2 Kings 4:1-17; Acts 15:1-21; Psalms 141:1-2; Proverbs 29:23
NT: “Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.” After Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this issue… When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.” …After they stopped speaking, James responded, “Brothers, listen to me…. Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God, but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:1-2, 4-11, 13, 19-20 CSB)
Because Jesus was a Jew and His gospel began with the Jews, some legalistic teachers from Judea naturally assumed that in order to be saved, you must first become a Jew. That was not what Paul and Barnabas had experienced on the mission field, so they debated the Judaizers. To settle the matter, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem, where it all began, to get clarity and direction from the Apostles. It appears that in Jerusalem, there were strong opinions on both sides. The counsel of apostles and elders, instead of making a decision, needed to determine what the Lord was doing and come into agreement with that. The determination that they landed on was so key to the success and survival of the church. Was the gospel of the Kingdom exclusively Jewish, or was it trans-cultural? Peter, in his comments, said something quite revolutionary. The Jews would have expected him to say that the Gentiles were saved in the same manner as the Jews – but instead he said that the Jews were saved in the same manner as the gentiles: by grace through faith… that being a strict adherent of the Law of Moses had nothing to do with it. Both Jew and Gentile were infected with sin and could only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Upon hearing all of the testimony, James suggested two requirements and two concessions. The two requirements were that gentiles in the faith had to renounce idol worship and abstain from sexual immorality. The two concessions (so that gentiles would not create a stumbling block for their Jewish brothers and sisters) were for them to not eat meat from animals that had been strangled, or that had blood in it. The apostles agreed with that – and through that determination, the door to the Kingdom of God remained wide open to all who would believe. James said that we should not cause difficulties for those who truly place their faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to tack on extra requirements to becoming citizens of the Kingdom. To be saved, a person doesn’t have to become Jewish first. To be saved, a person doesn’t have to become American. To be saved, a person doesn’t have to become a charismatic Pentecostal… or a Baptist. There are no cultural requirements in the Gospel. The Gospel is trans-cultural and trans-ethnic. If anything, once a person is saved, they should remain in their culture while taking on traits of Kingdom culture. I am so thankful, that instead of trying to decide between two arguments… instead of siding with their cultural bias, the Apostles sought to determine the heart of God and come into agreement with that. In this age of sharp disagreements between two sides of the aisle, we should do the same.