Christian theology

Social Justice and the Gospel: 6 – The Generational Sin of Racism

Generational Sin is the deus ex machina of Christian Social Justice.

For those not familiar with the term, it means “god from the machine” and was a plot device of the ancient Greek theater.  If the storyline of a Greek play contained a difficult, seemingly unresolvable problem, resolution would occur by lowering an actor (playing the role of a god) onto the stage via a crane (the machine).  The god would use his supernatural ability to resolve the situation that was otherwise unresolvable by ordinary human means.

If we think of Christian Social Justice as a Greek tragedy, the seemingly unresolvable problem is making white American Christians today culpable for the sins of prior generations.  There is so much in the Bible about individuals being responsible for their own sins, and for corporate bodies being localized and responsible for their own corporate sin, that it would seem virtually impossible to make all white American Christians today responsible for the sins of many white American Christians of yesterday.  As we look up into the air of this tragedy wondering how this problem of blame will be resolved, we see descending from on high the doctrine of Generational Sin. Let us define the doctrine as follows:

The Bible teaches that you can be cursed by the sins of your ancestors.  It is a curse so powerful that it cannot be lifted by the blood of Christ.  The way to lift the curse is to peer into your genealogical history and discover what your ancestral sins were, and then to actively do deeds of repentance that correspond to the sins committed by your ancestors.

In the best-selling book Be The Bridge, which allegedly deals with racial reconciliation from a Christian perspective, author Latasha Morrison tells us about Deanna.  Her grandfather was in the KKK and he was the son of racists.  He committed many evil deeds against black people, including murder.  On his deathbed he confessed to the murder he committed and it brought shame to Deanna.  She lived with this shame for years.  And it was not her identity in Christ that helped her get rid of the shame of her family’s history, once she came to Christ.  It was only after becoming a Christian and then participating in reconciliation activities where she was able to finally rid herself of the guilt and shame of her grandfather’s sin.

Deanna shared the story, telling how she carried the shame and embarrassment of her family’s racist past for years.  It wasn’t until after Deanna placed her faith in Christ that she began to come to terms with the truth.  It was an uphill battle because the shame was so deep and the familial division even deeper.  She felt alone until she became a part of a community that shared her heart for racial healing, a group that listened to her without judgment…Deanna will tell you that the process of acknowledgment and lament has been worth every step.  It’s freed her from a family legacy of racism and allowed her to enter into the work of bridge building with a clean conscience…If we follow her example, we’ll find ourselves drawn out of complacency and complicit behavior and into the hard work and sorrow that lead us to repentance.  If we join her in walking through acknowledgment and lament, we can move into the deep healing of true racial reconciliation.1

Not once in this anecdote did Deanna or the author implicate Deanna as being a racist herself.  All the guilt, all the shame, all the steps of repentance, were necessary because of what Deanna’s grandfather had done.  And Deanna can only be held responsible for her grandfather’s sins because of the doctrine of Generational Sin. 

This doctrine also finds itself being promoted by The Gospel Coalition, an influential Christian web site.  In an article titled “A Burden Removed: A Biblical Path for Removing the Racism of Our Forefathers” 2, the pastor offers advice for breaking the curse of the generational sin of racism.  This pastor took over a church, they experienced some initial growth, and then membership declined.  At some point he and the elders believed they were under a curse from God and so they sought to understand the reason for the decline in membership.  It turns out that the church kept meticulous records and the elders were able to review the history of the church and learn that over the course of the church’s history it had actively participated in discrimination against blacks.  Even though the current church was no longer racist, they came to the conclusion that they were under a generational curse.

This was the context for the debatable practice of repenting of our forefather’s sins.  It sure looked like we were experiencing the fruits of past sins, even though we were no longer racist.  It certainly looked like God was “walking contrary” to us.  Was repenting for our past sins, sins that no one in the existing congregation participated in, God’s path to restoring the ministry of the gospel among us?

Long story short, they repented of the prior generation’s sins and the curse was removed.

These two examples of Generational Sin were not discovered in the nether regions of Christian publishing.  Be the Bridge is a best-selling book and The Gospel Coalition is a very popular web site.  Generational Sin is being taught as a legitimate doctrine by influential outlets of Christian discourse, and it is the theological glue being used to attach yesterday’s sins to today’s people.

