Woke is a fairly modern term that has come to mean “conscious of injustice in society.” A “woke” person is especially attentive to racial discrimination and the issues surrounding it. Although the word woke has been closely linked to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the term goes back further than that and can be found in the 2008 song “Master Teacher” by Erykah Badu and in an 1962 essay published in the New York Times called “If You’re Woke You Dig It” by William Melvin Kelley.
When it comes to being “woke,” Christians should keep three things in mind:
First, Christians must acknowledge that racism in America has resulted in shame, injustice, and, at some points in history, terrible violence. Moreover, no clear-thinking person thinks that all remnants of racism were erased by the American civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. For as far as we’ve come since the Civil War, there is still work to be done.
Second, Christians should understand that, while laws and legislation guard the principle of equal rights for all Americans legally, no law can change the heart. Someone who is filled with prejudice and racial hatred will not suddenly be filled with love simply because a new law is passed. Unlike some who pursue change only at the legislative level, Christians know the evil of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Real justice is possible only when individuals have been justified in Christ. Only when we are saved can we live out the mandate “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” in the way taught by Christ (Mark 12:31). Jesus addressed racial divides, among other things, in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).
Third, a Christian must realize that real racial reconciliation in the Church occurs when we prioritize our identity in Christ over our belonging to a racial category or ethnicity. Members of the body of Christ should feel more at home in their Christian family than even in their own ethnicity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
As Christians, we should be “woke” to the love of God for our family in Christ: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (1 John 2:11). We should be “woke” to the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). We should be “woke” to the fact of temptation in the world (Matthew 26:41). We are reconciled with God and united to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18), allowing us to be truly reconciled with one another. Real change and real answers to the problems of racism, injustice, other societal evils are found in God’s Word and in the peace He gives.