It is a big problem when people do not believe what God says. It is bad when a believer does not believe what God says about them. It is bad when a non-believer does not believe what God says about them. It is bad when a believer does not believe what God says about other believers or about non-believers. We need to believe what the Lord says.
The apostle Peter ran into this problem, and learned a valuable lesson from the Lord. God called Peter to visit the home of a Roman centurion, a gentile, to share with him the message of Jesus Christ. But, before God sent Peter there, he made a point to Peter in a vision.
Acts 11:7-9 – 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’
God showed Peter some animals, and he called Peter to eat. Peter refused, arguing that he would never eat a ceremonially unclean animal. But God then told Peter never to call unclean something that God has now called clean.
In that vision, God was primarily helping Peter to know that, since the resurrection of Jesus, there is no longer a difference between Jew and gentile. Whether a person was physically descended from Abraham or not, any person can be made into a child of God by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. So, Peter had no reason at all to avoid visiting the home of a gentile. There are not going to be two races in the house of God. There are not going to be two classes in the house of God. We who trust in Jesus are going to be made into one family.
What Peter had to grasp was that God is the one who speaks clean or unclean over a person. And Peter learned that he needs to believe what God said. No matter what his natural reflex, Peter has to trust the word of God over what his tradition told him.
This then leads us to understand that we too must grasp what God says about us and about others. First, for the non-Christian, God speaks about you. He tells you that you are in grave danger of facing his judgment. This is not because you are worse than other people on earth, but simply because you have failed to live up to God’s standard of perfection. The Lord says that you are under judgment if you do not turn from your sin, believe in Jesus, and come to him for salvation. It is vital that a non-believer learn to believe what the Lord has said about him or her before it is too late.
For the believer, it is vital that you grasp what the Lord says about those who are not yet in Christ. God says that these folks are in danger. We are not better than these folks. We are only forgiven by the grace of God. And so we should eagerly and happily warn our friends and loved ones that they need the grace of Christ.
Believers also need to believe what God says about other believers. If God has called a person clean, saved, beloved, a child of God, we need to affirm that. In a simple bit of application, that should do away with any sort of ethnic boundaries in the church. That was what God was doing with Peter. The gospel is for all people. People of Hebrew descent are not better than gentiles. People of any skin color are not better than people of any other skin color. Poor people are neither more or less the people of God than are rich people. Americans are not the good Christians while folks from other nations are lesser. God has made us into one people and called us clean if we are genuinely in Christ.
And, believer, how about believing what God says about you? This one may be the hardest of all for some of us. To some believers, the idea that God would look at you and call you clean, saved, a beloved child of God is really hard to imagine. We know our hearts. We know our failings. We know our shortcomings. We know our sin. We cannot imagine that God would really be able to see us without distaste, anger, or even hatred. But the Lord says that all who have turned from their sin and trusted in Christ have his salvation. God did it. God brought us to spiritual life, drew us to himself, granted us the ability to trust in Christ, and then granted us salvation and sonship because of the finished work of Christ. So, if you are a Christian, and if you still put yourself down as a worm, it may be necessary for you to actually speak about yourself in the way that God speaks of you and not to call unclean what the Lord has called clean.
Now, that last paragraph is not to excuse sin our make us full of ourselves. Left to ourselves, we are indeed objects of wrath. We are still to repent of sin and strive to live up to what God says about us. There is no room for arrogance in our lives. But, God calls those under the grace of Christ clean, and we need to believe what the Lord says about us even as we battle sin and long for the day when he will make our lives finally match the words he says about us.