“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139: 23-24
I am guilty of racism.
There, I said it. The latest thing these days is for all white people to accept the fact that they are part of the systemic racism that is plaguing the country. A couple of people I know (or thought I knew) have been encouraging me to take this view of myself.
At first the implication startled me. I wondered if any of my black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or Asian friends had ever shared that opinion of me. If so, they never let on. I had never suspected it myself, although admittedly I’ve probably committed many sins I don’t realize or remember. Since I’ve had friends of all colors and backgrounds, have done ministry in various cultural settings, and have tried to love everyone the way Jesus would, I wanted to know where it was that I might have failed. I was told that since I questioned the idea, now my “defensiveness” was proving that this assessment of me was true.
(Please don’t misunderstand my confusion! I could make a long list of sins of commission and omission, failures and bad attitudes . I just wouldn’t have thought of “racism” as being one of them.)
But then I came across a verse of scripture that reminded me of something profound:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
I remembered then that we don’t have to be hardened criminals to be under God’s condemnation; one sin is enough to make us guilty of all sin.
So that means I am guilty of racism.
And lying. And cheating. And stealing.
And adultery. And murder. And blasphemy. And idolatry …
You name it, I’m guilty! And no amount of regrets, study groups, zoom meetings, marches, activism, or good deeds can make me “not guilty.” Even if they could, I would wake up tomorrow, and the first selfish thought – the first hint of envy, anger, or self-righteousness – would plunge me back into a guilty state. I wouldn’t want it, but I would be helpless to change it.
I’m apparently not the only one who has struggled this way. Paul wrote almost two thousand years ago,
“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18b-19)
So, as much as I want to be a good person, I can’t. There is nothing good in me.
– in just me.
But I have an Ally that I didn’t always know. When I was a hopeless sinner, Jesus offered to pay the penalty – to post my bail, so to speak – and die in my place. The perfect Man – God’s Son – who deserved nothing but good things, died a horrible death to break the power of sin in my life. Better yet, He didn’t stay dead – He rose back to life, the Victor over death, to open up the way for me (and anyone else who believes in Him) to have eternal life, as well!
Eternal life started the moment I confessed my sin and placed my faith in Jesus to save me. His Holy Spirit lives in me now and empowers me to live for Him, doing the good that was impossible for me do on my own. Any goodness in me is because of Him. (Some of the best things He has done though me have been done without my even being aware of it.)
Anything evil in me … well, that’s the residual sin nature that I have to fight every day for the rest of my earthly life. The difference is that now I have a fighting chance! I may not have arrived, but I am going in the right direction, as He leads me and makes His will known to me day by day.
What about my “white privilege?”
I’ll be the first to admit I have been given all kinds of privileges, way more than I deserve, and I’ve been aware of them for a long, long time. The question isn’t how to get rid of my privileges, but How can I use whatever advantages I have to lift up the disadvantaged, to draw them closer to Christ and the “abundant life” I have known?
“To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)
In light of that convicting verse, I have a lot to do – and He will empower me to do it. It may mean getting involved in fighting racism. It might be in the area of serving refugees, helping the homeless, defending the preborn, doing music ministry in nursing homes and hospitals, writing more books, or living out the love of Jesus with one person at a time, one day at a time. His plan is unique for each of us.
What about my other labels – “Racist“? “White supremacist“? “Bigot“? (“Liar,” “thief,” “murderer,” etc.)?
Jesus has given me a new label: “Child of God.”
I am free to identify with my Creator and keep my eyes on Him. My life’s goal is to be everything He wants me to be. With all due respect to the authors of the trendy best-sellers, I’m going to let Jesus define me. After laying down His life for me, He’s earned the right to call me whatever He wants.