There is No Special Race In the Kingdom

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In Romans 9:6-8 Paul affirms a great mysterious gospel truth which too often seems to go unnoticed.

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

In a word, this means that in Christ Jesus there is no special race. This is what makes racism and fascism so repugnant to the Gospel. When the Jewish Messiah came to the world he also came for the world. When Jesus came the rules of the game were switched up. Since the advent of Christ no longer can a person be considered a member of the "people of God" simply by birth into the Hebrew race. Because of Jesus the Kingdom of God is only entered by putting faith in Jesus. By putting faith in Jesus all the nations come together as one New Covenant “people of God.” There is no race, not even the Jews, that gets a special pass into heaven due to a particular racial background. Jesus said:

John 10:9   “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

And…

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The way this plays out in history is that at the inauguration of the New Covenant brought (or "mediated") by Jesus, Israel is re-engineered to receive people from every ethnicity and constitutes what we call today the “church” and according to Romans 9:27 (quoting the prophet Isaiah)…

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,”

This in-gathering of non-Jewish people added together with a remnant of believing Jewish people - this bringing into the fold of the people of God of all the nations through faith in Jesus - is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Consider passages like Zechariah 2:11…

“And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.” (c.f. Ezekiel 47:21; Leviticus 25:23 – regarding the land given to sojourners like kin).

Paul pays special attention to a prophecy from Hosea 2:23 in Romans 9:24-25.  

 “…And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, 'You are my people'; and he shall say, 'You are my God.” (Hosea 2:23)

No Mercy and Not My People were the names of Hosea's sons who played a role in a grand object lesson God was trying to teach the nation of Israel in the prophet Hosea's day. What is the background of this passage and why does Paul employ it in Romans 9? Dr. Greg Beale explains:

In Hosea this was a prophecy of the salvation of Israel, when the nation would be restored, but Paul applies it [here] to gentiles. This application is clear from Rom. 9:24, which refers to those “whom [God] also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles,” and then the Hosea quotation is adduced in verse 25 to support the notion that the Hosea prophecy is being applied to gentiles…. [T]his is not a mere analogical comparison of Hosea’s prophecy to gentiles but rather is a beginning fulfillment of it.”[1]

This is how in Romans 8 Believers’ in the church in Rome who come from all different kinds of ethnic backgrounds can be called "sons of God.” This was a title reserved only for Israel in the Old Testament. But since Jesus is God’s “son,” then so are those identified with him called God’s sons, though they are called “adopted sons” because they are not natural sons like Jesus but rather are adopted into the family of God (Gal. 4:4-7). So, Paul views Christ himself to be the summation and fulfillment of true Israel and he understands all, whether Jew or gentile, whom Jesus represents, to be the new true People of God along with Jesus.[2]

Why did God do it this way? Paul identifies two reasons:

1.       To show God’s sovereign freedom in election: Rom 9:11b“in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls - ”  and

2.     To show God’s mercy: Rom 9:16, 23-24  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…. 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-  24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

What this means for non-believers: No matter who you are, no matter where you have come from, no matter what your ethnic background, the gospel message that tells how Jesus came to die the death your sins deserved is extended to you. God is not a god of only one race. He is not to be identified with any one country or ideology. God extends his mercy to whomever he wants and we know who he is extending mercy to by a person’s response to His great mercy. If God is showing mercy to your heart even now – if you are beginning to understand that God has sent Jesus to die for the forgiveness of your sins and you desire to receive God’s gift of mercy by putting your faith in Jesus then please contact us or another Christ-follower and we would be glad to pray with you to receive God’s mercy through Jesus.

What this means for believers:

1.      We must never politicize Jesus or relegate Jesus to a racial distinction (consider how the Evangelical church in Syria has sided with Bashar al Assad for fear of the Islamic Brotherhood or how Jonah considered the Ninivites (Assyrians) unworthy of repentance and God's mercy).

