CH 04 HOLINESS

When God delivered Israel, he first appeared to a man who knew how to add to his faith and revelations flowed. Moses faith gave him “ears to hear” God call to him from the midst of a paradox.

Exodus 3:4-5

So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

The first revelation was the power of holiness. When I read “Do not draw near” I immediately thought God is too holy for mere men to approach. God is holy but he did not say to Moses, “I am holy, do not draw near.” God said “the place where you stand is holy ground”. The ground is holy. Excuse me! That’s not what God told Adam!

Genesis 3:17

Then to Adam He said, Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying “You shall not eat of it” Cursed is the ground for your sake….

When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground not the man. How did the cursed ground Moses stood on become holy?

MEDITATION

The ground was holy because God is greater than a curse. God is greater than sin. God is greater than the consequences of sin. Even though God cursed the ground for man’s sake, God’s presence superseded the curse making the ground holy. God’s holiness is powerful. His holiness will swallow up and obliterate our filth. We are not greater than God is. Therefore, we cannot defile God’s holiness.

Moses received another valuable revelation when God commanded him to remove his sandals. God does not want manmade things to separate us from his holiness. Man made the sandals God instructed Moses to remove. God made the feet.

If God’s presence made the ground Moses stood on holy, it is reasonable to believe God’s presence can make the ground we live in holy. God fashioned Adams body from the ground. God made the cursed ground holy with his presence. What does that make the ground we live in when he fills us with his Holy Spirit? If we are God’s, our body is holy, because our body belongs to God.

The contents of a holy vessel may need removal. A long and tedious job the Holy Spirit performs. Our deeds did not make us holy. Therefore, our deeds cannot tarnish our holiness. Our bad deeds make us a worthless holy vessel that God cannot use nor honor. But we are still his holy vessel to do with as he will.

Holiness was the big controversy in the early church. Holiness is still a big controversy in today’s church. Holiness is the reason Christians split into a multitude of different denominations. Holiness is the reason good Christian people who love God despise other good Christian people who love God. Holiness is the reason some Jewish Christians tried to destroy everything Paul did. Holiness is the reason Paul wrote,

Romans 14:17

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

To understand how the controversy over food pertained to holiness we must bear in mind that God called Paul to unite the Jew and the Gentile into one faith. The Gentiles ate anything. The Jew’s had strict dietary laws. Paul addressed the subject of food in Romans and dealt with it extensively in Corinthians. It’s just food! We need it to live. Why did Paul tell the Romans food had nothing to do with the kingdom of God?

We need to examine a long portion of Scripture to understand why the Jews were justified in being skeptical of the Christians doctrine. Read Leviticus 11:1-46 and count how many times you see the word “unclean.”

Leviticus 11:1-46

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. “‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The coney, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you. “‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales– whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water– you are to detest.        And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat and you must detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you. “‘These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. “‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.”‘You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. Whoever picks up one of their carcasses must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening. “‘Every animal that has a split hoof not completely divided or that does not chew the cud is unclean for you; whoever touches [the carcass of] any of them will be unclean. Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up their carcasses must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening. They are unclean for you. “‘Of the animals that move about on the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon. Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you. Whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean till evening. When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean. If one of them falls into a clay pot, everything in it will be unclean, and you must break the pot. Any food that could be eaten but has water on it from such a pot is unclean, and any liquid that could be drunk from it is unclean. Anything that one of their carcasses falls on becomes unclean; an oven or cooking pot must be broken up. They are unclean, and you are to regard them as unclean. A spring, however, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean, but anyone who touches one of these carcasses is unclean. If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you. “‘If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches the carcass will be unclean till evening. Anyone who eats some of the carcass must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening. “‘Every creature that moves about on the ground is detestable; it is not to be eaten. You are not to eat any creature that moves about on the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is detestable. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

Thirty-three times in forty-five verses, the law warns food has the power to defile you. To the Jew food was a standard for holiness. Eat the wrong food or even touch it and you are unclean. Eat the wrong food or even touch it and you become unacceptable to God. When Christians arose claiming they could eat anything and still be holy, the Jews were appalled and rightly so. How dare Christians say we can eat anything and still be holy? Couldn’t they read? Did they think they were above the law?

But there were two standards for holiness in the law. Just as the law is specific about what we can eat. The law is clear about sexual relations: No sex with animals, no same sex, no sex with aunts, uncles, mothers, stepmothers, fathers, stepfathers, brothers, sisters etc. The priest could only marry a virgin. If he didn’t marry a virgin, he became unclean and could not enter God’s presence.

How can Christians justify throwing out the standard for food and not the standard for sex? Why not throw out the standard for sex and keep the standard for food? Both standards came from the same law.

