All Nations Belong United in Christ
We often hear that we ought to be “colorblind.” We understand that sentiment and realize that good motives lie behind it because the intention is to say that we ought to treat all people the same. However, if we are not careful, this can do an injustice to the fact that God has made, within humanity, all the colors and variations that we see (Acts 17:26). God did not make a colorless humanity, and we need to appreciate that. There is beauty to be found in the variety. This implies that we learn to respect ethnic differences and honor the fact that there are cultural preferences (I’m not talking here about what is sinful).
Christians should have no issue here, as should be recognized by Paul’s efforts to “become all things to all people,” explicitly within a context of teaching Jews and Gentiles. “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:23; see vv. 19-23). Paul honored the differences without doing what was sinful. We can do the same, knowing that we act for the sake of the gospel in order to share blessings in Christ with all. This is in keeping with God’s desire that all nations would flow to the mountain of His house (Isa 2:2-4).
The largest threat of division among early Christians was between Jews and Gentiles. Should the Gentiles have to be circumcised to become Christians? Did they essentially need to give up being Gentiles in order to first become Jews so that they could follow Christ? As Acts 15 shows, the answer was unequivocally, “no!” Jews can still be Jews and Gentiles can still be Gentiles, and they will all be saved the same way. One did not have to become the other in order to follow Christ. What neither could do was force another law or culture upon the other. At the same time, neither could they continue in what was sinful. Gentiles could not remain pagan and still be Christians. They had to distinguish between what was sinful and what was an allowable liberty (cf. Rom 14; 1 Cor 8, 10). Jews could still circumcise their children, but they could not require it of others as a matter of salvation. Both needed to respect each other’s differences.
Even though ethnic and cultural differences between Jew and Gentile remained, they were still to become one in Christ (Eph 2:11-22). Seeking unity in Christ was vital, and no ethnic or cultural differences should have prevented that effort. Jews could personally continue some of their practices as a liberty (e.g., the Sabbath) without forcing that practice on Gentiles. Gentiles could eat certain meats without forcing that upon conscientious Jews (I believe this the major issue in Romans 14). They could respect their cultural distinctions on the one hand while becoming united in Christ on the other hand and even be willing to give up their liberties at times for the sake off others. Yet insofar as their standing before God was concerned, there was no difference (cf. Gal 3:28).
This can be difficult due to the fact that we can sometimes conflate cultural issues with matters of faith and doctrine. We need to distinguish carefully what is a cultural and allowable liberty from that which is sinful and against godly principles. But, and here’s what I really want to stress, let us understand that various ethnicities, backgrounds, and languages being united in Christ is a magnificent testimony to the power of God through Christ. This was God’s plan all along (Rev 5:9). By honoring the variations, we highlight the unity we have in Christ. And by highlighting that unity, we shine a light on what God did and thereby glorify Him. It’s all about what brings God glory, and the ingathering of all nations does just that.
God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Because “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35), He now “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). All people are invited to God’s feast.
Let us honor the variation while also coming together in Christ. These are not mutually exclusive, but are a powerful witness to what the blood of Christ can do for all of us. Because of what Jesus did for all, we can all share in the great scene of Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”