Tag Archives: deuteronomy 14

Should Christians have rules for holy living? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 5)

2 Nov
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What are the rules for holy living?  If you had to list some rules you have heard, what would you write?  Holiness refers to purity, so maybe you would include rules about avoiding putting anything unclean into your body.  Maybe you would include rules about washing, sanitizing, and purifying the water and air.  Toxicity is a popular concept in society, relating not just to the physical elements, but also to relationships.  Holy living might mean we exclude certain toxic people or media. There is much we could potentially include in a list of rules for holy living.  But should we?  As I am writing to Christians, I am especially wondering if God has rules for Christian holy living. 

This post is number 5 of 5 is a series studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and we have seen that God the father desired the people of Israel to live a holy life, because he treasures them and has their best interest in mind.  If they followed his way of living, they would look very different from people in neighboring nations.  Deuteronomy 14 was all about how different Israel would look in regard to the food they ate.  But does this matter to Christians?  In part 4, we studied the New Testament passages in which God overturned Israel’s food laws for Christians.  For Christians, all food is clean.  Does that mean Christians no longer need to practice holy living? 

To answer that, let’s take a look at what the New Testament writers tell us.  In Matthew 5:48 Jesus teaches, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.” Here Jesus is quoting the Old Testament passages on which Deuteronomy 14 is based, but he is not saying that holiness in God’s Kingdom must look identical to what holy living looked like for Israel.  We know this from Mark 7, which we reviewed in part 4 of this series, when Jesus himself declares a new way of looking at holy living.  What does this new Christian way of holy living look like?  Thankfully, Jesus’ first followers explain it for us.

The Apostle Paul, for example, applies Jesus’ teaching for us when he writes in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

Paul, additionally, in Philippians 2:14-15 takes the concept of holiness and combines with our identification as children of God, which we referred to in part 2 of this series:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

What this means is that the principle of holy living does apply to Christians.  Because of who God is, a holy loving father, and because of what he has done, saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are to live the way he wants us to live.

Loved children of God, we are to be holy like our heavenly father is holy so that many others can become children of God.

So what do Christian holy lives look like?  If it is not about eating certain foods, what do we actually do?  I am not going to try to come up with “Joel’s rules for holiness”.  Instead I encourage you to read what Jesus himself taught, and as you do, you’ll see that Christian holy living is based in love for God and love for one another.

Love is the basis of holiness.  Children of God, you are loved so deeply by your father, that you are free to live the holy life he wants you to live.  Follow him.  Follow his ways.

I would encourage you to discover that holy life on your own.  First, read the teaching of Jesus in the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and as you read, even if it takes you months, prayerfully ask God, “Lord, show me how to live a holy life.”  Then keep a notebook along with you, or maybe a note-taking app on your phone, and record every place where Jesus teaches about what a holy life looks like.  Prayerfully ask him to empower you to live that life.  Then think about the followers of Jesus that you know.  Which ones would you say are attempting to live out the way of Jesus and actually doing well at it.  Ask them to help you live that way.  Get their feedback and advice.

Finally if you know now or discover anew that there is something unclean in your life, and God is speaking to you today to change that, surrender it to him, ask him to take it from you, and see what he will do.  He has the power to transform your life.  But perhaps it has been a struggle for you, for months or years, and you need help.  One amazing thing that God does for his children whom he loves is that he places them in church families to help them.  Don’t keep silent about your struggle.  Talk with someone who can help you. And for freedom from some unclean habits, seek out professional help.  Making progress in holy living is possible!

Must Christians eat kosher? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 4)

1 Nov
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

As I mentioned yesterday, God details his kosher law in his covenant with Israel.  This week we are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and yesterday we looked at the fairly extensive list of animals that God declares clean or unclean for Israel.  But what about Christians?  Are we to apply kosher law to our lives?  Let’s look at a few places in the New Testament that refer to kosher law.

First, Jesus mentions the cleanliness laws in Mark 7:1-23.  Go ahead and read that before continuing here.  What did you notice?  In Deuteronomy 14 we see that it was certain animals that God said made the people unclean.  Things, animals, outside the people made the people unclean.  Jesus flips that and says, “No, it’s what is already inside you that is unclean, and it is revealed when you let it out of your heart.”  See that list of evil actions in Mark 7, verses 21-22?  When you notice those actions coming out of you, that should concern you, Jesus says, not pig’s meat. 

