There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.28)
All the Children
In Sunday school, we sang a song many of you probably sang, too: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The song earns an A-plus for ethics, but only a C (at best) for theology by implying God recognizes ethnic differences and, ergo, they matter. Galatians 3.28 patently refutes this, saying status we confer on one another based on ethnicity, class, gender, and every other demographic qualifier doesn’t exist in God’s eyes. All the children of the world “are one in Christ.”
God’s universal acceptance regardless of “race, color, and creed” (as they say) is an easy purchase. Indeed, when we hear nut-jobs like white supremacists preach divine favoritism, the idea is too ludicrous to merit laughter. Yet knowing God doesn’t see our differences can't prevent our noticing them, which saddles us with enormous—practically impossible—responsibility. We’re required to master the skill of looking and not seeing, accepting without assuming. Some of us do better than others, but none of us, I think, succeeds all the time. We’re stranded in a culture built on stereotypes too insidious to mention. And when we meet people whose appearances fit certain molds, more than we care to admit, we’re apt to filter our impressions through reckless images, media-fed clichés, and, worst of all, fear-based myths. Once we get to know them better, we confess they’re not at all like we expected, meaning more like us than we first imagined. We’d spare ourselves much wasted time and avoid needless feelings of guilt and ignorance if only we could train ourselves to see less and know more. This is what God does.
Leave Them at the Door
The Early Church wrestled long and hard about who was qualified to receive Calvary’s benefits. Jewish converts believed in Christ as the Messiah, their Savior, and many had no interest in broadening their concept of Jesus’s mission to include Gentiles. Despite Peter and Paul (especially Paul) insisting Christ died for all, tensions between Jews and Gentiles proved palpable in many churches. It was equally hard for free Gentiles to worship and serve beside slaves or other lower-class people whom they were taught had no standing with deities. Granting them equal access to God with free citizens demanded a huge mind-shift for European believers. Finally, Jewish and non-Jewish societies were patriarchal, placing men as natural superiors of women. Yet with increasing regularity, spiritual gifts like prophecy, wisdom, and good works surfaced in local churches without gender preference, much to the shock and resistance of believers who couldn’t reconcile social traditions with spiritual freedom. When Paul writes unity in Christ abolishes ethnic, class, and sexual status, he’s saying discrimination serves no purpose in the Church. In essence, he’s instructing us, “When you enter life in Christ, pack up your prejudices and leave them at the door.”
The world is God’s prism. As a lens refracts colorless light into all of its hues, the world reveals the vast diversity of expression concealed in God’s light. Each of us is a point in the spectrum, one of nearly seven billion that together reflect the fullness of God. This is how it’s possible for all of us to be created in God's image yet remain unique from one another. This is why Paul refutes our distinctions by virtue of our commonality—we are one in Christ. In John 9.5, Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” meaning the fullness of God exists entirely in Him. But in Matthew 5.14, He also says, “You [plural] are the light of the world.” None of us contains all of God’s light. But joined as one in Christ, our infinite variety of ethnicity, class, and gender reveals the majestic complexity, balance, and splendor of our Maker.
The little children of the world are precious in God’s sight because God sees divine vastness in all of them. The instant we approach faith without disregarding individual distinctions is the moment God goes blind. God refuses to recognize what we see, because focusing on traits that divide us mars and dilutes God’s image. Denying anyone equal access to God’s grace oversteps our authority. Presuming anyone unfit for God’s acceptance based on what we see is the height of audacity. We were never created to resemble one another in any way, shape, or form. We were made to look like God. Instead of differences, we must see sameness. Training our eyes to go blind just as God goes blind is the only way we’ll ever see God’s total fullness and glory.
Originally posted May 5, 2009.
God refuses to recognize what we see, because focusing on traits that divide us mars and dilutes God’s image. Our differences contribute to one glorious Sameness—Unity—in Christ.