Before we turn to Scripture to examine the key texts on this issue, let us briefly bring this Social Justice concept of Generational Sin to the point of absurdity.  If Generational Sin was true, one of the primary duties of Christian obedience would be historical and genealogical in nature.  We would all be obligated to dig into our past and find out what our ancestors may have done (for surely the curse of Generational Sin is not limited to the sin of racism) and then we would be obligated to perform the requisite deeds of repentance.  Otherwise, we would be living under a curse and bearing the guilt and shame of our forefathers until the day we die.  And I dare not think about orphans or people whose family history is undocumented.  Surely, they are destined to be cursed with no possibility of relief.

Surely God has not established such a doctrine, with logical implications so absurd. But we must go to the Scripture to prove the case, and not rely on an argument of absurdity.  The proof-text for Generational Sin is found in the words of Moses:

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34: 6 – 7)

Purveyors of Generational Sin point to this passage and say “See, God visits the sins of the fathers onto the children.”  And then to prove that the children need to repent for their forefathers’ sins, they use more words from Moses:

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me…then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26: 40, 42)

With these verses as their foundation, the Social Justice Advocates build the edifice of trans-generational guilt.  There is only one problem.  Their understanding of Moses’ words is the same understanding as that of ancient Israel, which was an incorrect understanding that God corrected through the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  Israel had this proverb as part of their collective consciousness:

The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge. (Ezekiel 18: 2)

The gist of the proverb is that the forefathers sinned (ate sour grapes) but the contemporary generation bore the punishment (teeth set on edge).  This proverb is rooted in a false interpretation of Moses.  God corrects their misinterpretation in Ezekiel 18.  Here is a portion of what Ezekiel said:

As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.  Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?  When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.  The person who sins will die.  The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.  (Ezekiel 18: 18 – 20)

As if Ezekiel 18 weren’t enough to shed light on what Generational Sin is not, we also have the words of Jeremiah:

In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’  But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.  (Jeremiah 31: 29 – 30)

These two passages from Ezekiel and Jeremiah are the death knell of the Social Justice teaching on Generational Sin.  They are a direct refutation of the claim that a group of people are responsible for sins that came before them.  To believe in Generational Sin as promoted by Social Justice will require a refutation of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. And until that refutation is made, there is no Biblical basis for Generational Sin. And the words of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, it must be pointed out, are in complete harmony with Moses himself. For he wrote:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24: 16)

We know that Moses is not contradicting himself. We know that the prophets are not contradicting Moses.  So how are all the passages quoted harmonized? When Moses writes of God visiting the sins of fathers on the children, and of the children needing to repent of their iniquity, those words are spoken to the covenant community of Israel.  The children who are visited by their father’s sins are themselves participants in those sins – they are not innocent.  God is operating at a covenantal curse level – something we are unable to do as humans.  The covenantal curse is enacted after God charges the covenant community with sin and after they have exhausted His patience with their lack of repentance.  Sin and punishment at an individual level does not function in the same way.  An individual is not held accountable for the sins of his father, and a father is not held accountable for the sins of his son.

The illegitimacy of Generational Sin is important to comprehend, because Generational Sin is the linchpin of the entire framework.  The only Biblical reasoning offered for blaming today’s Christians for yesterday’s sins is Generational Sin.   If the doctrine is false, there is no Biblical basis, and yesterday’s sins require no repentance from today’s Christians.

This is not to say that the contemporary church is without sin.  This is not to say that the contemporary church is to refrain from promoting justice in the social realm.  This is not to say that contemporary Christians need to gloss over the historical realities of prior generations participating in wicked deeds.  It is only to say that the false premises and false conclusions of Christian Social Justice ought not to bind our consciences and manipulate us into thoughts and behaviors not prescribed in Scripture.  We are either responsible for our own sins or we are not.  We are either obligated to become historians and genealogists and uncover past hidden sins of our ancestors and lift curses off of ourselves or we are not.

On this matter Moses and the prophets have spoken.  But do we believe them?

