The work of the Holy Spirit
Word of what happened with Peter and Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10) spread to the Christians in Judea. Peter returned to Jerusalem to give a first-hand report. Peter was Jewish, as was the church in Jerusalem, so he knew an explanation would be necessary. Gentiles were outside the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2) and were unclean.
So when Peter arrived, he was criticized: “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” To share a meal meant to share close fellowship. Peter explains what happened. He recounts the vision of animals he saw and God telling him to rise and eat. Peter had objected because the animals were unclean: “By no means Lord; for nothing unclean has entered my mouth.”
The Lord, however, told Peter to no longer call unclean what He have declared clean. This was repeated three times for emphasis. The Lord was not just pointing to animal but to men. Then Peter tells his audience that the Holy Spirit told him to go with messengers to the home of Cornelius. Peter is putting his hearers in his place. This was all God’s direction. It was revealed to him by God. Peter was just following the plain instruction of the Lord.
We should pause here and remember that no one qualifies for or merits salvation. The Gentiles entering the church was challenging to the Jewish believers but very helpful. It magnified that the Lord is rich with grace. It reinforced the gospel. Neither Jew nor Gentile can stand before God on their own righteousness. But all men may have peace with God through Christ.
Peter goes on to tell the assembly that when he spoke to the Gentiles about the way of salvation in Christ, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as on the Jews at Pentecost. Peter rightly concluded, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
The Holy Spirit is prominent in Peter’s report. The Spirit confirms God’s word and spreads the acceptance of God’s word. We can’t live apart from God’s word. It is the Spirit who convicts the heart of sin and need of salvation. It is the Spirit who gives us life.
The Spirit not only convicts, but comforts. He is called the Comforter because he reasons from Christ, that Christ died to reconcile us to God. Therefore if you have Christ, God is at peace with you. The Holy Spirit teaches us to say Abba Father; He gives us understanding that the Father loves the Son, and we are those he gave Christ for. These are sound grounds for our comfort.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to exalt Christ in our hearts. He forms the image of Christ in us. We owe all to God in salvation. The Father gave us the Son, the Son gave his life for us, and the Spirit gives us life and faith in Christ.
After Peter finished his report, his Jewish audience fell silent. Then they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” It is a wonderful thing to be given or granted that which leads to life. Jesus said unless you repent you will perish. There is a road that leads to death.
The Lord commands all men to repent. Jesus said that unless you repent you will perish, so it is a blessed command to hear, for it is the Lord commanding you to turn and live. Repentance begins with being convicted of both God’s glory and of your own sin. It is submitting to the Lord and seeking mercy. If the Lord commands something, he honors it. It refreshes the soul (Psalm 32).
As Christians we are to practice repentance all our days. The Holy Spirit will convict us of particular sins we haven’t seen the offense of clearly before. Or, he will show us sins we have struggled with all along in a new light. We are obliged to pray for the Spirit, rest in Christ for forgiveness, and aim to put to death sin at its root.
There is resistance because sin doesn’t want to die, so don’t be surprised by it. It is like a virus that seeks to thrive and control, resisting the cure. But as you would seek to rid yourself of a disease, so also view sin in this light. The Lord is leading us to what is good and right.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.