For this post, I want to focus on two parts of the image of God, righteousness and holiness. I’ll be using two definitions from Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics.
Righteousness: “Man’s righteousness was the virtue of his whole nature by which, according to the judgment of God, he was wholly in harmony with the will of God; he was fully capable of doing the will of God, and doing God’s will was his delight” (vol. 1, 298).
Holiness: “That original rectitude of his nature according to which he was consecrated to God in love with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength” (vol. 1, 298).
When man fell into sin, his righteousness became unrighteousness. It seems like by default, when people think about unrighteousness, they think of it as the opposite of righteousness. By this I mean that we often see righteousness as following God’s law and unrighteousness as going against God’s law. However, there’s this massive theme in scripture about man always doing what is ‘right’ in his own eyes and I think it’s better to view unrighteousness ultimately as self-righteousness. Instead of looking up to God and following His law, we look at self as our god and want God (and everyone else) to conform to our own law. Just as God has His righteous law which is derived form His righteous nature, unregenerate man has his own laws derived from his own self-righteous nature. Likewise, we have a desire to be seen as righteous, or, to put it another way, declared as righteous, a.k.a justified. But by nature we seek to be declared righteous apart from Christ and according to our false righteousness. The same is true when it comes to holiness. Instead of being consecrated, set apart and dedicated to the service of the Creator, man became consecrated, set apart, and dedicated to the service of creature. If you want a summary of what happened at the fall, replace the word God from the two above definitions with the word man.
Based on this, I want to list off some implications as it relates to the topic of race. Although these implications also extend far beyond race.
- Man sees self as god and therefore sees those who are similar to self as more “godlike,” according to their unregenerate, twisted understanding of what it means to be “godlike.” We are more inclined to gravitate towards those who walk like us, talk like us, act like us, and look like us because we see us as “god.” So when someone talks, looks, and acts very different from us we have a natural tendency to be drawn away from them, to think evil thoughts about them, and unrighteously judge them in our hearts.
- Man exchanges God’s law for laws similar to themselves and thus man is inclined to have certain rules particular to his own culture. Those who abide by those rules are seen as righteous. Those who disobey are unrighteous. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have certain cultural rules, but it can be wrong to unrighteously judge those who don’t follow your own culture’s rules.
- Man has a natural tendency to justify (declare righteous) the actions performed by those similar to himself and similar to his own culture, and likewise to condemn the actions of those of different cultures who are different from himself. This is, in my opinion, the crux of all the racial division that’s currently happening in our country. There’s a natural inability to see things objectively according to truth, because our sinful pride.
- By nature man is consecrated, set apart, and dedicated to the service of self. He also easily becomes dedicated to those similar to himself and forms groups of men similar to himself. This ends up creating an us-vs-them mentality toward those who unlike themselves.The result is that becomes difficult for groups of people who are alike to sympathize with and get to know those who are outside of their groups and understand things from the perspective of those unlike them.
The gospel however, restores all these:
- In Christ, we serve the one and only true God. We see all those who are in Christ as equally one with Christ Jesus. Instead of unrighteously judging people based on how different they are from us, we exercise righteous judgment according to Scripture and seek to have others be more like Christ.
- In Christ, man submits to Christ’s law as the law above all. He is able to be a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, in order to win all to Christ. He has the gospel freedom that frees him from cultural rules. Yet he is able to appreciate the differences between cultures and respect that some are of a weaker faith and therefore try not to offend their conscious.
- In Christ, there is no need to justify any of the actions of our own ethnic groups because Christians from all ethnic groups are justified by Christ and united to Him by faith alone. It’s easy for us to understand that people from our own ethnicity, even large groups of them, are depraved sinners and are capable of the most heinous of sins.
- In Christ, man congregates to those who are set apart and dedicated to the service of the Lord. Believers of all races together become a holy people and a royal priesthood. The us vs. them mentality is no longer between different ethnicities, or even people in general. It’s us vs the world system, the prince of the power of the air, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Thus, we are united to fight a common enemy and worship an uncommon Lord.
Hopefully these realities can give us a proper context by which we can understand much of what’s going on in our nation and give us a desire to spread the gospel all the more.