Peter, Paul, and the Gentile Table

Everyone remembers the cafeteria in high school, right?

Band table, football table, art table, and so on?

Maybe you don’t remember yours, but it goes something like the scene in Mean Girls when new girl, Cady, is informed she isn’t allowed to sit with the “popular” girls if she isn’t wearing pink on Wednesdays.

We all laugh, or maybe cringe, at these teenagers. Good thing we would never act that way now! Especially those of us who are followers of Jesus, right? But when I look at my life, I wonder if that’s really true. Do I share a table with anyone who isn’t basically like me? Do I really love others as my family in Christ or do I just tolerate them in the same space as I am?

In Galatians 2, Paul describes another cafeteria where the apostles struggled between rules that separated and created hierarchy and the freedom and love we are called to in Christ.

“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:11-13).

There were some specific theological questions going on in the new and growing church of Jesus. Were Gentile Christ-followers part of the community of God’s people? If they were, should they be circumcised and eat according to Jewish traditional and law?

These questions werereal and important, but Peter already knew the answers. God had already revealed clearly to the apostles (and specifically Peter) that the gospel was for all nations, and that salvation was through faith in Christ, not works of the law. In fact, Paul makes clear that the reason for Peter’s change in attitude toward the Gentiles wasn’t a theological conundrum.

He was worried about what others would think.

Peter accepted Gentiles into the church at Antioch, but then when some of his Jewish friends showed up, he treated the Gentiles as outsiders because he was concerned with maintaining his status with those whose opinions he really cared about.

How often do we do the same? We share the gospel with everyone, but when it comes to living our regular daily lives, we surround ourselves with those we are comfortable with – those who look and act and think like we do. Whether it’s race, politics, class, appearance, personality, or any other way we categorize each other, we too often gravitate exclusively to those who remind us of ourselves.

In response to actions and attitudes like the ones Peter displayed in Antioch, Paul reminds the church in Galatia that through faith in Jesus we are equal and unified.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-29).

We are all broken people. We, like Peter, resort to hierarchy, cliques, and cultural rules that create division instead of reflecting the beautiful diversity of Jesus’ church.

Let us not just accept one another’s presence in the room, but instead, invite each other to the table, living together and loving each other as if we are truly clothed with and unified in Christ.


02: People

In this episode, meet the second character introduced to us in the Bible: people. The Bible tells us that human beings are created in God’s image. That fact alone makes us more extraordinary than everything else in creation!

Click Here for Parent Guide

01: God

In Genesis 1:1 we see that God is the first one mentioned in the Bible. In this episode we learn the most important thing the Bible wants us to know about God – that he loves us.

Click Here for Parent Guide

 

00: Who’s in the Bible? Preview for Parents

Welcome to “Who’s in the Bible? A Podcast for Kids.” Before you listen to the rest of the series, check out this special preview episode where hosts Lance Lawson and Aric Harding speak directly to parents, and give a quick overview of what this podcast is all about.

 

027: Who’s In The Bible? Introducing a New Podcast for Kids

In this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Lance Lawson and Aric Harding about the joys and challenges of discipling their children. They share some helpful tips and stories of failures that will encourage anyone in a position to impact the life of a young person. They also talk about their new project, “Who’s In The Bible? A Podcast for Kids,” launching March 6 with weekly episodes.

 

Glory Days

It’s so easy to cling to the glory days. Though this looks different for each of us, most people have a moment, an era, a season to look back on with nostalgia and longing.

Athletic victories remembered by a man whose back now hurts getting up from the couch. Firm teenage skin no longer taken for granted by a middle-aged woman staring into her mirror. Professional expertise and command gone by the wayside for a retiree feeling purposeless. The fun and freedom of the college years before the daily drudgery of #adulting began. Sleepy newborn snuggles cherished by the mom now parenting a rebellious teen.

Remembering our glory days can often cause us to miss the moment we’re in now and the good that can be found there. And if we’re not careful, this mindset can even bleed over into our relationship with God.

