FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 21, May 14, 2020
“. . . so that we do not drift away from it. . . how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Hebrews 2:1,3
Early in the morning of June 16, 1966 two black men entered the Lafayette Grill in Patterson, New Jersey and without saying a word one of the men shot the bartender in the back with a shot gun. He died instantly. One of the patrons, a man, was shot with a pistol but survived, “playing dead on the floor.” Another man was shot with the same pistol and died instantly. The last patron, a woman, begged for her life but was shot five times and miraculously survived for a few weeks before succumbing to her wounds. All four of the victims were white. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a contender for the world middleweight boxing crown and John Artis, were later picked up and charged with murder. Carter and Artis were black. They proclaimed their innocence, even until their dying days, but both spent twenty years in prison for murder. They were released in 1985 when a judge overturned their conviction, saying that “two dramatically different versions of events often conflicting and sometimes murky were given.” To this day no one knows for sure what really happened though Hurricane Carter and John Artis consistently and vehemently denied they had anything to do with the murders. Bob Dylan wrote a powerful song, dripping with rage, saying Hurricane Carter was framed. The song is worth listening too, especially if you read the lyrics as Dylan sings it.
I have several black friends who have told me over the years of how they were picked up by the police and questioned, often at gun point, and at least one of my friends was handcuffed and on his way to jail for breaking and entering a home when a neighbor convinced the police that the home he was “burglarizing” was his own home. From what I can tell most white people are pretty oblivious to this kind of thing. This is now hitting close to home because Wini and I have a four year old black grandson from West Africa, adopted by my oldest son and his wife. My son realizes that at some point he will need to have “the talk” with his son—how to act when the police pick you up.
On the one hand it seems to me that we have come a long way since Jim Crow and segregation in our country. But on the other hand, some things have not changed all that much. Racial division and strife remains in our nation. Though it is often under the surface racial tension is, nonetheless, there and can explode into civil unrest at the slightest provocation.
What should conservative, white Christians do about this issue? What should suburban, black Christians do about it? What is the remedy? My friends, we must get the gospel right. This is absolutely imperative. Never under estimate the devil’s work in dividing the church of Jesus through race. We must stay on the gospel.
In my last post I took up this somewhat controversial issue—how should white, conservative Christians serve our urban communities? I sought to give a diagnosis of the problem, stating that we tend either to neglect the issue or attempt remedies which are not Biblical and therefore harmful to the work of the gospel and to the people whom we seek to serve. I gave several stories of past atrocities perpetrated on black people and urged that we follow Paul’s command to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I also suggest we learn to bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
I hope to deal with the remedy in two installments. First is the Biblical foundation of the remedy and then, next week the practical application for the remedy. So, what is the Biblical foundation of the remedy for serving our urban communities? It is the clear, unadulterated gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which transforms sinners into saints.
In seeking to answer this question it is important to heed the warning of the writer to the Hebrews. He is urging the church to pay closer attention to what we have heard. That is, we are to hold onto what we know is true from God’s word on all things pertaining to our salvation and sanctification. Why? So that we will not drift away from this teaching. How does one drift away from the things of God? He does nothing. He becomes inactive, non-participatory. He lets his mind go. Or he listens indiscriminately to people who espouse gospels which are not gospels at all.
No one stands still. For example, if you do not deal regularly with the weeds in your garden they will overtake your flowers or vegetables and cut off their necessary nutrients. If you neglect your spouse then your marriage weakens over time and your marriage can die. We are either improving or digressing. This is just common sense in life. If you are at the beach and are relaxing on a rubber raft and doze off to sleep for a few minutes and then wake up, you will be surprised to see how far the current has taken you from your entry point into the water. You get the picture.
The writer is warning us to be proactive, to hold on to the truth of the gospel lest we drift from it, because if we do wander from it, then he asks the obvious question—how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? And what is this great salvation? This is vital and fundamental. First, allow me to tell you what this great salvation is not. It is not critical race theory or intersectionality. It is not political correctness. It is not politics on the left or the right. It is not statism, social justice, cultural marxism, socialism, or communism. It is not the prosperity gospel. It is not redeeming the culture. It is not working for human flourishing. It is not “justification only” evangelistic work. It is not easy believism. It is not feeding the hungry but failing to call them to faith and repentance. It is not universalism, believing that all people, due to God’s grace, will eventually be in heaven.
The church of Jesus has one grand command. The church is to disciple the nations. But how are we to do it? By going, baptizing (evangelizing so that people will need to be baptized), and teaching believers to obey God (Mt.28:18-20). The church must be absolutely clear on the content of the gospel message, for failure here will render whatever good work we seek to do in our urban communities as useless. It is a new covenant gospel (Ez.11:19, 18:31, 36:25-27, Jn.3:3-5, Acts 2:38, Tit.3:5, 1 Pet.1:3) which includes regeneration, justification, and sanctification. The very genesis of our problem in the Reformed and evangelical churches is our tendency to preach a truncated gospel. We stress justification which of course is wonderful and necessary; but we tend to neglect the necessity of the new birth, making clear the utter corruption and wickedness of the unregenerate heart (Jere.17:9). The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. When regeneration comes the person is changed on the inside which gives him the power and ability to obey all of God’s commands and thus to walk in gospel holiness and sanctification. In our present context, it makes the former racist, by the regenerating grace of God, a new creation in Christ. He now has the grace to love people whom he formerly considered inferior to him. It gives the man who has been wronged because of his color or ethnicity the grace to forgive those who wronged him. He is able to say, with Joseph, “They meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” (Genesis 50:20). It enables true believers, regardless of their ethnicity, culture, education, money, or any other outward characteristics, the capacity to believe and live out the Biblical truth that we are all one in Christ, that there is no distinction whatsoever (Col.3:11).
So, preachers, evangelists, church members wherever you live, whatever your ethnicity, get the gospel right. We must preach the new birth through regeneration. We must preach justification which yields the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ. And we must preach the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to kill our sinful propensities, to deny ourselves, to forgive others, and to consider others as more important than ourselves. This is where we must begin.