The Solution for Racial Discord and Human Bias
Human beings are biased. We can’t help it. There are several things that contribute to this. Our upbringing and the information that we are taught by our environment contributes to our bias. Some cultures are based on class systems and unfortunately, it is normal in those cultures to teach people to judge others based on the classes they fall into. You may come from a culture like that. Some of you may experience bias and prejudice regularly in your daily life. People might judge you based on the country you are from or the color of your skin. Bias is but one way that sin manifests itself in the world today.
Fortunately, it is an attribute of God that He is not biased. God is the perfect impartial judge. All humanity stands before Him without fear that He will judge us unjustly. Instead, our only fear is that He will judge us fairly if we are outside of the salvation of Jesus Christ. We all stand equally in need of Jesus. When we face judgment, it will not matter how much money we had, where we were born or how many followers we had on social media when we die. The only thing that will matter will be our status in Christ.
When we look at the Bible, we see both the impartiality of God in His judgment and the life we are called to live, free of bias. This is summed up in what is referred to as the royal law of Scripture, “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Christ, God has called us to live as representatives of His character on the earth. One of the ways that we demonstrate that is in how we refuse to show bias in the way we conduct our church and the way we live our personal lives.
In the Old Testament, impartiality was a foundational part of the system of justice. Judges were given commands to avoid impartiality, based on their roles as representatives of God’s Justice. In Deuteronomy 10:17 God’s justice is proclaimed, “ For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.”
God had charged the judges in Deuteronomy 1:16–17 — “ And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. ‘“
God acknowledged the limits of man’s judgment, but rather than acting in a partial manner, if they were unable to avoid bias, they were to bring the situation to God, the ultimate impartial judge. From the beginning, God took the responsibility of acting without bias as important for His people, and especially of His appointed leaders.
In the NT, the greatest division and potential for bias was between Jews and Gentiles. God was determined to not have this divide His Church and we have the famous story in Acts 10 where Peter was given a vision right before his Gentile visitors came. God made it clear that Peter, as one of the leaders of the early church, should not hesitate to go to the “unclean” house of Cornelius. In verse 28, Peter declares to Cornelius, “ And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
His whole life Peter had been taught that to enter the house of a Gentile was to defile himself, but God gave Peter a revelation that he could not deny in order to correct that thinking. After hearing how God had revealed Himself to Cornelius, Peter proclaims in 10:34–35:
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Is there a divide like this in our cultures today? A cultural, political, or ideological divide that has separated people for as long as you can remember? That is the kind of divide that Peter was dealing with, and God was removing the option of judging people based on the greatest categorical divide that existed at that time. They were one church. There were no Jewish churches and Gentile churches, there was only the church.
The book of James deals with a different kind of bias in James 2:1–7:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
So in James, the issue he was writing about was preferential treatment based on wealth. This is a very common bias in society. People all around the world will treat someone as having more value and their opinion as being more important based on how much money they have. We see the wealthy and the famous released from the laws and rules that are applied to the masses. In a world where people are always looking to get ahead and earn more money, we shouldn’t be surprised by this, but we should be surprised when we find this practiced in the church.
God defines worth and value differently and in God’s economy, He is the one who knows the condition of a heart. The church is able to judge within the church impartially based on obedience to the commands of God, not according to any material status. If we put more worth in someone based on where they work, how much they earn, or even how much they give to the church, we are in violation of the clear teaching of Scripture, which includes this passage. We are honored by our richness in the faith, not by our richness in wealth or possessions.
In James 2:1, he writes, “ show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. “ We could simplify this down to one statement:
Partiality and bias (including any form of racism) is incompatible with faith in Christ
As followers of Christ, as I mentioned earlier, we are Christ’ representatives on this earth and through our faith in Christ, we are able to show the world something different than the standards by which they live. In the world, it is common to judge others based only on superficial standards. Wealth, as mentioned here, is but one of those aspects. As believers, we care about who the person is. Every human is a marvelous creation of God and they are more than the sum of what we see. This is one more way that the Gospel is transformational.
