Earlier, in a post on the hope of eternal life, I followed a thread in the biblical letter from Paul to Titus to show that one of the main characteristics of someone who hopes for eternal life is a zealousness for good works. If you ever come across a lazy Christian, you’ve come across a person of weak hope. Someone who has genuinely come into contact with the grace of God has begun training to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12), and has begun to wait for the blessed hope of the world–that is, the return of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). And just by reading to the next verse we see a one-sentence summary of who Christ is and why we would wait for him in the first place: he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Sweat, in other words, is a great indicator of the presence of the grace of God.
But atheists sweat too. They work hard and accomplish difficult and beautiful and worthwhile tasks every day. Buddhists, too. Jews and Muslims? The same. And on and on into the deepest corners of the world and of history. So what’s the difference?
The difference is what happened on a Friday a little over twenty centuries ago. Jesus was beaten for hours and then crucified on a cross, speared through his heart to make sure he was dead, then buried in the ground. And so was everyone who has the sure hope of eternal life. Paul develops this in Romans 6:1-12. Being baptized into Christ is being baptized into his death (Romans 6:3). The one who has received Christ was crucified with him there on the cross so that he would die and, therefore, be set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7). And, with Christ as our representation in death, he is also our representation in life. So Christ’s resurrection is the believer’s resurrection, and the hope of eternal life is as sure a hope as the tomb was empty come Sunday morning.
But just like the hope of eternal life necessarily results in a person’s being zealous for good works, the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead also has an immediate and inseparable consequence. And that consequence is the end of racial hostility. I already emphasized the good works part of Titus 2:14, but looking at it once more will help us see the racial implications of the resurrection:
[Jesus Christ,] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
That group of people who are zealous for good works is made up of all the people purified by Christ’s work on the cross. That means people from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9). In fact, after one of the most beautiful explanations of the gospel in all of scripture in Ephesians 2:1-10, racial tension between Jews and non-Jews is the first sin in line to be bulldozed:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But 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. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are 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. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Reconciliation between the races comes after reconciliation to God. Only through the cross is anyone reconciled to God, and God then creates a people based on this common experience, thereby killing the hostility. The most important reality between a white man a black man living in Ferguson, Missouri is whether each man died with Christ on Calvary or not. If they haven’t yet, then the hostility between them remains. If they have both died with Christ, then God has made them closer than brothers.
Today is Good Friday. This Friday is good because in Christ’s death on the cross, God was at work in a people, crucifying the God-hating part of their souls right along with his Son. This Friday is also good because the God-hating part of their souls is also the part that hates their fellow man. This Friday we celebrate that all who are in Christ have access in one Spirit to the Father and are members of the one household of God.
One last implication of the cross is worth noting here due to the storm of news out of Indiana this week. The call of the cross since before the gay rights movement, since before the Civil Rights movement, and since before the Civil War has been “Come and die.” Believing in Jesus has always meant surrendering your life to him and trusting him that the sin he kills will be replaced with new life. Bigotry was the sin that the Civil Rights movement was righteous to oppose in the 1960s. Fornication is the sin the gay rights movement is unrighteous to defend today. Christ on the cross on Good Friday is the answer for both (and all) sins. And, on the day when that answer is rejoiced in, God himself will throw the party, complete with flowers, musicians and wedding cake (Revelation 19:6-9).