This past weekend I preached for a wonderful congregation in Chillicothe, Ohio. The church was planted by some friends of mine eleven years ago, which means that many of its members are first-generation Christians. Love abounds among these disciples, and I gained far more than I gave by being there.
At supper on Friday night I learned that one of the members was formerly a black militant. He hated white people – until he was confronted by the cross of Jesus Christ. He became a Christian, and the old hatreds vanished. He now divides his time between working with the church and working in the large prison system in Chillicothe.
After our assembly on Saturday, I chatted with another member, and in the course of that conversation he told me that he was once a member of the KKK. He used to hate black people (under the guise of the twisted view of “Christianity” held by groups like the Klan), until he learned the true gospel. Now, he is part of a racially diverse church and calls people from all races and backgrounds “brother.”
On my blog I have frequently expressed concern about the rise of “identity politics,” whether on the extreme left or the extreme right. I truly believe we are on the precipice of an ugly period in American culture. As the “black lives matter” and the “white nationalist” movements garner more followers, racial strife is only going to get worse. And I have little optimism that the political class on either side of the spectrum has the courage to confront the radicalism fomenting on its respective wings.
But my trip to Chillicothe has renewed my confidence in the gospel to subvert all of the racial, ethnic, and social hatreds of our age. In His personal ministry, the Lord Jesus called a government worker – Matthew the tax collector, and a violent insurgent against the government – Simon the Zealot, and they both followed Him. Jesus confronted a “Hebrew of Hebrews” named Saul and transformed him into “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). As the gospel spread throughout the Roman world, it broke down all sorts of barriers.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).
I love the New Living Translation rendering of that last phrase – “Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”
Over the weekend I met two brothers for whom race was once all that mattered but who learned that grace is all that matters, the grace found in Christ. The only “identity” that counts for them now is that Christ lives in them. And as a result they are living graciously toward one another. That is the transforming power of Christ, power that our society desperately needs.
The only way to counter the ugliness of hatred is with the beauty of the love of Christ. I left Chillicothe with a renewed sense of hope and passion for what the gospel can do. Thank you for demonstrating how beautiful it is when “Christ is all, and in all.”