In Acts 10:45, when Luke notes that the Holy Spirit was poured out “even on the Gentiles,” he is emphasizing the shocking inclusivity of the Gospel. The notion that God’s grace would be available to someone other than the chosen people was scandalous. Yet Peter taught them that it would be wrong to withhold baptism from these people whom God has so scandalously chosen to include in the circle. Later (Acts 11:18), this is confirmed when the church leaders in Jerusalem accept the reality of the Spirit’s inclusiveness.
The practical implication is, we need to be very careful about excluding others.
But Jesus excluded others, didn’t he? I remember him saying somewhere that only he was the way to get to God, right?
When Jesus said, “I am the way,” that is what he meant. Him – and only him. I have no problem whatsoever saying “Jesus is the way.” But Jesus did not meant that Andy Bryan’s way is the way to God or that Jerry Johnston’s way is the way to God or anyone else’s way other than Christ himself. How dare we try to limit who Jesus is by saying that only OUR way is the way! How dare we use Jesus as the bouncer at the door of the Divine Discothèque (idea from Donald Miller?). When we say, “You can’t come into our club because you are not doing things Jesus’ way,” we are presuming that our way and Jesus’ way are one and the same, and that is a very big presumption to make.
So as far as it depends on me, I err on the side of inclusiveness.
So, you are just saying “anything goes” – whatever anyone does or thinks or says is okay no matter what?
No. Inclusiveness does not mean “anything goes.” I have never met anyone who thinks that “anything goes.” Even people who may say “anything goes” do not think that everything goes. For me, hatred, violence, prejudice, greed, reality television, etc. most definitely do not “go.” When I see these things, I am going to speak out against them.
But my speaking out is conditional, based only on my limited, fallible, “in a glass darkly” kind of knowledge of God as revealed to me in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. All I can say is, “I believe that my way is as close to Jesus’ way as I can get at this time in this place.” I would never dream of equating my way directly with Jesus’ way objectively and for all time. How could I possibly know that? That kind of knowledge is the venue of God, not me.
There are enough stories in the Bible (Acts 10 – 11 included) in which the lead characters are scandalized by how broadly God’s grace extends, that I simply cannot try to narrow it’s scope in any way. It is always amazing, shocking, and even scandalous to witness the power of God’s grace at work. And when I see it, I can either respond like the Pharisees did with Jesus or the believers did with Peter – either refuse to acknowledge it and militantly defend my personal perspective as the only option or shake my head in amazement and accept the undeniable truth that God’s ways are mysterious and wonderful to behold.
And Gentiles are thankful, because we are the ones who have been included. Relationship with God is a covenant, and it is a relationship that was not offered to Gentiles first. It belonged to the Hebrew people long before we ever came on the scene. How important is it to understand that when Peter’s peers say, “Even on the Gentiles?” they are talking about US! It was the Jews that God chose to be in covenant with, and we have access to this relationship only through the person of Jesus. If God’s grace was not scandalously inclusive, we ourselves would be excluded from it.
John 15 reminds disciples that we were chosen by Christ, and not the other way around. It is Christ’s job to do the choosing, not ours. To try to choose on behalf of Christ is to limit the scandalously inclusive power of God. Ours is but to simply let God be God, while we do our best to be God’s children.