By the age of two, each of my children has been taught in our Children’s Ministry to recite Ephesians 2:8-9, which begins with the phrase, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” This verse encapsulates the heart of the gospel – we can’t do it on our own. We have no way to earn or deserve the salvation that we so desperately need. But if we only think of grace as something we have already experienced, we’re relying on our glory days all over again.

The completed work of Christ on the cross for our sins is a watershed event in human history, and every believer can look back to the time when they stepped from unbelief to belief, when their eyes were opened in faith to the goodness of the gospel. But it’s all too easy for Christians to camp out there, minimizing the extent of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf.

Christ’s death paid the penalty that our sins deserved, but the cross isn’t the end of the story. When Jesus rose again, he gives us new life in him. This life, moment by moment, is as much a gift of grace as his death. Because we live in him, grace sustains us in the present – and we can trust it to continue in the future as well.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

This passage begins by reminding us of the glory days of the gospel which, unlike our own experiences, can never be tainted by rose-colored glasses or forgetfulness. God acted mightily on our behalf, giving us new life through his love in the resurrection and ascension of Christ, making a way for us to live in intimate relationship with him. But Paul goes on to remind us of God’s future purpose.

There is an age to come. In one sense, it has already arrived – we are one with Christ. His life is in us, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  But in another sense, we are still waiting for future promises to be fulfilled, when sin’s presence will be removed completely from the world and all things will be made new. And these verses remind us that grace will be what carries us through. We haven’t plumbed the depths of graces by crossing the line of faith. God promises to show us “the immeasurable riches of his grace” in the days to come.

Just as we began our experience of grace by placing our faith in the work of his Son, so we continue in grace daily. May each of our lives be marked by these moment-by-moment decisions to place our faith in him, whether in difficulty or delight. For our glory days are still to come.

 

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

– John Newton

 


Mandy Turner

Mandy Turner teaches Women’s Systematic Theology at Clear Creek Community Church. She attends the Clear Lake Campus with her husband Josh and their five children.

025: The Big Picture – How the Whole Bible Points to Jesus

The Bible is comprised of 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, in three different languages, by at least 40 authors, and yet it is one cohesive story of God’s redemption of the world. Ryan Lehtinen talks with Doug Dawson about his journey to understand the big picture of the Bible and how the gospel of grace found in Christ is the culmination of the entire biblical narrative.

RESOURCES:

The Holy Bible

Big Picture of the Bible class

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy

The Scriptures Testify about Me by D.A. Carson

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund P. Clowney

The Bible Project

Exploring My Strange Bible (Podcast)

Help Me Teach The Bible (Podcast)

 

What You Say

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only…

022: How Can We Trust the Bible?

During the “Here’s My Issue” message series, we have been discussing questions people have about faith, God, or the church on the podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen sits down with Yancey Arrington and Aaron Lutz to discuss how we can trust the Bible.

RESOURCES:
How to Study the Bible class
The Big Picture of the Bible class
Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

 

The Unforgivable Sin

Are there things we can do that God can’t forgive? Is there an “unforgivable” sin? What does it mean to blaspheme the Spirit?

These questions usually arise after reading Matthew 12:22-32,[1]

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

The narrative here is pretty straight forward. Jesus healed a demonically-oppressed man and the religious leaders accused Christ of accomplishing the feat by the power of Satan (referred to here as Beelzebul). Jesus highlighted the ridiculousness of their accusation by asking why the Satan would want to thwart his own agenda. The reality was, in expelling the forces of darkness, Jesus demonstrated that he was establishing the kingdom of God. In short, Jesus was clearly the Messiah sent from God the Father. Christ’s entire earthly ministry up to that point – work the religious leaders witnessed with their own eyes – undoubtedly pointed to that truth.

So, it was in that context, in the middle of those undeniable demonstrations, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” (Matthew 12:31-32).

It appears Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were blaspheming the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Spirit’s testifying work about who Christ is.[2]Even worse, not only did these religious leaders reject the Spirit’s work, but attributed it to Satan himself. It was this specific blasphemy from which Jesus said there is no return. 

