There are many people today who believe God must be worshiped specifically within a certain protocol to be acceptable. This thought is due to early training in their church.
Amongst the Jews, there was argument with the apostles and early Christians about the Messiahship of Jesus but there was never argument over clean and unclean foods. In fact, there is no record anywhere in the New Testament of the apostles eating anything unclean. The early Christians believed that God had given instruction as to what was acceptable for food in Leviticus 11. Many Christians today believe God has given permission to eat all manner of unclean foods when He gave Peter the vision recorded in Acts 10. However, the Lord was teaching Peter something quite different.
“While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them’ ” (Acts 10:19). So Peter went and met Cornelius who fell down and worshiped him. “But Peter lifted him up, saying ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean’ ” (Acts 10:26–28). Here we see that Peter understood that the vision he saw was not in reference to food but in judging people.
Peter had been taught from birth that the Gentiles were unclean and the common thought was that Gentiles could not be saved. This belief caused many arguments with Jesus who told His disciples that there would be some surprises in the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).
Today, we all must learn the same lesson as the Jews needed and not look upon any human being as unclean or common. They may be steeped in sin, but if they receive the gospel they could turn around and be saved from the power of their sinful habits. The gospel message is open to every human being and not one is excluded. Jesus made that very clear in Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit says, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
“Whoever” means that anyone who wants to be saved can come to Jesus, but some think their lives are so steeped in sin that they would never be accepted. This is Satan’s lie. Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
If you come to the Saviour and commit your life to Him, you will be saved from the guilt and power of your sins. That could happen for you today just as it has happened to Cornelius and his house.
Peter said, “ ‘God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?’
“So Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.” So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.’
“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him’ ” (Acts 10:28–35). God shows no partiality. He does not respect a person of one race more than another.
“The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him, will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins.” (verses 36–43).
The Scripture says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues [languages] and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days” (verses 44–48).
Gentiles, who had never been circumcised, became baptized Christians and received the Holy Spirit. This raised a huge question in the Christian church whether they should be allowed to be part of the church without keeping all the law of Moses with its Jewish rites and ceremonies, including circumcision.
When Peter returned home he found himself in a lot of trouble with the brethren. “The apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’ But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But I said, “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.”
“ ‘But the voice answered me again from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.
“ ‘Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’ ” (Acts 11:1–18).
It was a hard lesson for the Jews to learn. God had granted to Gentiles, the people that they had looked down upon all their lives as being common, unclean, and steeped in sin, the same offer of salvation, that if they repented, their sins would be forgiven, and they also could receive the Holy Spirit.
However, the issue did not rest there. Some of the brethren came down to Antioch from Judea and said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). The issue of circumcision was agitated yet again. As they saw what was happening in Antioch and other places where many Gentiles were becoming Christians, many of the Jewish Christians were concerned that there would be more Gentiles in the Christian church than Jews.
The Jews became fearful that they would lose their national customs and distinctiveness from other nations as Christians and demanded that these Gentile Christians come into harmony with all Jewish laws and practices. They believed that they all must worship God the way their forefathers did by being circumcised according to the custom of Moses. The issue was not about breaking God’s law, the ten commandments. There was no argument over the Sabbath, idol worship, adultery, theft, dishonesty or anything forbidden by God, but only those things connected with the ceremonial law, the law of Moses.
To Moses was given ceremonial laws that were a shadow of things to come. They were all representative or prophetic of what would happen when Jesus would come. Paul understood they were temporary until Christ came (Galatians 3:19).
The issue became a hot topic. The Bible says, “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” (Acts 15:2).
So, they went up to Jerusalem for a church council. “And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’
“Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (verses 4–7). Peter here referred to his trip to Caesarea when Cornelius and his family and friends believed and received the Holy Spirit for which he was criticized. He got in trouble for preaching the gospel. He got in trouble for sitting down to eat with an uncircumcised Gentile.
The church at that time was racially prejudiced against the Gentiles. Peter said, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them” (verses 8, 9).
God does not make distinctions among people who belong to different churches, different races, different nations, different languages. When Jesus met people He did not ask them about their philosophy or ask what church they belonged to or what they believed. He simply said, “Do you want to be saved? Do you want to have eternal life? Follow Me. I will take away your burden of sin. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit, My Spirit, the Holy Spirit.”
When Nicodemus, a Jewish ruler, came to visit Jesus one night, Jesus told him that unless he experienced change, unless he received the Holy Spirit and was born again of the Spirit, he could not be saved and go to heaven. Nicodemus was shocked at these words of Jesus. He was a religious leader and teacher of the law.
It does not matter whether you are a religious leader. It does not matter even if people consider you to be a holy person. There are a lot of people who are considered holy because they look that way outwardly, but their hearts are corrupt. That was the condition of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Jesus said to them, “You look righteous on the outside, but your heart has not been cleansed. In your heart there is lawlessness and hypocrisy” (Matthew 23:28, literal translation).
God asks, “Are you willing to accept My only begotten Son as the Sovereign of your life and your Saviour from sin? Are you willing to follow Me?” Or, “Are you on the other side of the great controversy and want to run your own life independent from Me?” Everyone makes their own choice.
The Bible says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). That is a simple equation. No one else in the universe can give you eternal life, only God’s Son. Would you like to be saved? Do you want to be saved badly enough to make a commitment to the One that can save you? Peter said, “God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8, 9).
God does what is impossible for us to do ourselves: He can purify a person’s heart. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what race you are, what religion you are, what social class you belong to, high or low, what nation you belong to; none of those things matter to God. All that matters is, “Are you willing to make a commitment?” Jesus said, “If you believe enough to make a commitment, if you will commit to Jesus Christ as the Sovereign of your life, the Ruler and Master of your life, the One that you will obey and follow, I will give you eternal life.”
The Christian religion is the most spiritual of all religions because it has everything to do with the decision of your mind and not with some formal religious ritual. Sadly, Jesus said of the Jews, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you might have life” (John 5:40), but if you will come, God promises to purify your heart.
Someone may say, “I go to church.” But has your heart been purified? Someone may say, “I’ve studied theology.” But has your heart been purified? Another may say, “I read the Bible.” But has your heart been purified? And another may say, “I spend this much time in praying, and in meditating, and devotions.” The same question must be asked, Has your heart been purified?
O, friend, unless your heart is purified, it doesn’t matter what religious ritual, what form of worship you go through. If you are going to be saved at last in the kingdom of heaven, your heart needs to be purified. That is the question that needs to be answered. That is the question you need to pray to God about and ask, “Lord, I want my heart to be purified by faith, not just with ceremonies and outward observances but with a pure purpose.”
David said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” (Psalm 51:10–12 KJV). This should be our own prayer.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)