  1. Chapter 3, excerpts from pages 48 – 50

Social Justice and the Gospel: 5 – Corporate Repentance and Racial Reconciliation

It was previously stated that a primary concern of the Social Justice movement, as it manifests in the church, is ethnic or racial equality. The charge of ethnic inequality, which is synonymous with ethnic injustice, which is synonymous with racism, occurs not at an individual level but at a corporate level. This is not to say that racism does not exist at the individual level, but it is to say that there is a more pervasive version of racism corporately. Social Justice is far more concerned with corporate racism than individual racism, and therefore Social Justice is far more concerned with corporate repentance than individual repentance. The Social Justice term often used to describe corporate repentance is “racial reconciliation”.

Before we discuss corporate racial reconciliation, let us look at repentance at an individual level.

Repenting of Racist Thoughts

If a man has a racist thought and he keeps it to himself and has no racist words or deeds against anyone, then repentance would be taking such thoughts captive and not thinking such things in the future.

Repenting of Racist Words

If a man utters racist words, then repentance would be going to the person the words were spoken to and asking for forgiveness. It would be assumed that in asking for forgiveness the person is truly sorry and is not just attempting to save face. There would be an expectation of forgiveness in the event of a truly repentant apology, per the command of Christ:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18: 21 – 22)

The gospel is demonstrated vividly in both the giving of a repentant apology and the receiving of it, for this is how God deals with us. When we come in true repentance to Christ, He truly receives it and forgives us our sins. The command to forgive up to seventy times seven is a direct attack against the natural desire of carnal man, who seeks disproportionate vengeance:

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4: 23 – 24)

Repenting of Racist Deeds

Because there are so many forms a racist deed could take, it is hard to detail repentance at an individual level. But it is quite possible repentance will need to be more than words – a repentant deed may need to follow a racist deed. This pattern is seen in the ministry of John the Baptist:

And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3: 12 – 14)

John gave the people deeds appropriate to repentance, based on their specific circumstances. The same would hold true with a racist deed – if property were defaced or stolen based on racism, it would need to be repaired or returned. If an opportunity was taken away from someone based on racism, then repentance would be providing that opportunity again. The point is, there is a close relationship between the sin committed and the deeds that may be required to fulfill repentance.

Repenting Corporately

Now that we have briefly examined repentance at an individual level, we can turn to corporate racial reconciliation. Because the Social Justice definition of racism does not require individuals to have explicitly racist words, thoughts, or deeds, racial reconciliation does not look like the individual repentance we just walked through, where there is a clear sin and a clear person being sinned against. Instead, racial reconciliation focuses on altering policies and procedures. After all, if there is no explicit racism occurring at an individual level, then the racism that exists is to be found in the policies and procedures of those who make up the corporate body of racists. And what if there are no explicitly racist policies and procedures? Then the policies and procedures are implicitly racist by what they omit rather than by what they contain.

Do not take my word for this view of racial reconciliation. Instead, consider this sample from Christian leaders:

  • Matt Chandler, lead pastor of the Village Church, famously said he would hire an “African American 7” over an “Anglo 8” to ensure diversity on his staff. He then said he would not hire an “African American 6” over an “Anglo 8” because he wouldn’t want to be accused of tokenism. 1
  • Latasha Morrison, author of best-selling book Be The Bridge, tells the story of an affluent white lawyer who purchased a plantation so that he could give tours and run a museum that highlighted the horrors of slavery that had occurred on that plantation and elsewhere. 2
  • Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick Fil A, shined the shoes of Christian hip hop artist Lecrae during a panel discussion on race. 3
  • Russell Moore, head of the ERLC, said that worship styles might need to change so that the music sung on a Sunday morning or the liturgy adhered to would not be as white and segregating. 4
  • Beth Moore said that one needs to add more authors of color to their personal theological library, since Jesus was not white. 5
  • Pastor Eric Mason, author of the popular Woke Church, said that all blacks should get free college tuition for the next 200 years6

None of what has just been detailed in regards to racial reconciliation was an individual case of someone repenting of an explicitly racist sin. What was just detailed were procedural changes to routines and habits and customs in order to promote racial reconciliation. In the examples presented, the sins were not ones of commission, but rather omission. If you don’t intentionally hire people of color to your church staff, you are racist. If you don’t actively engage in highlighting the horrors of slavery, you are racist. If your worship songs are not diverse enough in sound and style, you are racist. If all the theological books you own are written by white people, you are racist.

