Monday, October 13, 2014

Grace and self esteem

“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’  But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.’”  Acts 11: 2-10 (NRSV).

The first Christians were Jewish, and it is important to remember that for early Christians, Judaism was their religion as well as a standard of social order, justice, and morals.  Those who followed the way of Christ did not start calling themselves Christians until more than ten years after Jesus died.  They called themselves Jews, and made a clear distinction between themselves and Gentiles (non-Jews).  The story in the scripture passage quoted above is told three times in Acts.  The vision Peter saw changed his life, and changed the course of Christianity.
The vision opened Peter's eyes to the fact that cleansing from sin is from God, and it is not a result of the work of the law. Most Jews believed that God loved everyone, but they also believed that God loved the Jews first.  Most Jews wanted the Gentiles to worship the one true God, but Jews refused to give up the distinction that God favored the Jews above all other nations.

In Peter's vision, God says, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."  God is not only giving Peter permission to disregard the Jewish dietary laws, He is also telling Peter that everyone is God's favorite, not just the Jews.  Peter realizes this when he states in verse 17, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

For modern Christians, this idea needs to be learned on a very personal level.   Satan uses guilt to drive a wedge between us and God. We look at our own sin-ridden souls, and pronounce ourselves unclean.  But in verse 9, God says "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."  We do not have a right to pronounce a verdict of guilty on ourselves if we have claimed God's grace for our lives.  God's grace has made us clean!