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One of the most exciting events in the New Testament is the story in Acts chapter 10 of Peter's conversion from a dedicated Jew to a preacher of the Gospel to all people.
The story began when God told Cornelius, a gentile leader in the Roman army, to send for Peter, who would have a message for him. Meanwhile, God sent a vision to Peter, telling him to violate the law of Moses by eating foods the Jews were forbidden to eat. Peter objects saying, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15 NIV). Peter later summarized his vision from God and his visit to Cornelius by saying, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
What an incredible and unique teaching that is. In Acts 11, the early Christians had a hard time accepting the idea that Jews were no longer God's only people. Jesus had eradicated all the racial, ethnic, financial, and nationalistic barriers that separate humans from one another.
Paul's entire ministry involved bringing the Gospel of Christ to people who had previously been rejected because they were not “Abraham's seed.” In Galatians 3:28-29 Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Every religious system outside of Christianity has taught the opposite of this. Religious wars rip and tear at the fabric of humanity. Even atheism, which is a religion, has turned to politics as a substitute for God, resulting in political teachings that persecute religion and generate war and civil strife. We see that in Russia and China as well as other countries.
The skeptical response is to say that history does not support what the Bible says. Religious wars, inquisitions, cultural violence, and segregation have all been done in the name of Christianity. Jesus knew that human greed and power struggles would oppose what he taught. “For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. … and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, …” (Matthew 24:5-12). Religion has been a tool of men and women in whom have “the increase of wickedness.” Greed, arrogance, selfishness, and pride have brought great suffering and violence. All of those actions, including the Crusades, were done in contradiction to what Jesus taught and what the Bible teaches.
So how does this apply to me? God is the equalizer. Just as Cornelius was as important as any Jew, and as Christ made us all “Abraham's seed,” I am important to God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 gives a list of sinful lifestyles in which many of us have been involved. 1 Corinthians 11 ends that list by saying, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We do a lot of work in prisons. One of the hardest biblical teachings for prisoners to accept is that they are justified by Christ. I have frequently baptized a prisoner and had them stand still after being baptized, not willing to step back into the prison world. Just as my computer justifies this page making the margins line up, so too does becoming a Christian make us line up so that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). John 3:16 states it clearly “God so loved THE WORLD …” [not just the theologian, or the preacher, or the missionary, but every human in the planet] “… that he gave his one and only Son that WHOEVER …” [no racial, political, ethnic, sexual, educational, social, or physical limits of any kind] “… believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How could it be any clearer?
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying, that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.” Paul, who calls himself “the worst,” was still of value to God. In Romans 7:14-25, Paul describes his struggle with sin. He ends that discussion by saying, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). 1 John 1:5-10 tells us that we have value if we are “walking in the light” and that the blood of Christ actively keeps us in a saved relationship with God. Walking in the light simply means living as a Christian, which we can all do, even though we will not do it perfectly.
There are no rituals, no pilgrimages, no sacred places, no power structure for us to maneuver. There are no levels of achievement, no roles, no educational levels required. There is nothing to suggest that a person is too weak or born into the wrong situation or has too bad of a past to start walking in the light. Romans 6 describes the change that can happen in any human being who believes in God and is baptized to wash away his or her sins. We are all a part of the world that God so loved that he sent his Son. That makes every one of us valuable in God's sight.
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Cover photos put together by Roland Earnst.
Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.