LIFE IN THE SPIRIT: Acts—Week 5 (Paradigms and Prejudices)

Acts 8:26-40; 10:1-11:18

We are in a study of the book of Acts, focusing on the Person of the Holy Spirit—a co-equal Member of the Godhead with the Father and the Son—and how He empowered, inspired, led, and molded ordinary men and women into a movement that turned the world upside down, and how He continues to do so today.  Last week we examined how the Holy Spirit works to transform us from the inside out, bringing lasting change that impacts not only us, but also influences our community for Christ.  This week we will examine how this transformative work of the Holy Spirit—a process we call sanctification—changes our paradigms and breaks down our prejudices.

A paradigm is an example, model, or pattern for living.  Our paradigms are often influenced by our parents, our upbringing, our culture, and our experiences.  Such was also the case for the Jewish men and women who were the first followers of Jesus.  As Jews, their way of life and views about God and others were shaped by the Law and Prophets, the extra-biblical writings of prominent rabbis, the trauma of the Babylonian exile, and the oppression they faced at the hands of the Romans.  In his Word, God had established a paradigm for the nation of Israel—a way of living that was to set them apart as His chosen people and to shape them into a beacon of hope and truth to the pagan nations that surrounded them.  Unfortunately, God’s paradigm for Israel had become polluted over time.  In reaction to some of the events outlined above, and in an over-correcting effort to protect the people from falling once again into idolatry, the religious leaders of the day led the people away from God’s paradigm and into racial and cultural prejudice.  In this week’s passages, we see the Holy Spirit quickly moving in the hearts of the leaders of the early Church to address these prejudices.

In the stories of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and Peter and Cornelius, we see the Holy Spirit breaking down the artificial barriers to salvation that existed in the early Church because of past prejudices.  We see Him establishing a new paradigm—salvation is available for all who would believe.  This new paradigm is reinforced frequently throughout the New Testament.  In Eph. 2:11-22, Paul tells us that the cross tore down the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles.  In Gal. 3:28, Paul goes even further in attacking the old prejudices that had been established declaring that there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and male nor female.  We are all equal heirs in Christ Jesus.  In inspiring Paul to pen these letters, the Holy Spirit is declaring that there is a new paradigm in Christ—a new way of viewing others, our culture, and our world.  The gospel is to be our new paradigm.

While this new gospel paradigm should certainly be applied to dealing with racial prejudices, we would be remiss if we limited the scope of this new paradigm to race.  It is so much more than that.  Consider Christ’s charge to His disciples in Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8—they were to make disciples of all nations and carry the gospel message of reconciliation to the ends of the earth.  Yet, it took a supernatural intervention by God to get them to confront the disobedience and prejudice in their hearts.  Despite Christ’s commands, they had determined a whole class of people were unworthy of the gospel, and they had to repent of that attitude.  If we’re not careful, we can slip into the same sort of prejudice.  While the prejudice may not be based on race or ethnic origin, it is nevertheless antithetical to the gospel for us to determine that someone is unworthy of the message of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us, whether such determination is done consciously or subconsciously.  We must always be on guard against allowing the gospel paradigm to become the basis of prejudice, where we so separate ourselves from the world that we also become separated from our mission field.


  1. What are some common cultural paradigms (it might be helpful think of the term stereotype or world view)?  What are some of the negative paradigms or prejudices that might have infiltrated the Church?
  2. How does the new paradigm of the gospel change how we view the culture and others?  What does it look like for us to live out the gospel in each and every interaction we have with others?
  3. One of the hardest things for us to do as believers is to be separate and holy yet actively engaging the culture with the gospel message.  What lessons can we learn from this week’s passages?  What positive steps can we take to maintain this balance?