Grace? or added law?
Scripture reading for June 23rd: Acts 15:1-31
The church today is sometimes affected by legalism. Well-meaning Christians, pastors, and leaders try to define holiness by developing rules or traditions that help them summarize what pleases God. In early days, this confused people and often caused conflict and division. Most of the early church members were Jews and had a history of keeping the Law of God. These new believers struggled to know how to balance keeping the law with salvation by faith through grace!
“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1) This teaching brought sharp debate in the early church and Paul and Barnabas were appointed to go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders to discuss this question. They had seen God pour out His Spirit on uncircumcised Gentiles in many places where they were sent by the Holy Spirit to preach and disagreed with this teaching.
At Jerusalem, this conflict was found to be simmering as well. There were believers who came from the party of the Pharisees who agreed that the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses. (Acts 15:5) The apostles and elders gathered for discussion and Paul got up and addressed them. He noted that God accepted the Gentiles and poured out the Holy Spirit on them without their keeping of the Law. God purified their hearts by faith, not by law-keeping! In fact, no Jew was ever able to keep the Law and be justified by that work! (Acts 15:8-12)
James spoke up in agreement, citing the Old Testament prophet Amos as confirming Paul’s word to them. “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20) This seemed good to the elders and apostles and the Holy Spirit, so they sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to share the ruling.
Salvation by grace alone was then taught by the early church. Adding law would not be allowed to hinder people from coming to Christ from a Gentile background. Are you trusting in Christ alone for salvation?