Interesting, then, Mark’s little comment there in verse 19, saying that Jesus declared all foods clean!  Yes, we can eat pork and ham!!! 

Now turn to Acts 10, where at this point, the church is still very new, very Jewish, and very much centered in the city Jerusalem.  They’ve made little inroads outside the borders of Israel, but not much.  Because God’s mission was to reach the whole world, to accomplish that mission those original Christians needed a little push. In the Jewish mindset people were clean if they Jewish and unclean if they were anyone else.  So to this point, maybe 3-5 years old, the church hadn’t taken much initiative to follow Jesus’ command that they were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but to the whole world.  Those original Christians were thinking Jewish. Kosher. 

So God needs to step in and remind them of what Jesus already taught back there in Mark 7.  But here’s a shocker: when God steps in, who does he first reach out to?  A guy who isn’t Jewish and who isn’t Christian!  Read Acts 10:1-8 and see for yourself.  God gives a guy named Cornelius a vision telling Cornelius to find and talk to a guy named Peter.  But Cornelius isn’t a Jew.  Instead he is a Roman Centurion, a soldier, the very people that have persecuted Jews, occupying their land!  Here’s the thing though: Cornelius isn’t your average Roman soldier.  We read that he was actually God-fearing and very generous to the Jews in the area he controlled.  God’s choice, then, to reveal himself to Cornelius is perfect, and we’ll see why as the story unfolds.  God isn’t done!  Read Acts 10:9-16, and you discover that God reaches out to Peter too, also in a vision, and in that vision God specifically refers to the kosher lists in Deuteronomy 14.  It’s quite a dramatic scene, and Peter is shaken to his core.

You see what God is doing?  He is saying, “Peter, all those lists of clean and unclean animals were for a day that has come and gone.  That was kosher thinking.  You are under a new covenant.  I define holiness a different way now.”

Peter should have known this, as he would have heard Jesus talked about it a lot, like the time I mentioned above in Mark 7.  But when you are dealing with a deeply entrenched cultural value, it is hard to see things a new way.   Peter tells God that he had never, ever, in his whole life, eaten something unclean.  I don’t believe Peter is exaggerating. So for Peter to have a vision is shocking enough, but for the message of the vision to be an overturning of the practice of holiness, it seems wrong to Peter.

A few years ago at Faith Church, I had a man from the congregation approach me with an outreach idea.  He was a ballroom dance instructor in his professional life, and he felt that if the church offered beginning dance classes for free to the community, it would be a big hit, and a great way for the church to connect with the community.  He would teach a 4-week series of classes as an experiment.  Inwardly, I doubted his opinion, but I loved his creativity and initiative and said, “Let’s propose the idea to the Outreach Team!”  One of the people on the Outreach Team was extremely concerned with the idea, having a super hard time with the image of dancing in a church fellowship hall.  This person said to me that growing up, there was no dancing allowed in the church.  The perspective was very much like Peter’s, except that while Peter’s was based on actual law, the person in my church grew up with a no-dancing perspective based on tradition.  I responded to the person that it is absolutely okay to dance in a church fellowship hall, that the perspective they grew up with was actually wrong, and further, this was going to be tasteful, classy dancing.  The Outreach Team approved the idea, publicized it to the community, and to my surprise and delight, on the first night, so many couples showed up, we had to turn some away!

Over the next few years, I believe God opened the eyes of some people at Faith Church who grew up in a no-dancing tradition.  In Acts 10-11 God  opened Peter’s eyes too.  At the time, Peter was the leader of the church, and motivated by God’s vision, begins a new initiative pursuing the mission of God to love all people.  God has been using the kosher law as a metaphor, encouraging Peter not only to see that now all foods are clean, but also that all people are clean in God’s eye, “clean” in the sense that God wants Peter and his church to reach out to pagan people like Cornelius.  So for Peter it is now not just okay to eat all foods, but also to share the message of the Good News of Jesus to all people.  You can read for yourself how Peter and the church respond to this shocking news.  What I  want us to consider here is the ramification for our lives.  Because Jesus has reversed the kosher law for us, does that mean we are now free to live however we want?

