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Letting Go of the Old Rules

An Advent reflection for Tuesday, December 12th by Ruth Zschoche

Lectionary reading for 12/12/2023: Psalm 27, Isaiah 4:2-6, Acts 11:1-18

Selected passage for reflection: Acts 11:1-18


Acts 11:1-18 Amplified Bible

Now the apostles and the believers who were throughout Judea heard [with astonishment] that the Gentiles also had received and accepted the word of God [the message concerning salvation through Christ]. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision [certain Jewish believers who followed the Law] took issue with him [for violating Jewish customs], 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and [even] ate with them!”

4 But Peter began [at the beginning] and explained [the events] to them step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision of an object coming down from heaven, like a huge sheet being lowered by the four corners; and [it descended until] it came right down to me, 6 and looking closely at it, I saw all kinds of the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air [both clean and unclean according to the Law], 7 and I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not at all, Lord; for nothing common (unholy) or [ceremonially] unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

9 But the voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed and pronounced clean, no longer consider common (unholy).’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And right then the three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without the slightest hesitation. So these six brothers also went with me and we went to the man’s house. 13 And Cornelius told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send word to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 he will bring a message to you by which you will be saved [and granted eternal life], you and all your household.’

15 When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as He did on us at the beginning [at Pentecost]. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So, if God gave Gentiles the same gift [equally] as He gave us after we accepted and believed and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ [as Savior], who was I to interfere or stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified and praised God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to eternal life [that is, real life after earthly death].”


I grew up in the legalistic, Christian culture of the “don’ts.” Not only did I not do the things that I shouldn’t, but I judged (unfairly) those who did do them. These past few years have been a season of great transformation for me. Part of this transformation has been the understanding that I have known about Jesus, but I didn’t really know Him. I thought I knew Him. This time of transformation has been about unlearning many things I was taught. Don’t misunderstand. I was taught that Jesus loved me and died for my sins. But that was overshadowed with the manufactured rules that kept me doing what I thought would be pleasing to God.

This is where we come into Peter’s story in Acts 10 and 11. Understanding that the Pharisees of the Gospels were ultimate rule followers is helpful. Many of the rules they followed were attempts at helping the Jewish people follow God’s direction and live within His covenant. But over time these rules became their religion. They became so focused on the small things, micromanaging everyone’s lives, that they missed the most important thing. God’s great love for them and His desire to have a relationship with them.

In Acts 11 Peter is defending himself to the “circumcised “believers, telling the story of how God appeared to Him through a vision showing him that the old rules and traditions are no longer valid. Peter told God “No” three times and each time God repeated what He had spoken. What was this message? The message was that Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t just for the Jews. It was also for the Gentiles.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19)

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus had told Peter and the other disciples that they were to share the wonderful news with all peoples, in all nations. But they were still holding onto the old rules and traditions.

Slowly, I am letting go of the old rules I thought I was supposed to follow. I am learning that God loves me and desires a relationship with me. He doesn’t need me to do for Him by following the rules I thought would make me a good Christian. There is great freedom in this knowing Jesus relationship. My life is now one of doing out of obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Lord delights in me and wants me to know Him, not just know about Him.


What about you? Do you know Jesus? Or do you just know about Jesus?

Spend some time in prayer as Peter did, asking the Lord to show you where you might be holding fast to old rules and traditions.

Ask Him to show you His great love for you and to open your heart to a full relationship with Him.


“Lord, give me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to You my God.

Many will see what You have done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in You.

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.

Now that You have made me listen, I finally understand.

You don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.

I take joy in doing Your will, my God,

For Your instructions are written on my heart.” (Psalm 40:3,6,8)

About The Author

Ruth loves her time as a Spiritual Director. She delights in holding space and walking alongside those who are listening for God’s movement in their lives. She is mom to one son, a daughter-in-love and Omi to two beautiful granddaughters. She enjoys running, hiking, biking, swimming, reading, playing the piano and praising God in the beautiful Colorado mountains.


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melanie myatt
melanie myatt
Dec 13, 2023

Ruth, this is such a good distinction! Why is it so hard for us to claim the freedom that Jesus offers us? Why do we want there to be rules and exclusions? That is not what Jesus taught us. Thank you for sharing so personally about your own journey!

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