How many races are there?
In the children’s song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” there are variants for the lines that attempt to include all the races of children that Jesus loves. Some sing, “red and yellow, black and white,” while others sing the slightly more detailed version, “red, brown, yellow, black, and white.” So which is it? Are there four races? Five? How many races are there?
Christmas provides a strong hint at the correct answer.
On Sunday, December 4, Pastor Chuck Marshall preached on the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the divine Son of God. One of his points was that God entered the world as a human baby boy, but was conceived in a wholly unique way. The physical creation of Jesus, son of Mary, was not by the human fertilization of one of her ova. In the case of Jesus, God fertilized that egg Himself, by the Holy Spirit, apart from the decision and action of Mary’s betrothed (Joseph) or any other man. Jesus was conceived by the decision and action of God the Father, who “sent” His Son to earth by conception in the womb of the unmarried woman Mary.
The Bible calls mankind sons of Adam. We are all part of the lineage of Adam and Eve. Adam was created from dust; Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. Henceforth, all were created by the will of God, through the decision and action of men and women, by the physical means of sexual reproduction. Sperm fertilizes ovum, and a new life comes into being. Positively miraculous in its own right, but part of a very clear and consistent pattern that has been unbroken throughout human history. We know how this is done, people, even though conception itself remains ultimately mysterious. We don’t really understand how a new life comes to be via fertilization and conception, but nobody in the human race has ever come into existence any other way.
Except for Jesus! The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was not conceived as a result of sexual fertilization. Rather, Mary came to be “with child” by the unique, supernatural action of God in Mary. As per the angel, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35) – that’s what we know about the process. It’s a true miracle – totally different from the way we came into being, and yet similar enough that Jesus should be considered human. Since Jesus is born of Mary, Jesus is wholly man. Being God the Son from before all eternity, Jesus is wholly God. Although he was conceived and born in the days of Caesar Augustus, he existed before all time. As he himself put it: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
Since each man or woman has a lineage that traces back to Adam and Eve, there would appear to be only one race – the human race. Whoever has been born of a human being is a member of the human race. Members of what our culture calls different races are dramatically more similar than different. What we call “racially mixed” children are just variations within the same species – similar to the child of a blue-eyed mom and a brown-eyed dad. Our bodies, minds, and emotions comprise all the same elements, and function in all the same ways. Biologically, blood types are a more significant difference than skin color or ethnic lineage. Children born to the same pair of parents will frequently exhibit tremendous differences in personality, body type, tendencies, skills, and even skin color.
All of us are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We are mortal, subject to death and judgment along with the rest of Adam’s fallen descendants. We prove our depravity in our acts of self-worship, but the depravity is there from our beginnings. We do not become sinners with our first sin; we sin because we are born sinners.
And then there’s Jesus! God made man, never ceasing to be God, but becoming flesh and blood like us. Jesus shares our fleshly constitution, but not our sinful condition. Jesus was born without sin, and continuously lived without sinning – he was “in every respect […] tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As such, Jesus was not subject to God’s judgment against sin, so he never had to die. He was immortal in that he was free from the curse that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), but he was mortal in that he was made able to die.
And Jesus did die, by his own choice. Nobody could actually take his life from him – he gave his life, voluntarily. His death was a once-for-all substitutionary sacrifice of his sinless life as payment for sins – not his own, but those of the men and women he came to save. His sinless body was broken and killed as an atonement for the sins of those he came to redeem, restore, and resurrect as new men and women – a new kind of children of God.
The way Jesus put it, as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, those who Jesus has called to be his own must be “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus was not being difficult here, as his confused disciple may have thought. He was describing in the clearest possible terms the kind of change that must occur in a sinful human being for him or her to become a true child of God.
There are two races. Just two. One race is the fallen human race, all the children of Adam and Eve, a race that was doomed from the beginning, where mankind’s first sin has made us all objects of God’s wrath, subject to the penalty of death that God promised there in the Garden of Eden. Every human being is born under God’s just judgment – we are by nature members of a rebellious race, and that race is destined to die, according to the word of God who does not lie.
But in Jesus a new race has come on the scene. Nobody becomes a member of this race by natural birth – just as none of us at Waukesha City Church, nor any of our children, becomes a Christian at birth. We must be born again. We must be separated from the fallen lineage of Adam’s helpless race, and adopted by the decision of God into his family (John 1:12-13). We must be connected to God by our attachment to Jesus, grafted into him, the new and living vine (John 15:1-11). We must be added into the number of those who have been joined to Jesus by dying to self and living by faith. And by “living by faith,” I mean desperately grasping onto our divine big brother who has died to make us pure children of our Heavenly Father.
The race of Adam is destined for hell. The race composed of Jesus and his brothers is destined to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
So, then, there are actually two races. The only two races that matter are the children of wrath and the children of God. What we encounter in our lives together as race and racism is most fundamentally a lie: all of us are part of a single race – the doomed human race. It seems almost silly that we ever even speak in terms of a black race, or a white race, or an Asian race – all these distinctions seem superficial and worthless. In fact, they are deadly, mostly because they distract us from the life-or-death state in which we find ourselves as descendants of Adam. Our common ancestry has made all of us subject to death – we are obviously more alike in this most critical thing than we could possibly feel different due to our fairly small set of ethnic distinctives.
“Red, brown, yellow, black, or white” may all live in harmony or rancor, separately or intermarrying, having babies for untold generations, and continuing the lineage of Adam and Eve – as one life at a time draws daily nearer to his or her ultimate demise as a member of a single doomed race. What we call racism is like a cliquish rearrangement of chairs on the deck of the Titanic; must we spend our time finding ways to divide and feel superior to our neighbor on a ship that is actively going under?
The call of God is to make much of our opportunity to abandon the fallen race of Adam, and be made members of God’s new race of the redeemed of the Lord, a race gathered together by God for God’s glory in his inexplicable mercy to the undeserving. We can and should add to the beauty of the display of His glory by adding to our number and living in deep fellowship together with “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The church of Jesus Christ does not belong to any one race – no, every race belongs to God! The God who made us diverse seeks to be glorified through that very diversity, by a people called to Himself for no reason other than His great and gracious love.
Because our God so clearly desires to be worshiped through a unity of peoples, cultures, languages, and ethnicities, the church must not be exclusive based on race. Our churches ought not even aim to be “equal opportunity” institutions – for the glory of the God of Revelation 5:9, let all our church families become “affirmative action” gatherings! Let the nations come and be one, in Waukesha City Church, as well as every other church of Jesus on the face of the planet.
Indeed, diversity is one of the purest motivations for world missions. One of the highest purposes of bringing the gospel to people in nations and cultures where no church can be found is to see our great God worshiped in new ways, by new populations, through new languages, from out of new cultures and backgrounds. We should delight to see the name of the Lord lifted up in new ways, until “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Let’s ask the Lord to make our diverse backgrounds and appearances and cultures and languages each into breathtaking facets through which his glory can shine in new and unique ways. Let each one of Christ’s churches display ever more stunningly the wondrous beauty of the God of all, who has made all His people one family, one new race, by the blood of His precious Son!
“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4