Jesus himself addressed that question in Matthew 5:48 when he quoted a famous passage in the Old Covenant, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.”   Originally, when he preached that, Jesus was talking to Jews who were still living under the terms of the Old Covenant between God and Israel.  At the time, Jesus himself, had not died and rose again, and thus God had not fully enacted the New Covenant with the Church.  So are we Christians to live holy lives?  Check back in tomorrow to part 5, and we’ll see!

Live as adult children! (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 2)

30 Oct
Photo by Laura Marques on Unsplash

How do you feel about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?  At Faith Church when Mothers and Fathers Days roll around in May and June, we take a cautious approach because we’ve heard from a number of people that these holidays are complicated.  Maybe you know the feeling.  It could be that your earthly mother or father is or was a difficult or abusive person.  Perhaps they were distant.  Sure, we are taught to honor and respect our parents, and we should, but for many, those relationships are fraught with pain.  The result is that seeing God as parent is also difficult for some people. 

This week are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, looking at how God’s list of clean and unclean foods matters to Christians.  (Please read part 1 in the series, where I introduce the chapter by talking about the time some friends offered me the chance to suck eyeballs out of a fish!)  Today, we get started looking at this passage, but before we get into God’s menu, we need to spend time in verse 1: “You are the children of the Lord your God.”  That is a significant statement describing Israel’s relationship to God.  He goes on to tell them that God chose them as his treasured possession.  For those of you who struggle with the concept of God as your heavenly father, I encourage you to allow these verses to settle in to your heart and mind.  Before God gets into his food menu, it is vital that Israel see themselves as loved, children of God.

But isn’t Deuteronomy a record of God’s covenant with Israel?  Yes, it is.  So, doesn’t that mean the concept of Israel as God’s beloved children is for them only?  While Deuteronomy 14 is for Israel, the phrase “children of God” is carried over to the church in the New Testament.  The Apostle John, in particular, enjoys the phrase, using it more than any of the other NT writers. A couple instances are quite famous:

John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

I take it quite seriously if you have a hard time conceiving of God as father, and seeing yourself as son or daughter of God.  If that is painful for you because you have had a difficult relationship with your parents, I don’t belittle that at all.  But given what we have read in Deuteronomy 14 and from the Apostle John, I invite you to read on, as perhaps God wants you to revisit your identification as children of God.

As teenagers and adults, it can be hard for us to see ourselves as children.  For many of us, it has been a long time since we were children.  We forget.  When we were children, many of us longed not to be children.  We wanted to be adults.  Perhaps you’ve long held the perspective that adulthood is superior to childhood, probably based in the truth that most cases maturity is better than immaturity.

A surprising change happens in many adults, though, when they discover within a longing for childhood.  We use the description “adulting” whenever we are acting like adults, often begrudgingly, because life has forced adult-like behavior upon us such as paying bills and getting our car inspected; in short, “adulting” is being responsible.  In the middle of “adulting,” how many of us long for childhood?  But what are we longing for in those moments?  I suspect we miss the effortless days of childhood, when we had freedom from responsibility, leaving many of us adults feeling trapped.

I’d like to propose that the concept of being loved children of God should free us, but not from responsibility.  Instead, when we embrace our identity as the children who God loves, we are free to play.  Writer Marilyn McEntyre taught me this concept in her powerful book, Caring For Words In A Culture of Lies:

“To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks—what we feel we are called to do in the world—with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider, free to say something we might need to take back, free to look stupid in the interests of honesty because there are no grades…there is no competition in the Kingdom of Heaven…Children who feel completely safe and loved are playful.  To play is to live in grace.  And to live in grace is not to ignore the law…but to embrace it as an aid to abundant life.  So in the interests of abundant life, good stewards play.” (196-7)  And “reclaiming an appropriate practice of play is one of the challenges of adulthood.” (202)

Because you are loved children of God, you are free to play.  As McEntyre says, this adult play is not childish or immaturity.  Instead, seeing ourselves as loved children of God is a recapturing of the healthy freedom of children at play.  Because we are so loved by God we can experiment and wonder and also take risks, just like the person who said, “if you’re hanging on for dear life, beloved child of God, let go.”  In other words, trust him, he loves you.  You are free, child of God, so live life to the fullest.  What will that freedom to play look like for you?