There are a lot of people in our area that are familiar with the late Sam Cooke’s song, “A Change is Gonna Come.” What many are not familiar with though, is the conflict that provoked the writing of that enduring civil rights anthem. While traveling through the Shreveport area in the fall of 1963, Cooke, his family, and his band attempted to lodge at a “white-only” Holiday Inn. This attempt, as one can sadly imagine during the brutal times of Jim Crow laws, was met by the refusal of the innkeepers to allow Cooke and his party to stay. Understandably, Sam was infuriated. After voicing his outraged, he and his group went to another place of lodging in town where they were met in the parking lot by the Shreveport police and arrested for “disturbing the peace.” Months after his brief stay in the Shreveport jail, Sam wrote the song, “A Change is Gonna Come.” While all of the lyrics are worthy of consideration, it is the refrain, “It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know, A change gon’ come,” that inspires hope. In a prophetic manner, Cooke sang of a time when the anti-gospel motto of Jim Crow, “Separate, but Equal,” would give way to the gospel-empowered truths uttered by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that “one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” And while I am exceedingly thankful for the progress that our nation has made in this area, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I long to see more of the change of which Mr. Cooke sang.
While legislation and activism are helpful, they are ultimately powerless over the root issues that underpin the racial tensions of our society. The problem is that legislation and activism cannot change the heart. How, then, can the change of heart that Mr. Cooke sang about and that Dr. King dreamed of become a reality? Ultimately, the answer is rooted in the good news of what God the Father has done through Jesus Christ the Son. According to Ephesians 2:1-3, everyone is by nature spiritually dead because of “ their disobedience and their many sins.” Yet, God in His goodness did not leave us without hope. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, provision was made for reconciliation. This reconciliation has at least two dimensions. First, God’s work of grace reconciles those who turn from their rebellion against God and trust fully in Jesus Christ. According to 1 Peter 3:18, Jesus lived, died, and rose again that “He might bring us to God.” Our sin has separated us from God, yet in His kindness, God provided a way back to Himself through Jesus alone.
As we grow in our understanding of this reconciliation, we learn that we have not only been reconciled to God but that we can also be reconciled to one another. If one continues to read the second chapter of Ephesians, they will find that the grace that saves a person is also the grace that transforms the way they relate to others. Specifically, verse 14 states; “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” No longer were the Jews and Gentiles in this passage to find their identity in their preferences, politics, or personal cultures. Instead, they were to find their identity in Jesus Christ, the peacemaker.
As long as people believe that they are good enough to please God on their own without the grace that is brought to them in Jesus Christ, hostility between racial groups will persist. The reason for this is because the root cause of racial tension in our society is self-righteousness. It is the false belief that says, “I am better than that person because I am wealthy or I am more educated or I am white or I am black.” But once people come to see that they are not saved because of their race, their money, their education, their career, or even their good deeds, then the arrogant feelings of self-righteousness will give way to the gospel-fruit of humility that reminds us all that “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” The good news of Jesus Christ eliminates all grounds for boasting.
Will a “change” ever come? You better believe it will! In fact, it has already started! And Jesus is at the very center of it all, saving undeserving people like you and me by His grace so that we might show the world what our Savior is like by uniting around Him and showing grace to others!