I wonder if you share this thinking: I have this default setting that keeps telling me that God uses Godly people to make good things happen; and God also spends quite a bit of time trying to reform the ungodly people. Do you have that assumption—that God is better able to use Godly people because they are on the same page? And part of that assumption is that we know who the Godly people are. Right? You can name them.
Exactly what the church leaders in Jerusalem thought in this text from Acts. You see, they were Godly people, committed followers of Jesus. They were doing good things. They were organizing a new church in a culture that wasn’t exactly supportive of their efforts. They were so sure of their Godliness that they called Peter out on some of his behavior because it didn’t line up with that. They understood that God only works through the Godly people. Which, of course, was them.
Before we judge them too harshly, understand that they had some reason to think that. Up until then, all believers in Jesus were Jewish. Male circumcision was the sign of inclusion in God’s covenant with Abraham—and there’s no one more Godly than Abraham. Every believer—every Christian—was circumcised. It had always been God’s way. It was a covenant of trust, of relationship, of commitment, of a life given to God. It was Godly. You could tell who the Godly people were. Or at least you could tell who they weren’t.
So they called Peter out on his ungodly behavior, saying, “You had dinner with uncircumcised people? What were you thinking?! Those people know nothing of God. They aren’t Godly—they don’t even know what it means! Now, because of you, they will assume that they are Godly, and will have no reason to actually become Godly.”
But Peter had a different perspective because he was told by God what God was doing. He tells the church leaders exactly what happened. He had a vision of all the ungodly animals coming down in a large sheet. Every food animal that was forbidden, sinful, that separated one from God was lowered in front of him. God not only tolerated, this, God commanded Peter to eat them. Three times this happened, each time Peter refused, saying that he knew that no believer in Jesus could ever eat these things. And each time God answered telling Peter that God decides what is Godly and what isn’t.
While he’s puzzling about this some unbelievers came from Caesarea. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” Make no distinction between us as Godly people and them as unbelieving, ungodly, unrighteous people. So he ended up baptizing them.
What are our assumptions today about who is Godly and who isn’t? By what standard do we impose status of Godliness? Who do we assume God will bless? Those who pray a certain way? Who wear certain clothes? Whose children behave in particular ways? Who live a life-style we approve of? Think for a minute about who you believe to be “ungodly.” . . . “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
So you imagine Peter’s surprise when he was informed by God to go with these pagan unbelievers. You can imagine Peter’s shock when God said I’m coming to them, too, just the way they are. Even though they believe differently than you and understand differently than you. You see, Peter, God is powerfully at work well outside your standards.
Well, God is powerfully at work well outside our standards, too. God can and does reveal God’s reign through people with dirty clothes, through disruptive children, through people who don’t pray articulately, through those whose morals and ethics are different than mine.
Peter finally got that. God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declared these people from Caesarea to be Godly. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
So he told the leaders in Jerusalem. And (here’s the miracle) all those pastors in Jerusalem got it too. They came to understand that they weren’t any more Godly than anyone else. If they saw God at work somewhere, somehow, they were to get on board. If they understood God to be loving people different than them, they were to love them too. And so they did. They praised God for working in the lives of people they had previously considered ungodly.
The honest question for us is who do we consider to be ungodly? What if God is teaching us something about God through them? What if God is working in Godly ways through them? “The Spirit tells us to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” That’s hard enough.
But here’s the really difficult thing. What if God is working in Godly ways through you, just the way you are right now? What if you have something to teach the world about who God is and how God works, today? What if, even if you think of yourself as not particularly Godly, God is showing love in the world through you right now? What if God has declared you Godly.
God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declares you Godly people today, right now. “The Spirit tells us to go with each other and not to make a distinction between us.” God made you to reveal God to the world. Just the way you are.