Monday, February 9, 2009

False Ideas 3: Inside and Out

It is interesting; whenever Jesus wanted to heal someone of leprosy, he did so by laying his hand on the person. We know from reading the Gospel accounts that he didn’t have to heal this way. Jesus healed people he never touched (see, for instance, John 4:46–54). According to the law, someone with leprosy was unclean; to touch him or her meant you would become unclean. Lepers had to shout, “Unclean,” whenever people came by so they would avoid any contact.
Jesus did not avoid contact; he initiated it. And it’s remarkable that he didn’t become unclean. Instead, the leper became clean!

This is a new spirituality. It is more powerful than the dirty world around us. We can actually have a sanctifying effect on the people around us as we walk in the power of God’s Spirit within us. We rub off on others, not the other way around.

There is an interesting story in the book of Acts. Peter is hungry, waiting on a roof in Joppa for a meal. He falls into a trance and sees the sky open up and the Lord drop a sheet full of unclean animals. He tells Peter to kill and eat them. Peter refuses, stating that he would never eat anything unholy. Then the Lord announces, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). This happens three times to verify that it is the Lord who is speaking to Peter.

You have in this story a hungry and devout Jewish man, some Old Testament laws, a herd of unkosher animals, and God. Something changes here that is profound, but what is it? Are the previous laws no longer any good? Did God change his mind about pork? Or did God suddenly run all these particular animals through a carwash?

It is Peter who changed, not God, not the Old Testament, and not the animals. Once he was unclean, but then he was clean (John 13:10). Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension and the indwelling Holy Spirit had altered Peter forever. His life was no longer subject to the damaging effects of mixing it up with unclean animals or people. He was no longer affected by touching something unclean, because his holiness was not subject to what surrounded him. He was so changed from the inside out that he could become a change agent to those around him, including Gentiles, which is really what the vision was about.

Before Christ’s atoning work, being married to an unbeliever was condemned because God’s people were incapable of withstanding the influence of false gods. But all of that has changed, so Paul writes that the believing spouse should stay with an unbeliever because he or she will have a sanctifying effect on the one who is not yet a Christian (1 Cor. 7:12–14).1 This shows us that our salvation in Christ is more powerful than the darkness in the world around us. We are holy and nothing can change that.

Now to us, all things are lawful but not necessarily profitable (1 Cor. 10:23). It is now a question of what is beneficial, not what is secular and what is sacred. The NT still says it is not a good idea for a Christian to marry an unbeliever and become unequally yoked. That would not be profitable or beneficial. But it is not the concern that was once so rampant int he OT of contamination from the unclean Gentiles.

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