The gospel is a great leveler, available with absolute equality to everyone who believes in the Savior. As Paul said in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is the standard for the children of God.
Biblical partiality is defined by Paul in Philippians 2:3 — “ Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves “. We are to be biased towards showing favor towards others, rather than ourselves, but it is evil to divide people up and value them differently based on characteristics like wealth and position.
In verse 8, James talks about the royal law of Scripture — to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In verse 10 he writes, “ whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. “ These statements are the ultimate slap in the face to those who believe they will get into heaven by having more on the good side of their scale than on the bad. The readers of James’ letter would have been mostly Jews. They would have the same temptation of the Pharisees, legalism. Legalists can justify bias and prejudice. They can find a way to make it seem right to value one group above another, but James was providing the antidote for that. To treat someone as you would want to be treated, pushes them towards empathy and understanding. Two things that bias always avoids.
The emphasis on guilt coming from breaking a single point of the law is to remind us that our only hope for salvation is in Jesus, not in our ability to follow the rules or keep the law. This is another reason that we show no partiality in Christ. We all stand condemned for our sin, regardless of the kind of sin or the amount of sin. We all stand in need of God’s mercy. We are fellow prisoners, condemned to death, who are only made free because Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. Now we have the means to share this good news with others, who are in the same state that we once held.
James ends this section with a beautiful passage, “1 2 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. “ Earlier, he mentioned the royal law. Here, James refers to the law of liberty. That is the law to which I’ve referred multiple times to before, the law that provides no judgment, only mercy because of the salvation we find through Jesus Christ.
To say it another way, James could have said, “ live and act as a true believer who has been saved by God’s grace and who will be judged on the basis of Christ’ imputed righteousness.” The law of liberty, or freedom, is that we are now free from the judgment that we deserve because of the perfect life of Christ, which provides a perfect, fully acceptable payment that satisfies justice and provides us only with mercy, rather than condemnation.
Our ability to treat one another impartially and without bias, is not tied up in our own human ability, but rather a proper perspective on reality that sees us as equally deserving to be judged for our own sinfulness. Equally deserving of eternal separation from our God in heaven, but only by His grace are we able to have any other alternative outcome.
One commentary wrote this about the law of liberty: “The gospel is the law of liberty because it frees those who place their faith in Jesus Christ from the bondage, judgment, and punishment of sin and brings them ultimately to eternal freedom and glory. It liberates us sinners from falsehood and deception and from the curses of death and hell. Even more marvelously, it frees us to obey and serve God, to live faithfully and righteously according to His Word and by the power of His indwelling Spirit. And it frees us to follow our Lord willingly out of love rather than reluctantly out of fear. In every sense, it is the “royal law” of God (v.8), the divine and wondrous law of liberty.”
James ends with a warning about showing mercy to others. We, who have known the great mercy of Christ, must not act with an absence of mercy. We are now agents of the mercy that we have been shown. When we act in mercy, refusing to show bias or partiality, we testify to the truth of the great salvation that we have received. We fulfill our role as ministers in this biased world of God’s grace, love and mercy.
In the history of the world, humankind has an atrocious record when it comes to issues like bias and racism. The transformational power of Christ was able to breakdown the greatest cultural, societal and ethnic divides of the 1st century and create a movement defined by their love for one another, in spite of these differences. If we want to find a solution to the problems we face today, the most important step is for us first to realize that it is only the power of God, who is fully without bias, that has any hope of seeing real progress and humankind’s greatest need will always be for Him.
This very simple discussion was mostly focused on human bias and how only God provides true hope for overcoming the sinful bias of man. For a more lengthy discussion on racial discord and overcoming it, I recommend the resources available at Just Thinking, such as this one, the Gospel and George Floyd.
Originally published at http://seeinggodclearly.com on February 16, 2022.