Trusting in Jesus does not remove our cultural distinctives; it just shows us that we are not ultimately defined by our cultures. We are defined first by who we are in Christ.
God created the rich beauties of culture, and he is not on a mission to erase them. But when we become Christians, he gives us an identity that goes beyond and deeper than any of our other cultural characteristics. Our new common identity gives us the power to move beyond any challenges to unity we face in the church.
“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV).
In saying that Christ has created “one, new man,” Paul is introducing a concept a lot of theologians call the concept of the “third race.”
Your first race is whatever you are (I am Caucasian). Your second race is whatever you are not (I am not Hispanic, African-American, etc.). Your third race is what you are in Christ. When you become a Christian, it’s not that your first race disappears; it’s that your third race becomes more formative than your first race.
My first race becomes insignificant enough to me that I can lay it aside when I need to, because it doesn’t ultimately define me.
Paul gives us a great example of this when he said he became like a Jew to the Jews and like those without the law (Gentiles) to win them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20). How does Paul “become a Jew” if he is a Jew? In Paul’s mind, his “Jewishness” was so light that he could take it on and off like a garment. If he needed to take it off to become something else for someone so that person would know Christ, he could do that.
This does not mean that his previous culture disappeared but that something greater started to define him. The Bible says in Galatians 3:28 that “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (CSB).
In other words, the gospel gives us something that unites us greater than anything that divides us.
What if you find out someone shares your political convictions, and that makes you feel more at ease with him than when you find out he follows Jesus? That shows you the gospel has not gone deep enough in your heart. It ought to be that when I meet someone that loves Jesus, I feel a unity with that person that goes beyond any differences we might have. I can call someone “brother” or “sister” even as we talk about other things that we might disagree on.
The gospel also gives me the desire and power to replace my preferences for the way things are done in the church with what would best serve God’s kingdom. There’s a certain hypocrisy when we stand in church worshipping a Savior who gave up all his rights for us while we simultaneously insist that everyone else around us worship that Savior the way that we prefer. Can you think of a greater absurdity?
If we worship a Savior who laid down his preferences, of course we’ll lay down our preferences to see other people reached for the gospel.
Vertical relationship with God should lead to horizontal relationships with each other. When Paul went in to plant a church in a new city, he didn’t plant a church for the Jews on the north side of town and another for the Gentiles on the south. He planted one in the middle, where Jew and Gentile would come together and bring glory to Jesus.
The point is not that we have different-colored faces in the audience on the weekend like some kind of United Colors of Benetton display.
The point is that we want to know and love each other and show the world that the greatness of Christ far exceeds any of our cultural differences or preferences. And, through Jesus, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 3:19-21).
This article originally appeared here.