Many people know about grace through the hymn "Amazing Grace," which is often thought to be a Negro spiritual. But it was written by a white British poet and pastor named John Newton.
Earlier in his life, in the mid-1700s, Newton was a slave trader. He transported slaves on ships from Africa to Charleston, South Carolina. He was an atheist, convinced that if there was a God, this God wasn't making himself known to one John Newton.
On one transatlantic crossing, Newton's ship encountered a terrible storm. Everyone on board thought they were doomed. In the turmoil, Newton prayed – and God made himself known to him. The ship survived, the journey was completed, and John Newton found faith in God.
In his later life, Newton became an abolitionist, fighting against the institution of slavery. And he wrote the famous hymn that begins, "Amazing grace! how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me!" The hymn was later sung by slaves in America.
But my point about grace doesn't concern the hymn. It concerns the changed heart of the person who wrote it. Grace is about how God bridges the racial divide one heart and one person at a time.
We talk about this person or that person who did something wrong and became part of the national conversation surrounding a racial incident. We say this person deserves this and that person deserves that. We call for justice to be done. Yet we fail to see our own sin and the justice we deserve because of it.
The equation of God's justice is this: our sin = punishment and death.
So we all – black human beings and white human beings alike – must come to realize our own sin. We must understand the just punishment we deserve. We must come to a place of personal brokenness and see our need – our desperate need – for God.
The Bible says: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NIV).
Here is the equation of the salvation that God offers us: our confession of sin + faith in Jesus Christ = forgiveness and deliverance.
If and when we confess, through repentance and faith we will discover grace – the grace of God that says we are forgiven.
And here's the point: Only when we personally experienced God's grace – his unmerited favor – will we be able to extend grace to others. To Darren Wilson. To Michael Brown. To each other as black and white human beings.
This is the gospel. The Good News. The apostle Paul, writing in the first century, said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, ESV).
I am not naïve enough to believe that the issue of race will be totally eradicated from our midst while we are here on planet Earth. Until Christ returns, there will always be bastions of hatred and callousness.
I'm encouraged, though, because the times we're living in have forced us to be honest about where we stand, priming us for God to do a tremendous work in our lives, if we'll let him. As black people and white people, we need that revival, that awakening. And it can happen through Jesus Christ.
Only through a relationship with Jesus Christ will the earthly distinctions between us fade, as our oneness in him takes precedence over color, creed, and culture and as our allegiance to him compels us to make those who matter to him matter most to us.
This is our hope.
Pro football player Benjamin Watson joins James and Betty this Tuesday and Thursday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. Copyright ©2015 by Benjamin Watson. Published by Tyndale Momentum. Used by permission.