There is no shortage of rhetoric regarding the division of people. From racial divisions to cultural divisions; from socioeconomic divisions to religious divisions. It seems that humanity has some ingrained nature to construct barriers to determine who is or is not a part of my group.
By what they are not.
Group identity is a funny thing, as a crucial component of any group identity is the ability to determine who is not a part of the group. This apophatic (definition according to what the thing is not) ability is pervasive; everybody knows how to tell which people do not belong in any social setting.
While there are many markers of belonging that are readily identified, the most common of these is language. The words we use and the way we use them determines by and large which group or culture we belong to (or do not belong to, as the case may be).
But there is a larger, more “meta,” linguistic marker that transcends cultural barriers.
The use of the word “them.” While innocent enough in origin, the word has come to be the biggest impediment to the spread of the gospel and the renewal of the world it brings. As long as there is a “them” then we have an excuse to regard “them” as less than we. As long as we have a mental category of “them” we will never be the people of God we think we are.
The destruction of them.
This is because the gospel of Jesus destroys “them” as a concept. Think of Peter in Acts 10 and the rest of the disciples in Acts 11 (I’m not going to quote it here because I want those of you who are interested to dig out your bible and see what it says for yourself). While they clearly understood an “in” and an “out,” the Holy Spirit demanded a different understanding (see Act 11:17 for example).
Christians need to let our concept of “them” be destroyed by the transforming power of the gospel.
Remember that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male plus female, but all are one in Christ. And while you may rightly point out that “in Christ” is a qualifier, and that those who are not “in Christ” are still “them,” remember that God’s explicitly stated intention is for there to be no “them” (try on Matthew 28 for an obvious example). That is the goal, the telos of God for humanity: “I desire that they should be one just as you and I are one” (John 17:21-22). That is what the gospel brings, and our resistance to such only proves our inability to obey Jesus.
But where sin flourishes, grace abounds.
In this we are the same as the disciples, and so there is hope for us. But the disciples eventually were “transformed by the renewing of (their) minds,” and so can we. They key is that there can be no “them,” just “we.”