Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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November 2006 • Volume XI, Issue 7


Abiding in Our Calling (2)

I Corinthians 7:17-24 stresses that the effectual call comes to men and women in their earthly calling or vocation. God not only determines whom He calls but also when and in what circumstances He calls each elect sinner to salvation. Thus God’s effectual call (grace) comes to the elect sinner in his earthly vocation (providence). In both the heavenly call and our earthly calling, Jehovah is absolutely sovereign (cf. "as God hath distributed to every man" [17]).

Consider Paul’s coming to preach the gospel in Corinth. God has many elect people there (Acts 18:10) and, in His sovereign providence, His people are in various vocations. Some are slaves; others are proselytes; one is a married woman with four children; one is a blacksmith; another is a single man on the city council, etc. God’s effectual call comes to these people in their respective callings. For God not only calls elect sinners, but He calls them as those who are mothers or farmers or Gentiles or slaves, etc. In all this, He is fulfilling His purpose in gathering a catholic or universal church as the body of Jesus Christ.

Paul cites as his first example circumcision, the sign of the greatest distinction among the nations that between Jews and Gentiles (I Cor. 7:18-19). Circumcision, of course, is the removal of the foreskin of Jewish boys (on the eighth day after birth) or male Gentile converts. The gospel in Corinth converted circumcised Jews and Gentile proselytes and uncircumcised Gentiles. Uncircumcised Gentiles might think that they ought to be circumcised. This would show that they were no longer pagans and this would please the Judaizers, who taught that circumcision is necessary for salvation. Those circumcised might reckon that they should become uncircumcised. Had not most circumcised Jews rejected the Messiah? Did not baptism replace circumcision?

What does the apostle say? "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised" (18). Why ought the saints not circumcise or uncircumcise themselves? "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing" (19). What then is the important thing? "keeping … the commandments of God" (19). In Christ, as Paul puts it in Galatians, "neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision" but "a new creature" (6:15) or "faith which worketh by love" (5:6). Since circumcision is nothing—neither advantageous nor sinful—"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was [effectually] called" (I Cor. 7:20). Rev. Stewart

May We Eat "Unclean" Food or Blood?

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean (Acts 10:14). But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20).

A reader asks, "In Acts 10:14, Peter still seems to be observing food laws. Why is this? Jesus would have told him that that particular law was abrogated. This puzzles me. Can you explain this? Was it optional for Jewish Christians? Also, in Acts 15:20, blood is forbidden to be eaten in food. Does this apply today to all Gentile believers?" The first question, arising out of Acts 10:14, concerns Peter’s response to the command from heaven to eat unclean animals and birds, which came before him in a vision on the rooftop of Simon the tanner. Unknown to him, Peter was soon to be summoned by messengers from Cornelius to come to the house of this Gentile proselyte to bring the gospel to them. Peter was given this vision to prepare him for going to Cornelius’ home.

Peter needed this vision, for to visit in the home of a Gentile and eat with him was strictly forbidden by Jewish law. Further, to eat the animals, with which Peter was confronted in his vision on the rooftop of Simon’s house, and which he was commanded to eat, was also forbidden by Jewish law (Lev. 11).

Two things must be grasped in order to understand this passage. First, the civil and ceremonial laws given to Israel in the OT were intended to set that nation apart from all the nations of the earth as God’s elect, covenant people. But, with the work of Christ, including the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, salvation was no longer limited to the Jewish nation, but was to break out of the confines of Israel and be brought to all nations. It was God’s purpose in Christ to save a catholic church, a church chosen from every nation, tribe and tongue.

Second, the early NT church had a very difficult time breaking away from the OT economy. The apostles still went to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1), even though the temple was a part of the OT law. Present in the early NT church were many who found it extremely hard to abandon completely the requirements of the old economy. Acts 15:1-2 indicates that the problem was so severe that a special synod had to be called to settle the issue.

Peter was having the same difficulty and had to be instructed in the truth that God was saving Gentiles too and bringing them into the fellowship of the church. The laws governing the life of the nation of Israel as a separate people were no more in effect. This principle, revealed to Peter in Joppa, holds good for the entire new dispensation.