If this whole thing seems odd to you, it should. The call to corporate repentance of all whites in the American church is a call based on no particular revelation from God, but on theological, economic, and sociological conjecture. The prescribed deeds of repentance are based on no particular revelation from God, but on the arbitrary whims of those speaking in the movement.

As one thinks about corporate repentance and racial reconciliation, one must ask, can a church in Seattle, Washington really be lumped together with a church in Montgomery, Alabama? Does God set aside all cultural relevancies and boundaries and charge all white Americans to corporately repent, for being white in America? In a country the size of America, with its diversity of cultures and ideas, it would seem hard to accuse an entire group of people with sin based on their skin color alone. Perhaps we can gain perspective by peering at the seven churches of Revelation. Christ viewed them, and named them, regionally. Jesus did not charge the “Church of Asia Minor” with sin. He spoke to seven distinct corporate bodies within Asia Minor, and charged each of them with sins relevant to themselves. Ephesus did not have to answer for Smyrna’s sins, and Smyrna did not have to answer for Pergamum’s sins. Each church was held to account for its own sin. There was no singular indictment made against the Church of Asia Minor.

To conclude, Social Justice has presented an argument for corporate repentance based on a multiplicity of conjecture. None of the key premises of the framework are proven facts. Much of the argument can be classified as a Third Commandment violation, since many of the premises could only be truthfully validated with divine revelation. Here again as reminder are the unproven facts of Christian Social Justice, which require divine revelation to be proven true:

  • God has charged white American Christians with racism
  • God uses the definition of racism that has been developed by Social Justice Advocates and Critical Race Theorists
  • God has given the ability to define corporate repentance to the Social Justice movement
  • God expects the white American Christians He has charged with racism to participate in racial reconciliation as defined by the Social Justice movement

There is one more bizarre premise undergirding corporate repentance which was not listed above. It is called generational sin and will be discussed in the next post. For now, as we think about all these things, let us focus our mind on the Third Commandment and be sure that whatever we believe about Social Justice, that we do not put words into God’s mouth. How horrible it would be to charge someone with sin that has not sinned. And how horrible would it be to mandate deeds of repentance that God has not mandated.

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20: 7)
The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works. (The Westminster Shorter Catechism)

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. (Luther’s Small Catechism)

  1. This statement is excerpted from his sermon A House Divided Cannot Stand and starts around the 25:35 mark.
  2. Chapter 4, pages 70 – 71
  3. This starts around the 38:57 mark of the dialogue titled The Beloved Community
  4. Let’s Crucify Our Worship Styles
  5. This is a secondary source quotation, as the primary source is Twitter and I could not find the original conversation. The quote starts shorty after the 12:20 mark of The Dividing Line
  6. The call for free college tuition was part of a sermon titled A Biblical Case For Reparations

Social Justice and the Gospel: 4 – The Corporate Sin of Racism

Matthew Hall, provost of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said this:

I am a racist…I’m going to struggle with racism and white supremacy until the day I die. 1

Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church, said this, when writing on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination:

My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice. 2

When you combine the statements of these two men, what you have is the provost of a leading American seminary being a self-confessed racist and white supremacist whose parents and grandparents were complicit in the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

How can this be? And how can this man not be immediately disqualified from pastoral ministry? He is in clear violation of the requirements of an elder:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity… 1 Timothy 3: 2 – 4

It is possible for a man to be a self-confessed racist and not be disqualified from ministry because of the doctrine of corporate sin, which plays a major role in Social Justice. Let us define corporate sin as this:

Sin committed by a body (corporation) of people.

As we consider the quotes from Hall and Anyabwile, the corporate body being referenced is white Americans and the sins are racism, white supremacy, and murder. In other words, they are implying that white America as a group is racist and has shed innocent blood. Before we discuss the particular claims of Hall and Anyabwile, we need to look more generally at the concept of corporate sin, for it is a Biblical teaching.

