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Points to Ponder: The Stumbling Block of Old Thinking
Points to Ponder
The Stumbling Block of Old Thinking
Do you struggle with your comfort zone; perhaps being unaware that it binds you from fully stepping out? Or perhaps you have stepped out - even boldly - but the ties of a past familiarity have tugged you back over the line you previously crossed?
I wonder if that's what happened to the Apostle Peter. Of course, in the gospels we have several well-known examples of Peter getting stuck in his old way of thinking. Right after he correctly identified Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus affirmed that such knowledge was not from men but from God, he blunders in the next verses as he tries to tell Jesus His prophetic teaching on His upcoming suffering and death was wrong (Matthew 16:13-23). Jesus affirms Peter as having a divinely revealed understanding on the one hand and then calls him Satan as his thinking shifts back into "the things of men" rather than the things of God.
After Peter had been with the Risen Christ, he watched Him ascend to heaven and then ten days later experienced the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. That day He preached the gospel to the same crowds who had been witnesses (and supporters) of Jesus' crucifixion fifty days earlier. He looked them in the eye, preached the convicting truth with courage, and 3,000 were saved.
In a similar way, he faced those who conspired to have Jesus crucified (authorities he once had feared); but now with the Holy Spirit in him and the conviction of his calling, he called Jesus the Christ "whom you crucified," and would not back down under the pressure of these community and religious leaders. (Acts 4:1-30).
Peter knew Christ, embraced the call to preach, and was imprisoned and persecuted for it. What courage that had to take! He stepped out of the Judaism of his youth, the traditions with which he had been raised, and saw the higher meaning of it all. Where the old way stood against the movement of God, he boldly said so. By the time we get from Acts 2:41 to Acts 4:4, some 8,000 persons were converted to faith in Jesus Christ.
But when we get to Galatians 2:11-13, we find Paul admonishing Peter "to his face" for his hypocrisy. Peter had begun stepping back into the old customs of earlier times, before he understood that Gentiles were called to salvation just as well as the Jews (Acts 10:44-48). Peter's call was challenged, not by doubt in what was true, but by the subtle pressure of old thinking that does not belong with the new call.
"... 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." (Galatians 2:12-13 NKJV)
First it was the fear of judgment by those Jewish Christians who still believed the laws had to be kept. Rather than live by the truth he knew, Peter compromised himself to appease the critics. And his behavior influenced others, even the much admired Barnabas, to "play the hypocrite" with him. Paul writes: "But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, 'If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.'" (Galatians 2:14-16 NKJV)
Salvation by faith alone, without works of the law is a key element in the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Yet Peter had begun to step back into the old familiar way, to the days when his understanding was not as mature.
(BOLD)Grace and Maturity Come Separately but grow together.
Grace is God's unmerited, unearned favor. He bestows it upon us and then that gift changes us and makes us into vessels that manifest God's presence and power where ever He sends us. Maturity, the strength of understanding and the higher perception of God's wisdom comes with the engagement of that grace in our day to day living. As these two grow within us separately, they do grow together. And as they do, the call of God upon our lives advances and deepens. With each level of new understanding and clearer perceptions of the world from heaven's perspective, there is a challenge to step up. To stay where you were is simpler, easier, and (frankly) comfortable. But is it right?
When we stop at good enough, when we're satisfied with the limits of our current understanding, old thinking can creep in like sprouts of weeds popping up in a freshly planted garden.
Peter was under pressure, surrounded by fellow believers who had not matured in their understanding, of the gospel. Peter slipped back into old ways in order to appease others who had not grown beyond that level. And whom did he serve by doing that? Himself.
He was not being real among the newer believers. He was leading his companions to compromise as well. Was it to honor God, to glorify Christ? No. It was to avoid the discomfort of living out the new level of understanding the gospel, which God Himself had shown him in a vision (see Acts 10). But the old way was easier.
So it is for all of us when God calls us to step up and step out. With true freedom comes sharper discernment, greater responsibility, and new challenges.
Are you trying to live a new day by the standards of old thinking?
This column can be found on the web at: www.fumcl.org. Pastor Whitmore is not affiliated with Picket News, nor does he submit material directly to our publication. We regularly reprint interesting articles found at his public web site and encourage all readers to visit for similar material.
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