MEDITATION

Love is the deciding factor. We keep the standard for sex because it is an absolute. I cannot break the laws that govern sex without hurting another man or woman. That is absolute. When David had sex with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, it destroyed both of their families. If David had eaten a pork chop with Bathsheba, no one would have gotten hurt.

We can throw out the standard for food because it is a disputable matter, a matter of conscience. Sometimes it applies. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is a complex subject. Listen close. In most cases, I can break the laws that govern what I eat without hurting anybody. I said in most not all. It’s a matter of conscience. Not only my conscience but the conscience of the person who may see me eating. Sex is not a matter of conscience. When you break God’s laws that govern sex somebody will get hurt. A man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a child nobody wants. We don’t create that kind of hurt with food.

 The liberty address in the New Testament has nothing to do with freedom to jump up and down praising God without inhibitions. God gave us liberty to be less than perfect and remain acceptable to him. God’s law is his idea of perfection. We are incapable of living up to his standard, so God gave us liberty.

Most of the time, the only person offended when you eat forbidden food is God but he will not hold it against you. At great cost and personal sacrifice, God gave us liberty to do things he finds offensive, because he loves us. We don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. Love sets aside his own preferences. Love sets aside his rights.

God gave us liberty and then demanded us to follow his example of embracing people who do things we find offensive. Your hair is too long. Your dress is too short. You have an earring in your nose or too much makeup on your face or both. You should not be watching that movie or listening to that kind of music. Whom do all those things really offend? Is it offensive to God or to you?  

Food made Gentile believers offensive to the Jewish believers. The quarrel about food in the early church was a quarrel over holiness. What makes us holy in God’s eyes? What makes us unclean in God’s eyes? What makes us acceptable? What makes us unacceptable?

There was a gap between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians called pride and prejudice. The book of Acts reveals the early church’s spiritual battle to overcome pride. Their prejudice made them resistant to merging two very different cultures into one new culture called the “new creation” or the “new man” in the New Testament. To understand the Bible we must think “us” not “I”. We must think “we” not “me.” We will not comprehend the truth in God’s word if our thoughts are selfish. The new creation or the new man is the Jew and Gentile becoming a new nation of true equality.

Before Jesus died, he promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom. After Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, got saved, Luke records how God prepared the way for a new standard of holiness to be accepted by the predominately Jewish church. As we look at Peter’s experience, keep in mind that Peter was raised a Jew and knew the law.

Peter, a part of Jesus ministry from the beginning, was included in a number of things other disciples were not. Only three men went to the top of the mountain and beheld Jesus transfigured while he spoke to Moses and Elijah. Peter was one of the privileged three. When Peter forsook his calling, Jesus personally restored him. Peter spent intimate quality time with God in the flesh. Yet, he still had not grasped what Jesus was all about. We don’t change easy. It is a long long sloooooooow process to change the way we think and understand. The Bible calls it renewing your mind. Let’s examine how God renewed Peter’s mind.

Cornelius, an officer from Italy stationed in Caesarea, had converted to Judaism. The Bible called him a devout man who feared God, prayed, and gave to the poor. One day, while he prayed, an angel appeared with a message. “Your prayer is heard. Send for a man named Peter and he will tell you what to do.” About the same time Cornelius had a vision Peter fell into a trance.

Acts 10:9-15

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

Considering scriptures we read in Leviticus, we can understand Peter’s shock. Peter heard a command to defile himself and cried, “Not so Lord!” Some Christians would have said it is the devil tempting me. Peter knew he was speaking to God. He addressed the voice as “Lord” and then refused to obey the Lord’s command. Why do we call him Lord if we think we are smarter than he is?

We can receive personal instruction from God for three years. Be baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Preach a message that produces three thousand salvations in one day and still be an arrogant bigot.

Peter’s pride revealed. He had never eaten anything unclean and wasn’t about to tarnish his holiness.

Acts 10:14-15,  NAS

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  And again a voice {came} to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy.”

God is patient and repeated himself three times. Peter needed to understand what or rather who makes us holy. He had a crucial meeting to attend that would settle once and for all salvation is by faith and not the works of the law.

While Peter debated what the vision meant, the men Cornelius sent arrived and announced they were from Caesarea. Caesarea stirred up precious memories. There were two cities called Caesarea, the coastal city where Cornelius lived and Caesarea Philippi near Syria. Peter was with Jesus at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples, who do men say that I, the Son of Man am? He received a variety of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked. Peter gave the correct answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus declared to Peter, you are blessed for only God could have revealed Jesus was the Christ. Then Jesus promised to give Peter, “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”

In Ceasarea, a promise was made and in Ceasarea, a promise will be fulfilled. A key was about to be granted, a key that would open the door of the kingdom to all men, if God’s men can get over their self-righteous indignation about what makes us holy. 

