“If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17
Who Was I? – How do you decide who is in the Kingdom and who isn’t? Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the way Peter answered this question. What he learned on the rooftop in Joppa still applies today.
Peter’s vision of the animals in the sheet lowered from heaven is not about food. God is not instructing Peter that it’s now permissible to eat clams casino or lobster. The vision is about people, not animals. God prepares Peter to see that those whom God declares righteous are righteous no matter what their heritage or prior religious beliefs. What Peter discovered is that the good news of the Messiah reaches beyond Jewish ethnic lines. Grace is for everyone.
How did Peter know that grace extended to those who were not within the Jewish circles? God demonstrated His acceptance of these people by showering them with the same outward sign, the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Peter didn’t connect the message of the vision of the animals to the good news of grace for all until he saw the demonstration of God’s undeniable inclusion. Once he saw that God treated these Gentiles with the same gift that was present in his experience, he knew he could not stand in God’s way. The evidence demanded that Peter put aside his Jewish idea of exclusion and open the way for Gentiles to be grafted into the commonwealth of Israel. Peter knew that he was not in charge, so he said, “Who was I to be able to prevent God?” The Greek is emphatic. Ego tis êmên, literally, “I, who was I?”
And who are you?
We face the same exclusion bias that Peter has to confront on the rooftop. We might not exclude people over circumcision, but we certainly have our lists, don’t we? Baptism – even what kind of baptism. Church government. Church authority. Translations. Morals and mores. Communion. The nature of sin. We even let politics, race and ethnic origin enter into the equation (although we are quick to deny such petty differences). Our theological gastronomical menus are just as powerful as the vision of the animals in the sheet. And just like Peter, we are quick to proclaim, “Lord, I’ve never let a single one of those forbidden things cross my path.” God has a lot of Peter’s in churches today.
And who are you? Who are you to decide who is in and who is out? There is only one measure of inclusion, and by the way, it is not my personal proclamation that I have accepted Jesus as my savior. The only measure of inclusion is that God demonstrates His acceptance by displaying His presence in the lives of His chosen. Wait! Don’t go off thinking that this is about speaking in tongues. That would be another exclusion. This is about seeing God show up in the life of another person so that there is unmistakable change in line with the character of the Father. What God approves, no man has the right to disapprove.
Maybe we need to ask the question again, while we take a serious look at our “acceptance” attitudes. “You, who are you to be able to prevent God?”
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