I’m currently reading through the book of Acts in the Bible, and in chapter 10 the apostle Peter has a famous vision in which God tells him to eat animals which are impure for a Jew to eat. When Peter refuses, God tells him three times
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Acts 10:15, NIV
The meaning in its context is clear. Acts is the story of God’s word spreading throughout the world, and the inclusion of Samaritans (half-Jews) and Gentiles (non-Jews) in God’s kingdom. Peter has this vision just before being asked to preach to a Gentile called Cornelius, and Peter says to him
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.”
Acts 10:28, NIV
The gospel is now open to the Gentiles, and it is no longer important to become a Jew to be right with God. This is indisputably the primary meaning of what God said, and I certainly don’t wish to detract from that.
However, as I was reading this a few days ago, another implication of this struck me for the first time. Those of us who are Christians are made clean by God, yet how often we fail to recognise this. How often we focus on our own impurity, our sin. Yet once God has made us clean, we are clean, and we are not to call ourselves (or other Christians) impure. We are still sinners, and it’s right to fight against sin, both in our own lives and the lives of other Christians, but let’s not lose focus on the cleanliness God has given to us in Christ. We should not be despondent about sin. Instead, we can rest confidently in the God who has made us clean.
Last year I explained why, despite my scepticism, I made a new year’s resolution. It seems to have been beneficial, so this year I intend to make another.
Last year my concerns with making a resolution focused on them either being naively optimistic or being made without any expectation of change. Throughout this year I’ve seen that my last resolution was neither of those things. However, my resolution this year is quite different, and my concern now is more along the lines that it may encourage me to be a functional legalist.
My resolution is to memorise some scripture every week. Some weeks this may only be a verse, other weeks it may be a longer passage. That’s not the point. The point is that memorising the Bible is a valuable habit to develop. It’s been recommended to me by mature Christians, I’ve read books advocating it, but more to the point it’s a very Biblical thing to do. Psalm 119:11, for example, indicates memorising God’s word is a way to combat sin.
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
I hope to make it a regular discipline to memorise portions of the Bible, but I also hope to avoid acting as if it’s something which somehow makes me a better Christian, or is necessary for God to love me. It’s neither of those things, but it is something which I’m sure God will use to shower His grace on me.
Happy new year to you, may it be filled with grace and peace!
What new year’s resolutions (if any) have you set yourself, and why?
Last week a trailer was released for the upcoming film ‘The Grace Card’. It seems to be a ‘Christian’ film, but many things about it leave me far from convinced that it will accurately portray the Christian gospel. The worst of all was a line in the trailer which sounded like a pivotal moment in the film.
It’s not justice we need. It’s grace!
What a horrible false dichotomy is introduced here! Are justice and grace mutually exclusive? This seems to be the suggestion of the film. I don’t want to be too harsh, given I’ve merely seen a trailer rather than the full film, but it strikes me that this quote undermines all that is good about the God of the Bible.
God doesn’t abandon justice in favour of grace. This would be a cheap form of grace, which would reveal an arbitrary and unjust god. This is not the God of the Bible. This is not the Christian God. Quite the opposite.
God does extend grace through Jesus’ death, but not at the expense of justice. If there was no need for justice, why would Jesus have died? Why not simply forgive everyone all their sins? That would show grace; but what a terrible, grotesque, unjust grace it would be! This is not the grace referred to in Ephesians 2:8, quoted in the NIV at the end of the film trailer.
For it is by grace you have been saved.
The grace by which Christians have been saved is a grace which includes justice. Romans 3:26 speaks of God not only as the justifier (by grace) of the one with faith in Jesus, but also the one who is just. The reason for Jesus’ death was to provide a means of grace which did not contravene God’s perfect justice.
It is indeed grace we need, but we also receive justice from God. Praise the Lord!
Check it out, the thirteenth verse of Exodus chapters 6-15 (excluding chapter 11, which only has ten verses):
Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them a command for the children of Israel and for Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
So the LORD did according to the word of Moses. And the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courtyards, and out of the fields.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me,
So Moses stretched out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind on the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.
Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.
You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.
I’d consider that a fair little summary of events!
The Book of Acts is filled with prayer meetings; every forward thrust the first church made was immersed in prayer. Take another look at the church at Pentecost. They prayed ten days and preached ten minutes and three thousand people were saved. Today we pray ten minutes and preach ten days and are ecstatic if anyone is saved.
You may notice that the Acts 2 account of Pentecost doesn’t mention a ten day prayer meeting. The number comes from knowing the ascension of Jesus Christ was 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3) and that Pentecost was 50 days after it (Pentecost was, by definition, 50 days after the passover, which was when Jesus rose from the dead. Leviticus 23:16 refers to Pentecost). This leaves a ten day gap. At the start of those ten days, we read the disciples “all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). In Acts 2:1 we read “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place”, and the idea that the intervening period was spent in prayer and supplication is an assumption.
How easy it is to fall into religious superstition! I mean thinking that God will bless us because of our religious activities. I’ve prayed, so everything will be fine now, because I’ve prayed. Not because of God’s intervention, but because of my prayers. I’ve had a bad day so far, but I’ll read my Bible now then the day will improve, not because I’ll be living life with a greater focus on God, but because I read my Bible. Having gone to church twice this Sunday, I think an easy week at work is pretty much guaranteed now. I can’t be bothered doing any work, but reading a book about theology is bound to solve that problem. I don’t suppose any Christians consciously and deliberately think like that, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who catches myself sometimes. It’s tempting to put our faith not in God, but in our religious works.
We see this problem in the Bible too. This isn’t the only example, but the one which sprung to my mind occurs after a battle between Israel and Philistia recorded in 1 Samuel 4. It’s a disaster for the Israelites, and with 4,000 dead soldiers it’s time for a rethink. What solution do they come up with? They recognise God is in control of the battle, by asking “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?” and they’re sure they know how to obtain His favour – “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.” Does it work? The Philistines are scared stiff, and decide the best defence is a good offence. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured”. Hardly the desired effect.
Can we combat this malaise, or are we simply helpless in the hands of our sinful motives? We can do many things. We can examine our motives, repent when we find ourselves lacking, and rely more fully on God’s grace in Christ. It is all we can ever do to fight sin – flee to Christ.
One of many differences between humans and God struck me over the weekend, while on the RUCU houseparty. The Bible talks were from Isaiah chapters 53-55, and in my personal devotions I was reading Romans chapter 5. Just a few hours apart I read both the following passages:
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Spot the difference? We looked on an unattractive Christ and, by nature, reject Him. God, on the other hand, looks upon an unattractive humanity and loves it. God comes and dies for sinful humanity. What is the result?
I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus, God the Son, is honoured by God the Father because He bore our sin. A just God punishes all wrong things, and Jesus took that punishment for us. What amazing love! No wonder Jesus is honoured!