Last week, I asked the question:
Must the Christian Jew continue to follow those laws that were intended to identify the Jews as distinct from the rest of the world? Does the Christian Jew need some sort of external practice or mark to identify Him as chosen by God?
To answer that question, I turn to a passage that is often (incorrectly) applied to the question of the New Testament believer’s obligation to follow the Old Testament dietary law: Acts 10.
In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter has a vision in which a sheet comes down from heaven filled with all sorts of unclean animals. A voice sounds in Peter’s ear, enjoining him to kill and eat. Peter, a devout Jew and law-keeper, declares “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” But the voice rebukes him, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
Often, this passage is given as a proof text for the acceptability of, say, bacon for the New Testament believer. But this isn’t how Peter (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) interprets his vision. Peter interprets his vision as a call to him as a Jew to not keep himself separate from Gentiles. Huh? That seems very strange, except for what the Holy Spirit said to Peter immediately after the vision.
While Peter was contemplating his vision, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, telling him that three men are seeking him. The Holy Spirit directed Peter to “accompany them, making no distinction” (Acts 10:20 ESV-alternate translation).
Why is this directive so unique? It is because the three men in question are Gentiles, the people the Jews were supposed to be distinct from.
Yet the Holy Spirit tells Peter that now is not the time for making distinctions. Why not?
I believe the answer is found at the end of the chapter:
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Something unique happened here among the Gentiles, something that set them apart from all the other Gentiles, something that identified them with the Jewish believers in a way circumcision and rule following could not. The Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit.
All that the laws of distinction had been intended to provide, to point forward to, were now fulfilled as the indwelling Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentile believers.
While circumcision was an outward mark to indicate one’s identity within God’s covenant and obedience to the external laws of the first covenant, the Holy Spirit circumcised the hearts of the physically uncircumcised, indicating their new identity as partakers in the new covenant and signifying the obedience of Christ on their behalf.
There was no longer a need to make distinction between Jew and Gentile. Another distinction had been made, one that far superseded the shadow of the Old Testament law of distinction.
A new group of people was being called out, from both the circumcised and the uncircumcised, a group marked by a new identity, completely distinct from those around them. These were the chosen of God, bought by the blood of Christ, sealed by His Holy Spirit.
The laws of distinction had been fulfilled and could now pass away. Just as, once the Ultimate Sacrifice of Christ was complete, there no longer remained any sacrifice for sin; so, once the Ultimate Distinctive of the Holy Spirit’s seal had been made, there no longer remains any laws of distinction.
The dietary laws are complete, fulfilled in Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and the receipt of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The New Testament believer, whether Jew or Gentile, need not bind himself to a law that has already been completed.