Acts 15:5-11 (NIV)
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
It didn’t take much time in the Jerusalem Council for the battle lines to be drawn. The question was raised, and the Pharisees among the Christians stood and declared that only Jews could be saved by Jesus. Thus, if a gentile wanted salvation, they first had to convert, be circumcised, and commit to obeying the entire law of Moses.
The apostles and elders then met to consider the matter and all the arguments on both sides. But in the end, it was not the persuasive qualities of any argument that won the day. Instead, it was the Spirit-given wisdom of Simon Peter.
As the discussion moved forward, Peter’s mind went back to the meeting with Cornelius and his whole circle (Acts 10). It was a meeting orchestrated by God and held entirely at His command.
Peter remembered how, right in the midst of his presentation of Jesus’ story, the Holy Spirit had unmistakably fallen on the whole crowd in the house, demonstrating that they had successfully crossed over from death to life through faith in the Savior he was presenting to them. Over the next two days, days he spent living with those new converts and teaching them, he had grown convinced beyond any doubt that their salvation was genuine, and that the Holy Spirit had purified their hearts through faith.
Peter also remembered how he had fought back at that time against accusations that it had been improper for him to have taken the gospel to gentiles, to say nothing of his staying in their house and eating their unclean food (Acts 11:1-18). The hard-core Judaizers had accepted his testimony of God’s work then, and he reminded them of that in his testimony now.
The core of Peter’s argument was that no one, not even the Pharisees, had ever been able to earn salvation through obedience to the law. Instead, even the staunchest Pharisee had only found salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus. And if they couldn’t be saved by “being Jews,” why make the gentiles jump through useless hoops that militated against rather than promoted faith in the grace of Jesus.
Father, we still haven’t grown past this. All too frequently, rather than sharing Jesus with people who seem to be far from him and encouraging salvation through faith in Him and Him alone, we try to encourage people to clean up their lives first, to quit drinking, or smoking, or gambling, or whatever vice or dysfunction is evident in their lives BEFORE they can come to Jesus for salvation. But we forget that You can clean up a life through salvation and the baptism with the Holy Spirit far more effectively than any rules or self-improvement program we could ever devise. Help us always to remember the order in which You do things: repentance, faith in Jesus, and then transformation, and not try to change that order through our own efforts. Amen.
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