Peter arrived at the Gentiles house and learned angles bring messages from God to Gentiles too.

Acts 10:34-36

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. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ He is Lord of all…

Who is Jesus Lord of? ALL! If Jesus is Lord of “ALL” shouldn’t the door be opened to “ALL”? Jesus gave Peter a key that opened the door of the kingdom to all men. Jesus is Lord of all, both the Jew and the Gentile. Not only is Jesus Lord of all, but he shows no partiality. If Peter had any doubts about the truth he spoke, God settled it before he finished his sermon.

Acts 10:44-46

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 and magnify God.

The Jews were astonished because God put his Holy Spirit in what the Jews considered unholy vessels. Apparently, God didn’t know the Gentiles ate anything. They don’t have the same diet as the Jew, so the Jew’s reasoned they were not holy. If you are not holy you are not acceptable to God. If there was any doubt God had put his HOLY Spirit in the Gentiles, tongues settled the issue.

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, his Christian brethren were not very happy!

Acts 11:2

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!

Ate with them! Ate with them! What did you eat Peter? Don’t touch me you might defile me! The Jews were upset because Peter “ate” with them. How dare Peter break the standard of holiness? Christians used food to slam the door of the kingdom in the face of Gentiles. Peter patiently explained every thing that happened beginning with his vision in Joppa.

Acts 11:15-18

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.

When the Jewish Christians locked the door with holy food,. God unlocked the door with his Holy Spirit. “Who was I,” Peter said. His arrogance is gone. The Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles as upon us at the beginning. I’m no better than the Gentiles. What God gives to me he will give to all.

It was not an accident that God used an illustration of food to let Peter know the door is open to all men. It is time to let go of the old and embrace the new. What you eat and drink cannot keep you out of the kingdom of God. Food no longer makes you holy. God’s Holy Spirit does! The presence of God in your life has sanctified the vessel, the body we live in.

After such a dramatic experience, you would think Peter never had a problem with prejudice regarding food again, but old habits die-hard. According to my chronological Bible, Peter’s experience at Cornelius house was around AD 41. Paul had already gone on his first missionary journey and returned to Antioch. It’s now around AD 50, almost ten years later.

While Paul rested in Antioch after completing his missionary work, some Jewish Christians from Judea came and taught the Gentile Christians they must be circumcised after the manner of Moses (or the law) to be saved. Paul and the Christians got in a major argument over doctrine. The core of the argument was what makes me acceptable to God? Is faith enough to make me holy? Must I cut a piece of skin off my body and eat certain foods to be holy? What will be the standard of holiness?

They could not agree on a standard of holiness, so they took the matter to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Both sides presented their arguments.

Acts 15:7-12

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.”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, purifying their hearts by faith.” Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?     “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.

What did Peter say purifies us, cleanses us, OR makes us holy! Faith! It’s not what you do that makes you holy. It’s what God does that makes us holy. When God put his Holy Spirit in the Gentiles, they became holy and acceptable to God. God sets the standard for holiness, not food. The experience Peter had at Caesarea almost ten years earlier was the turning point in the meeting.

Acts 15:13-15

And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.”And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

James never referred to anything Paul had to say. He might have a new name but they had not forgotten what Saul did to them and his word carried little weight in Jerusalem. James said, Simon or Peter preached to the Gentiles and the word of God agrees with Peter’s experience.

Acts 15:19

“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,

 Barnabas and Paul did not have the key that opened the door to the kingdom for all men. Peter did. When God makes a promise, he does not forget. He promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom not Barnabas and Paul.

After the decision of the Jerusalem council Peter visited the Gentile work in Antioch. He had the key that opened the door of the kingdom to all men, but he had not overcome his pride and prejudice.

Galatians 2:11-13

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

According to my chronological Bible the confrontation between Paul and Peter took place with in the same year as the Jerusalem council. Peter still wrestled with his pride and prejudice and played the part of a hypocrite. His respected stature among the brethren prompted others to follow his example, including Barnabas of all people. Baranabs and Paul were partners on the first missionary journey. This incident happened before they argued and parted company. Barnabas witnessed God filling Gentiles with his Holy Spirit. He was present when the Jerusalem council recognized God’s new standard for holiness. Only a Holy God can set a holy standard. Only an arrogant bigot will hinder the growth of God’s kingdom by rejecting whom God has accepted.

God is greater than a curse. Take off your sandals. Remove the man made things that come between you and his holiness. You can’t defile God but he can purify you. Touch God’s holiness and let God make you holy like he is. God has never changed his mind about us being holy only the method. There is only one reason God can accept you the way you are and I can’t. I don’t love you like God does.

About Teena Myers

Teena is the Vice Chairman of the Southern Christian Writers Guild, author of three books and a freelance writer.
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