He came and preached peace to those of you who were far off and peace to those of you who were near.”
One of the problems with critical theory – and again, I didn’t want to make this an exposé of critical theory – but one of the problems is this idea that we think about race and racism in terms of structures. And there are people who are arguing that when you think about race and racism in terms of the individual, you have a problem because you’re not addressing those structures. And when you think about others who say when you think about race and racism in terms of structures, you have a problem because you don’t address the individual. But the new definition of racism, right, racism equals prejudice plus power. Well, that new definition of racism basically says to me or anyone else who is not part of the cultural hegemony, that this sin is one that doesn’t touch us. I can’t be racist.
According to critical theory’s definition of racism, I can’t be racist. The people in my family who when I went off to college said, “Don’t come back with no White girl,” they can’t be racist. And if we’re not careful, what we do is we foster this group identity, us versus them thinking, and we say, “Yes, the cross is powerful and important. Go get ‘em, Jesus, because they need to be fixed.” And the Jew looks at the Gentile and says, “Yes, go get ‘em, Jesus. I’m glad that You died so that You can make them part of us.” And the Gentile says, “Yes, go get ‘em, Jesus, because they mistreated us. They thought they were superior to us.” And you got both of these groups saying, “Go get ‘em, Jesus.”
And Paul says here, “Stop both of you. I want you to understand: Christ did not come because He needed to die in order to reconcile this group or that group. It’s both/and. The ones who were close needed to be reconciled just like the ones who were far off needed to be reconciled, because the reconciliation was a reconciliation to God because of the sinfulness in your heart; and your ethnicity does not excuse you from that sinfulness in your heart.”
Listen, the hatred and mistreatment of the other is not something that you have to have power in order to be guilty of. Am I saying that these issues writ large are not problematic? I’m absolutely not saying that. And when we find these issues writ large, we can, should, must speak truth to them. We must. But we can’t be bullied into an either/or.
Christ comes in the cross and preaches peace to those who are far off and peace to those who are near. And then, what does He do? Remember our problem before: separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise.
Verse 18: “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” He took care of the separation issue. Verse 19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,” – that takes care of strangers to the covenants of promise – “but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” – that takes care of alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. In other words, it wasn’t just small or individual issues that were dealt with, but all of them were dealt with. Verse 20 – “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Holy Spirit.”
We can’t lose sight of this. One of the things that we can’t do with this issue or any other issue is have an over-realize eschatology. An over-realized eschatology simply put means that we look at the promises of God for the age to come, and assume that if we try hard enough, we can create them in the here and now. We live in a broken and fallen world. Now hear me; I’ve already said that I’m not arguing against attacking sin err-ware – not just everywhere, err-where, that’s beyond everywhere, right?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, spent most of my life in Texas. Amen. But we fight this without an over-realized eschatology. We live in a broken and fallen world, and so we fight, recognizing that we’re going to have to continue to fight. We fight, recognizing that we’re like the boy who puts his finger in a hole in the dike, that there are other holes that show up. What that means is, we don’t fight as though this is the only area and issue that we have to fight. And if you listen to some, it sounds like that, it sounds like this is the only area and issue where we have to fight.
I’ll end with this. Before we left and moved to Lusaka, I planted and was pastoring a church in Houston. And you may or may not be aware of this, most people are not aware of this, but Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States, not Los Angeles, not New York – Houston, Texas, the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.
There was a pastor in a church in Houston, was about to break his arm patting himself on the back because of his diverse, multiethnic church. About 60 percent of the church as mainly White people, melanin-challenged people; and about 35 percent of the church were high-melanin folks. Listen to this: in the most ethnically diverse city in America, someone was applauding himself for having a diverse, multicultural church because it’s made up of two ethnicities.
I mean, over there, here’s his church, you know, chest all stuck out, “Look at this: Black people, White people here together.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine, good for you. But what about the Laotians who live over there, and the Samoans who are back there? And what about the Russian immigrants over there? And what about the, and what about the, and what about the, and what about the, and what about the” – see, I’m afraid that what’s happened is we’ve been lulled to sleep, and we think the only issues that we need to tackle are issues between high melanin folks and low melanin folks. And meanwhile, there’s a bunch of other people out there going...
But here’s the beauty in the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to these issues. It doesn’t matter what causes the divisions between us. The answer is the same: Christ is our peace. The answer is simple: Christ is our peace. I didn’t say it was easy. I didn’t say it was easy. I told you I would give you and then I’d leave you, but I lied again. Okay. Jesus died for my lies, y’all.
Let me connect this. Dr. MacArthur was talking about pastoral counseling and psychology and the psychology movement and all this. There was this period where we didn’t believe that the Scriptures were sufficient to deal with people’s problems, and so we needed people trained in psychology in order to deal with people’s problem. You remember that?
It’s the same issue, because we don’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. And what happened with some of those folks is they heard this clarion call that the Bible is sufficient to deal with people’s problems. And so people would come to them and say, “I’m depressed,” or, “I’m schizophrenic,” or, “I’m addicted to drugs,” or, “I’m addicted to alcohol,” and some people very simplistically would pick up their Bible and say, “Read these three verses and call me in the morning.” Not sufficient. That’s not what’s meant by biblical counseling. Amen?
The answer is simple in that the Bible is sufficient to deal with people’s problems large and small; but it is very difficult, complicated, and messy, in that applying this takes a lot of work. The same is true here. Hear me saying that on these issues that divide us – race and ethnicity and so on and so forth – the answer is simple.
What I do not mean by that is, we can just say, “Read three verses and call me in the morning.” There are generations of mess to be dealt with and dug up and worked through, and that’s hard work to do. But hear me saying this: the Bible is sufficient for the heavy lifting and the hard work. It’s simple, but it’s hard. But God and His Word are sufficient. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.