“What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
What a difficult truth for us to accept!
Adam and Eve were the first ones who had difficulty with this. God had made the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil holy, so He set it apart from the other trees, saying, “You can eat of the fruit of every other tree, but not this one.”
But Adam and Eve called that tree common, choosing to violate God’s boundary markers set by His commandment and to attempt to extinguish the category of the holy.
How difficult it must have been for Peter to have obeyed, when the Lord told him: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Adam and Eve had had their commandment from the beginning, but Peter’s commandment to kill and eat “unclean” animals would have been new to him. For 1500 years Jews had not killed and eaten unclean animals. This was no mere human custom but also the commandment of God.
You can see why Peter had such difficulty. We’re not told at what point Peter figured out what his vision meant, but by the time the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentiles at the end of the chapter, he must have known that the vision was not just about the kosher laws but even more importantly about the relationship of Jews to Gentiles and the mystery of the ages that was being revealed.
As we know, Peter continued to have difficulty with God’s clear commandment, having the kosher laws and the habit of separation from the Gentiles engrained in his life and the life of his people. We know that later Paul had to rebuke Peter for turning back from what he knew God had commanded him. With Peter, representative of the Jews, we can understand why he was hesitant and struggled.
But then again, the Gospel, the explosive advent of the New Covenant which is the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ is mind-blowing. Or at least it should be.
We, however, have less excuse than Peter. For us, the commandments of Christ are now 2000 years old and in some ways are deeply ingrained in Western culture. I don’t know if it’s possible for something to be outgrained, but if it is, then Christ and the Word of God are being outgrained from Western culture and even the U.S.
Like our father Adam, we have a hard time obeying what God clearly says. Let’s start with an easy one to see the depths of the problem we have. God has made it clear from His Word that homosexuality is a sin. You can find the passages yourself. And yet increasingly Christians, especially younger Christians who have been conditioned by the culture and the token gay characters on just about every TV show to see nothing wrong with it.
“It doesn’t hurt anyone,” they say. This is a very telling argument, because the culture, and much of the church which has followed the culture, believes that this is the first and greatest commandment: “Thou shalt do what thou wilt, unless it hurts someone else.”
There are a number of problems with such an approach. First, it’s not what God says. Second, it enthrones our “liberty” as god and the most important thing. Third, it presumes and assumes that we all know if something or other will hurt someone or not. But it’s not always easy to measure hurtfulness, is it?
But our overthrowing of God and His order occurs in many other sins, just as evil if not more so than the ones that get more of our attention. It’s easy to condemn certain sins, if they’re not your temptation. So let’s talk about greed and complaining (or unthankfulness, which may be a more useful way of seeing it). God has said that what He gives us is enough. Whatever God gives is holy, and so to covet or complain about our manna or daily bread is to call common what God has cleansed. How terrible to say to God that what He has chosen for us is not good enough! But that’s what’s at the heart of all of our ways of calling common what God has cleansed.“What God has cleansed you must not call common.” I find that one of the most profound applications of this truth is how we as Christians relate to each other. The truth is that if you believe that Jesus is Lord, and that He paid for your sins and rose from the dead, and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God, then you are clean. You may still sin, but if you beg for forgiveness by the blood of Christ, as often as you need to, then you are clean, for God has made you so.
Some of us may not feel like we’re yet clean. But God says we are.
Some of us may not feel like our brother or sister in the Lord is yet clean. But God says they are.
I can understand why Peter had such a hard time accepting God’s commandment that He clearly told to Peter. But what makes us doubt God when He says that He’s made us clean? I suppose it’s the fact that if true (and it is), this is such wonderful news that it’s hard to believe. That, and the fact that because we still sin it’s hard to believe we could actually be clean.
But that’s the miracle of being in Christ and claiming His righteousness. And it’s God’s truth.
God’s commandment based on this is: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Let’s apply this to ourselves today. Let’s apply this to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We may not like some of them, but let’s begin by remembering that God has called them clean. It is this proclamation by God, and not our personal likes and dislikes, that is to govern our relationships.
We should be glad for this. If God chose to relate to us based on how we’ve treated Him, He would never have come near us. But He has, and He’s done so in order to make us clean.
Go out today, therefore, with this truth and commandment from God: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
Prayer: O most merciful God, who, according to the multitude of Your mercies, so puts away the sins of those who truly repent, that You remember them no more; open Your eyes of mercy upon me, as I most earnestly desire pardon and forgiveness. Renew in me, most loving Father, whatever has been decayed by the fraud and malice of the devil, or by my own carnal will and frailness; consider my contrition and accept my tears. As I put my trust in Your mercy, be faithful and just to forgive me my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Do you still feel as if you’re unclean? First, confess your sins to God, and seek repentance. And then accept God’s Word. Some of you might benefit by confessing your sins to another Christian, especially your priest or pastor.
- Are there any ways in which you treat your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they are unclean?
- Give thanks throughout the day for God’s cleansing and healing of you.
Resolution: I resolve today to treat all brothers and sisters in Christ, including myself, as those God has made clean.
Peter’s Vision – U.S. Public Domain