In the New Testament, we see corporate sin in Jesus’ messages to the seven churches in Revelation. Consider the message to Sardis:

Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3: 2 – 4)

Jesus rebukes the church of Sardis as a whole, telling it to repent. Jesus also states that there are some people in Sardis excluded from this corporate rebuke (the ones not soiled). And thus we derive from this example two fundamental principles:

  • Entire bodies of people can be charged by God with sin
  • Even if an entire body is charged with sin, there can be individuals within that body who are exempt from the charge.

We see these two principles at play in the Old Testament. The prophets of God, preaching to Israel to repent, were not individually considered transgressors of the covenant and were not individually responsible for the sins charged to the corporate body of Israel, sins which ultimately resulted in exile. When Israel was worshipping Baal instead of God, and the prophet Elijah came against them, he and others were exempt from the corporate sin of idolatry:

It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him. (1 Kings 19: 17 – 18)

Biblically speaking, corporate sin does not exist without individual sin. A corporate body, or (using today’s vernacular) a system, is simply a collection of individuals; their words, their thoughts, their deeds. If there is corporate racism, then there must be individual racism. If there is not individual racism then there cannot be corporate racism. And the proof of this is that anywhere in Scripture where you find God charging a corporate body with sin, the individuals in that body have committed that sin. Nowhere does God charge an innocent man with a sin he didn’t commit or an innocent body of people with a sin they didn’t commit.

It must be pointed out this view of corporate sin is in opposition to a view of corporate sin held by Social Justice Advocates, who tell us that you can have corporate sin without individual sin. Corporations and systems in the Social Justice framework seem to exist as sentient beings with their own sins and biases. Because the self-sentient system acts as the covenantal head for all the individuals within the particular system, its sins and biases then get imputed to the individuals, whether or not an individual actually has that particular sin or bias. It is as if the system is Adam and the individuals within the system are Adam’s descendants, afflicted with original sin. And so to summarize what has just been said, we see major differences in the definition of corporate sin between the Bible and Social Justice. The Bible starts with individuals, and if enough individuals in a group have committed a sin then a charge of corporate sin can be levied. Social Justice starts with abstractly defined “systems”, and then imputes the sins of the systems to the individuals within the system.

Now that we have this understanding of corporate sin from a Biblical and Social Justice perspective, we must point out that the Bible does not provide explicit detail for making a charge of corporate sin. This is a very key point for the day in which we find ourselves. The Sardis church knew it was in sin because it received the words of Jesus from an apostle. How does your congregation know God has charged it with a corporate sin? How do you know whether your church is on the cusp of having a lampstand removed due to transgression? Does God base a charge of corporate sin on the percentage of people committing a certain sin? Is it based on who within the body commits the sin (lay person vs elder)? In the Levitical system the leaders had to offer a more expensive sacrifice than the laity, when sin was committed. If that principle carries forward, we could expect a judgment on a body of people if the leaders are especially corrupt, even though the laity may not be.

In the absence of divine revelation, the best we can do in the church is to examine ourselves. When there are clear violations of God’s commands, a body of people can charge themselves corporately with sin, and when the violations are clear it is probably safe to suppose that God agrees with the judgment. Using the topic of corporate racism as an example, let us say that a white congregation turned away black visitors because they were black. If the visitors were turned away publicly and everyone knew about it and no one stood up in the moment to defend God’s truth, then the entire body would be liable. And if the congregation realized their sin, they could corporately repent to God and ask for corporate forgiveness. This is a clear corporate violation of God’s commands.

What Matthew Hall and Thabiti Anyabwile are calling racism is not such a clear violation of God’s commands. When Matthew Hall says he is a racist and white supremacist he is not comparing words or thoughts or deeds that he has and pointing them to a law of God in Scripture and demonstrating a violation of that law. Instead, he is accepting and agreeing with the Social Justice definition of corporate sin and corporate racism – the kind espoused by the now infamous book White Fragility. In this pagan definition of racism, the powerful oppressor class is inherently racist, because it inherently oppresses the weaker classes. In America, the powerful oppressor class is made of up whites. Therefore, to be white is to be racist. Matthew Hall is white, so Matthew Hall is racist. And in regards to Thabiti’s accusation that all of the white people of yesteryear are complicit in MLK’s murder, it is made on the same basis. The whites of yesteryear were the power class and therefore inherently racist and therefore inherently complicit in the murder of MLK. These Christian leaders are making charges of corporate sin not based on a careful examination of Scripture and thoughtful application of individual sin versus corporate sin, but by accepting the premises and conclusions provided by Social Justice.

