Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Last time I wrote about food and the Biblical laws pertaining to which foods were ok and not ok for the Israelites to eat and how those laws apply to our lives. Now, if you read that post, you’ll know that the food laws in particular were actually already repealed by Jesus- twice. The first time can be found in Mark 7:18-19,
“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)
However, the adherence to the Law was so strong that it took Jesus a second time (post-ascension) to make it clear to Peter that all foods were made clean. We read in Acts 10:13-15,
Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
So if you’re wondering about the food laws from Leviticus, don’t fret, there’s no need to worry about what is going into your stomach (unless it has been improperly cooked/stored or is poisoned/expired or you are allergic).
Just as Jesus has declared all foods clean, we too have been made clean by the blood of Jesus (when we accept him into our hearts). For the Word tells us, “And by that will, we have been made holy though the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). So we can see that even though Jesus died 2000 years ago, you can be made clean today since his salvation extends to all from one person (him). Likewise, when you accept Christ, you are made clean forever, for Jesus himself said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). A person cannot lose their salvation, just like the food laws will never be reinstated. So no matter how much a Christian may mess-up in their walk a true believer will never lose their place in heaven. Jesus made note of this to Peter when he was washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:10, “Jesus answered, ‘A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
“Wait, so I can’t lose my salvation no matter what I do? Well yee-haw! It’s time to do all that supposedly bad stuff I’ve always wanted to do!” Whoa, whoa! Hold on there! While it is true that “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:11); and we’re already considered clean, that does not meant that we should open the floodgates of sin in our lives since we have eternal security. Paul wrote a great deal on this topic. In fact, large parts of his ministry were focused on Christians living lives largely without sin. Paul made his stand on the issue of morality after heavenly cleansing like this, “’Everything is permissible for me’-but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’- but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Although he was cleansed by Christ, Paul realized that though he may be able to live however he’d like, there was little to gain by doing so. Take for example varied forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV, and music. Jesus said that anything that goes into us will not make us unclean before God. That means if I want to watch movies about sex and violence or listen to music with explicit lyrics I’m free to do so. However, it may not be beneficial for me to do so. Consider this; Jesus declared all foods ceremonially clean. Therefore I can ingest whatever I feel like and I will still go to heaven. However, if what I am ingesting is rotten, I am still going to get sick- ceremonially clean or not. Likewise, we have been declared clean, but that doesn’t mean that everything will have a good effect on our lives (either here or in heaven).
Consider Solomon, the wise king of Israel. He tried everything he could possibly think of, even though he was probably already going to heaven. During his search of earthly pleasures, he did it all. He tried learning: “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). He tried drinking:
I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly- my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives (Ecclesiastes 2:3).
He tried building: “I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-5). He even tried buying people and getting them to mate (kinky and now illegal): “I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me” (Ecclesiastes 2:7). Solomon also tried to find pleasure through money and using said money to indulge in women- lots of women: “I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well- the delights of the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes 2:8). But after all of his testing and trying (with which he goes into details throughout the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes) he came to the same conclusion every time,
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).
Although Solomon had free reign to do whatever (and whoever- the guy had a ton of wives and concubines) he wanted, he realized that anything that was done outside of God’s will was meaningless and a waste of time. You too, though you are pronounced clean, should take the advice of someone who has been there and done that (many many times), if it’s outside of God’s way, you’re better off doing something else. And so again Paul sticks his head in and reminds us, “’Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Although you are made clean by the blood of Jesus, do not use this new cleanliness to indulge in that which is impure. Sin is still sin and it will affect your relationship with God, it will affect your life, and it can affect what your life in heaven will be like. Don’t believe me? Check out Psalms 62:11-12,
One thing God has spoken,
Two things I have heard:
That you, O God, are strong,
And that you, Go Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
According to what he has done.
If you live a life of sin after being saved, don’t be surprised when you get to heaven and find out that you’re not getting much more than eternal life up there. And keep in mind, what you do here only lasts a span of so many years, but in heaven, you’re stuck with what you get forever. Paul tells the young pastor Timothy,
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:18-20).
After being saved, don’t live like the world does, you’ve been called out of the world. Paul writes,
You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in the true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
This is why all of the pastors are constantly encouraging you to do good. They are not just stuffed shirts or legalists, but caring people who want you to have the best life both here and beyond. I know of many well-meaning parents who clamp down on their children for this particular reason, they are trying to protect them from the desires of the world that do nothing more than distract and impair (though sometimes keeping things too tight causes problems as well).
There is more though, as Christians, we are called to help others learn of Jesus’ saving grace. However, if we’re living in sin it’s a little hard to put up a strong case. This is why Peter tells us to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). By sinning while under God’s grace, we’re hurting our own ability to save others, and therefore risk the lives of other people with our decisions. To this end, Paul wrote,
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall (Romans 14:20-21).
Paul would rather deny himself in this life (though all things are ok for him) than to risk those around him going to hell. The writer of Psalms 119 was proud to say,
I will speak of your statutes before kings
And will not be put to shame,
For I delight in your commands
Because I love them (Psalms 119:46-47).
There are multiple things to take note of in this passage. First of all, because the writer is living according to the instructions of God, he is protecting himself from being put to public shame. This also means that his testimony about the Lord is strong and impossible for those he instructs to find fault in it. However, also notice that he speaks of talking before kings. When you live a Godly life, the Lord will upgrade your status not only in heaven, but on earth as well. So don’t use your freedom in Christ as an excuse for sin, but instead use it as an opportunity for great gain in the Lord.
Can you eat that? Of course you can, my friend. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Instead, we should live our lives as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1,
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.