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Racism, Humility, and the Gospel
- July 11, 2016
- Ashlee Johnson
Full disclosure: I’m a white female who grew up in a privileged area of Charlotte, NC, attended high school with mostly white kids, and knew only a handful of black students at the liberal arts college I attended. My most diverse educational experience was seminary at Gordon-Conwell and today I have a disturbingly low number of true friends who are black. This saddens me, and though I’m making steps to remedy this trend, it is my current reality. Along with many in our country, I’ve been undone about the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers. I’m deeply disturbed by the reality of racism, the white refusal to acknowledge it, the underlying socioeconomic realities that lead to it, and the anger displayed by so many on both sides.
You must also know that God has totally arrested my heart with the gospel. I’m a girl who has been utterly transformed by the grace of Christ. He is everything to me. I’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi this summer and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this week I came to Philippians 2:1-11.
You see it’s not simply that reading this passage has impacted me, but rather the book of Philippians is reading me.
The outset of chapter two is arguably one of the New Testament’s most beautiful passages in which Paul urges his Philippian friends unto unity and humility. He exhorts them to “do nothing from selfish ambition,” “to count others more significant than yourselves,” to look “to the interests of others.” Paul instructs them to be like Christ, who though he was God, chose to empty himself by taking on human likeness and dying on a criminal’s cross. As with any true pursuit of holiness, Paul urges his readers beyond legalistic requirements that only demand outward conformity and a dose of self-discipline. He forces them to deal with the deep-seated posture of their hearts.
As I watched the news unfold last week, one horrific story after another, this text pressed me into repentance over the pride in my own heart. Thank God that publicly, at least, the conversation about race has changed dramatically over the last few decades. But privately, Philippians 2 exposes the pride and fear in my own heart that leads me toward racial bias. I hate it. I wish I never ever had thoughts of being better than another person. I wish I were always quick to consider others more significant than myself and serve their needs above my own. So, where does this Jesus-emulating, impossibly high standard of humility leave you and me?
It leaves us in desperate need of a Savior. One who not only lived the perfect life of humility and whose death broke down dividing walls of hostility, but also enables us to live a life of humility. Before exhorting the Philippians to radical humility, Paul provides the answer to this seemingly unreachable standard in a beautiful trinitarian statement. He says if you’ve had Christ come alongside you, if you’ve experienced the love (presumably of the Father) that drives out fear, and if you have participation with the Spirit, THEN live out radical humility. Therefore, it’s out of “trinitarian intimacy” (as my pastor called it yesterday) that we are enabled to live a humble life.
I wholeheartedly believe the gospel is the only answer to racial reconciliation and it’s certainly the antidote to the pride and selfishness in my own heart. In the wake of last week’s horrendous events in America, let’s spend less time pointing fingers and more time examining our own hearts and asking God to heal us. As Paul David Tripp wisely said, “You don’t have to be afraid of what is in your heart, and you don’t have to fear being known, because there is nothing in you that could ever be exposed that hasn’t already been covered by the precious blood of our Savior King, Jesus.”