What has been said thus far is the tip of the iceberg in regards to the Biblical doctrine of corporate sin, and how one might apply that doctrine to the American population as a whole and the American church as a subset, past and present. In the absence of divine revelation, such as the kind given to the prophet Elijah or to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation, how does a Christian speak on behalf of God and charge Christian groups with corporate sin? The Bible does not explicitly state the mind of God on the matter, and therefore any discussion of the applicability of corporate sin is inherently an argument of inference and induction.

As Christians who are required to think and act truthfully, there MUST BE grace and patience when debating charges of corporate sin that are by their nature inductive and inferential, when clear violations of God’s commands are lacking. If Matthew Hall wants to declare himself a racist and a white supremacist for simply being a white American, and if Thabiti Anyabwile wants to say all white Americans are guilty of MLK’s murder, where is the evidence to go along with the accusation? I am not going to call myself a racist simply because they or Robin DiAngelo tell me to.

Let us remember that the Bible teaches corporate racism cannot exist without individual racism. And regarding racism, which fits under the Biblical sin of partiality, James has these words for us today. And if we each follow them, we can be assured there will be no corporate charge of partiality against us:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2: 1 – 9)



Eternal Judgment: 3 – Atonement Is The Answer

Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 2

Atonement is the answer to the question, “How are sinners made righteous outside of the law?”

But what is atonement?

It is the means by which sins are forgiven by God. As we seek to understand this, we do well to turn to the Old Testament and its description of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16: 3 – 10)

This description of Yom Kippur can be summarized as follows:

Element Purpose
Bull Sin Offering For the High Priest
Goat 1 Sin Offering For the People
Goat 2 Bears the sins of the people and is released to the wilderness

Note how God did not ask the sinners to sacrifice themselves or to bear their own sins for atonement. Rather, God prescribed the bull and goats to deal with the sins of the people. This is the heart of Biblical atonement – it occurs by means of a substitute. Substitutionary atonement is what keeps the forgiveness of sins distinct from law-keeping. You can never atone for your own sins by obeying God’s law, because God requires a substitute for atonement.

Moving from the Old Testament to the New, the author of Hebrews explains how Jesus is the ultimate substitute.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9: 11 – 14)

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9: 24 – 26)

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10: 1 – 4)

In order to prove Christ’s atonement as greater than even Yom Kippur, the author of Hebrews makes an a fortiori argument. He agrees with the established fact that in the days of Moses God ordained atonement through sinful priests and animals. He then proceeds to argue that if atonement could come through weak vessels, such as a sinful high priest and mere animals, how much more so could God ordain atonement through the sinless and spotless Messiah, as part of the New Covenant.

This idea of the Messiah as an atoning substitute is not unique to the book of Hebrews, or even the New Testament. It was prophesied hundreds of years in advance by the prophet Isaiah.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…

My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities…

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors

(excerpts from Isaiah 53)

Note how the prophet says Messiah will “justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”. When atonement happens, the sinner is made righteous in God’s sight. The person who was once separated from God is now reconciled and brought near to God. Theologians call this the Great Exchange – Jesus takes our sins and He gives us His right-standing before God.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5: 21)

This law-gospel binary is essential for all to understand. The law is not the gospel and the gospel is not the law. Our righteousness before God comes not through our own ability to keep God’s law and make up for sins committed, but by having our sins placed on the ordained substitute for atonement. In the days of Moses, it was animals – bulls and goats. In our day, the appointed substitute is Jesus of Nazareth. He went to the cross and shed His blood so that our sins could be atoned for and forgiven once-for-all.

Atonement is why righteousness is outside of the law, and why the gospel is actually good news. There is nothing we can do to pay for our sins, because Jesus has paid it all.