This should make some sense if you consider the greater context of the passage. When the Pharisees said Jesus was from Satan, they were rejecting the only path God offers humanity for forgiveness. Therefore, denying what is really the work of the Spirit in Jesus and attributing that power, instead, to Satan, is ultimately a product of unbelief. Simply put, the Pharisees’ stubborn rejection of Jesus and the Spirit’s testimony of him was a stubborn rejection of the gospel. This is what is meant by the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. As biblical scholar Graham Cole notes, “The blasphemy against the Spirit is that self-righteous persistent refusal to embrace the offer of salvation in Christ.”[3]

This is invaluable for believers to understand. Unfortunately, we hear Christians (and sometimes Christian leaders) warn the church about the “unforgiveable sin” as if there was something we could do as believers that would remove us from the family of God. Consequently, some get nervous wondering what sins might expel them from the kingdom. However, this is where we should remind ourselves of the context of this passage. Theologian and scholar R.T. France said, 

It is [the Pharisees’] diabolical opposition to the good purpose of God which is ultimately unforgiveable. The point needs to be emphasized, since the language of this saying has been incautiously applied to real or supposed offenses ‘against the Holy Spirit’ which have nothing to do with the blasphemy of these Pharisees, and serious pastoral damage has been caused. This saying is a wake-up call to the arrogant, not a bogey to frighten those of tender conscience.[4]

Frankly, some scholars wonder if this text can be applied today at all, thinking it unique to the Pharisees, if not limited to the earthly ministry of Jesus.[5]Others believe the specific blasphemy of the Spirit isn’t so much a doubting of the truth about Jesus, but a rejection of the Spirit’s clear and direct testimony the individual knows as true in head and heart but rejects it still.[6]Thus, while there may be differences in the particulars concerning blaspheming the Spirit, the general idea is that this sin is the unbelief and rejection of who Jesus truly is and what he does. 

Therefore, when others ask, “Can a Christian commit the unpardonable sin?” the clearest answer is “no,” because to be a follower of Jesus is to believe and accept the testimony of the Spirit – that Christ is Lord – which is the exact opposite of the Pharisees’ response. Thus, the sin of blaspheming the Spirit is one which a believer cannot commit. 

It is true that Christians should live lives that seek to flee from sin, yet when we do disobey, we ought not to be so distraught as to think we’ve committed an unforgiveable sin. The gospel reminds us that Christ’s cross has taken the penalty of all our sins. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 should encourage us at this point: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ is our righteousness. His redeeming work at the cross has forgiven us all our sins, where our trespasses aren’t counted against us anymore. For those who believe, there is no sin we can commit that is unpardonable. The gospel is bigger than the failure of all our sins. This is where our confidence should lie; not in us, but in Christ for us!

Theologian Louis Berkhof offers a pastoral thought for Christians who fear if they have committed the sin of blaspheming the Spirit, writing, “In view of the fact that this sin is not followed by repentance, we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it and worry about this, and who desire prayers of others for them, have not committed it.”[7]Cole offers counsel as well, saying, “Any Christian disturbed as to whether they have committed this sin needs to be encouraged to think that they have not. Rather, such warnings, I suggest, are used by the Spirit to recover the drifting Christian and to encourage perseverance in the faith. The tender Christian conscience is a sign of hope, not evidence for despair.”[8]

Follower of Jesus, rest well in Christ. He has obeyed for you. You are clothed in his righteousness. Your sins are forgiven. This is the good news of the gospel! Know that you can never blaspheme the Spirit and commit the unforgiveable sin. On the contrary, you live by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, and may you be continuously filled with the Spirit. 


[1]See also Mark 3:29-30; cf. Luke 12:10

[2]It could be possible that Jesus, seeing the trajectory the Pharisees are taking with him, is warning them not to commit this blasphemy.

[3]Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2007, 29.

[4]France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, Eerdmans, 2007, 482-483.

[5]e.g., Chrysotom and Jerome.

[6]cf., Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, Baker, 2006, 156. See Louis Berkhof with almost exact statement in his Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1938, 253.

[7]Berkhof, 254.

[8]Cole, 34.