2.      We must always strive to reach out to all people of every ethnicity and race no matter what our own background may be.  This will require us to go outside of our comfort zones. Paul’s own ministry was cross-cultural. Paul was Jewish. He had been trained in the Law of Moses as interpreted by the Pharisees under Gamaliel who had been a disciple of the Hillel school (possibly even Hillel’s grandson). Before his conversion he used to drag Christians out of their homes and throw them in jail because of his zeal for his interpretation of the Law of Moses and his conviction that Christianity presented a threat to the Jewish religion. Here in Romans 9 Paul demonstrated great anguish and his concern for the salvation of his own people (see vv 1-3). But here we know he is writing also to Gentiles and we read elsewhere that Paul was called as a minister of the gospel to reach Gentiles cross-culturally as well as Jews.

Our age is very similar to that of Paul’s First Century context. In our city there are multiple ethnicities represented, each and every one of them needing the gospel and needing gospel-centered churches that are sensitive to their presence and needs. Our city needs people who are able to love others and show mercy and speak about the gospel message cross-culturally like Paul. This means each of us needs to embrace our city reaching out to other ethnicities than their own as hometown cross-cultural missionaries. 

What this means for us as a church:

1.      Paul saw that the church is God's plan A for reaching the world with the gospel. The original assumption of the First Century church was not that missions was a department of the church, or a special line item in the budget, or even an agency that sent specialized people somewhere on the other side of the world. The assumption of the Apostles and their followers was that God was on a mission, and Jesus charged them with that mission to spread the gospel. So the church was simply God’s people on God’s mission. There is a powerful and intentional witness that God has designed to accompany the unity and fellowship of believers across racial distinctions committed to a local body of Christ. Jesus said that when people see the love we have for one another and unity as believers in the church it will witness to the fact that he was sent by God (John 17:21). Mission is the gospel believed and the gospel going public and the gospel engaging every culture with which the church finds itself encountering to, from, and within every city on every continent.

What this means is that we must be prepared to be a multi-ethnic church. When this conviction is embraced it will result in a different looking church than what we are typically accustomed to. It is typical for church planters and missionaries to target specific people groups or areas to reach with laser focus. I understand the reasoning for this. It is for the sake of streamlining one's vision and ministry and hopefully gain a better edge of effectiveness because one's work does not become scattered or too broad. But I question whether this approach is inspired more by the maxims of commercial "niche marketing" than the example of Scripture.

Popular Jewish thinking of Paul’s day excluded the other nations and ethnicities from inheriting the promises and blessings of the coming messiah.  They were overlooking Old Testament passages like Jeremiah 9:26 and Hosea 2:23 and numerous other references of the ultimate end of the work of God in the world as bringing glory from all the nations and every corner of the earth. But the Jewish-background believers (including the Apostles at some points in the story – see Acts 1:6) in the early church struggled to grasp this. In the following chapters of Romans (9-14) Paul has dedicated large amount of material dealing with the need for believers from a Jewish background and their brothers and sisters from non-Jewish backgrounds to accept one another as one in Christ. It was not Paul's approach to plant ethnic-specific churches but to help multi-ethnic congregations to see that in Christ they must learn to love one another and live in unity within the local church. And it is the truth of the gospel that it is the children of promise, the children of God's election, who become "one new man" in Christ (Eph 2:15) that makes this possible. So it is our desire to see Christ Community Church ultimately reflect in its membership the ethnic diversity of the city of Dearborn and greater Detroit. Again, only the gospel can accomplish this. How sad that Sunday is still the most racially segregated day of the week.

[1] Greg Beal, NT Biblical Theology, 670

[2] Greg Beal, NT Biblical Theology, 671 c.f. Greg Beal, NT Biblical Theology, 672: "Following quite naturally on the heels of Paul’s identification of Christians with Jerusalem is the conclusion of Gal. 6:16. After Paul says 'neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation' (v. 15), he says regarding 'those who will walk by this rule' of no ethnic divisions in the new creation, 'peace and mercy be upon them, that is, upon the Israel of God' ([Beal's] translation). Thus, both Jewish and gentile Christians are called 'the Israel of God,' an identification virtually the same as in Gal. 3:29, where both are called 'Abraham’s seed.'”