Jesus would not necessarily have explained these things in detail to His disciples, because they would not have understood them in any case. They could not even comprehend that Christ had not come to establish an earthly kingdom, for, at the time of His ascension, they were still hoping and asking for such an earthly kingdom (Acts 1:6), even though Jesus had explicitly taught the disciples that His kingdom was heavenly (Luke 17:20-21; John 3:3).

Nevertheless, Christ did explain these things to them, although they did not understand until the illuminating Spirit was poured out on the church. Christ had told them that He had come to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). He had explained to them that the food laws were not a requirement in the new dispensation (Mark 7:14-23). He had repeatedly told them that His calling from His Father was to suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and rise again the third day. But the disciples were perplexed and confused when these things actually took place, for they saw Jesus’ death as the end of their dreams. Even the resurrection was an event which they did not expect.

The second question, concerning the decision of the Jerusalem Council, to admonish the Gentiles to abstain from eating anything with blood is in the realm of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is also involved in the last question the reader asks in connection with Acts 10:14: "Was it [i.e., eating unclean animals] optional for Jewish Christians?"

We can only deal with the issue of Christian liberty very briefly in this connection. Paul’s great epistle to the Galatians has sometimes been called "The Charter of Christian Liberty." (See also Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8; 10:19-33.)

The church in the old dispensation was under the law, because the Israelites were children and the law was a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:23-4:7). But Christ fulfilled the law so that all the ordinances and requirements of the OT law are no longer binding on the NT church. Our freedom from the law is a gift of Christ through the Spirit in our hearts.

The NT saint, who walks in the liberty of the gospel, is one who is able to decide for himself what he may do and what he may not do with respect to those many things which are not specifically mentioned in Scripture as right or wrong.

We must remember, however, several things about Christian liberty. First, the believer makes his decisions on what is right and what is wrong for him on the basis of the abiding principles of the moral law of God, summed in the decalogue. He does not have "freedom to do as he pleases." Second, he may not use his liberty as an occasion for the flesh (Gal. 5:13), that is, he may not appeal to Christian liberty to satisfy his sinful pleasures. Third, our liberty is curtailed by our calling not to offend our brother. If our conduct is the occasion for our brother to sin against his own conscience, we are guilty of a heinous sin (I Cor. 8:11-13). Finally, the one standing in Christian liberty decides for himself whether he may eat meat from animals called unclean in the OT law (e.g., pork) and whether he may eat a prime rib of beef which is cooked very rare. These principles apply to both Jewish and Gentile converts, who are one in Christ. Prof. Hanko

Christ, the Image of the Invisible God (3)

In the last two issues of the News, we have seen that Jesus Christ is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). However, Adam and Eve were in the image of God before the fall and all of God’s regenerated children are also in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). There are important differences though. Man is said to be created, either in the beginning (Adam and Eve) or in regeneration (believers), "in" or "after" the image of God, but Christ is the image of God. Godly men and women, as mere creatures, bear God’s image in a partial and creaturely way; Christ, as One who is God and man, is the express image of God. Moreover, the elect bear God’s image only through Him who is the image of God who was crucified for our sins and bestows upon us His renewing Spirit.

The heavens "declare the glory of God" day and night to people of every language (Ps. 19:1-3). The creation proclaims God—His eternity, His power, His glory, His truth, His justice (Rom. 1:20, 23, 25, 32). But though the universe declares the glory of God, only Christ is the glory of God, as God manifest in the flesh.

The apostle’s purpose in extolling Christ as "the image of the invisible God" is "that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:15, 18). Jesus Christ is pre-eminent not only in creation and in the church but also in revelation (15-18). As the image of God, He makes known to us the Father in a far deeper and richer way than anything or anyone in the creation or even the whole creation put together! Therefore, turning aside to "philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (2:8) is turning from the full blaze of the glory and knowledge of God in Christ to mere sparks and less than sparks. It is turning from Him who is the light of the world to follow darkness. For in Jesus Christ "all fulness" dwells (1:19), and in Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2:3). Outside Him, nothing is worth knowing.

As the One who is the image of God, Jesus Christ is the chief prophet and teacher of His church. Not only does He teach us about the Father, but also He personally is the revelation of the Father. Listen to and obey Him! Believe Him and follow Him! Search the Scriptures which testify of Him (John 5:39). For as we behold God through His living image, Jesus Christ, we "are changed into the same image from glory to glory" (II Cor. 3:18). Rev. Stewart

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