Acts 15:1-21; Joshua 23-24; Job 32
Perhaps you’ve been in one of those meetings. The boss is discussing the performance of the company. One area is lagging and he, or she is encouraging those in attendance to pick up the pace and then the new kid on the block, the one most recently hired, or promoted to management asks the dreaded question: “Why are we doing things this way?” The meeting falls silent as those engaging in side conversations cease talking. People who were texting put their phones down. All eyes turn to this newbie who obviously doesn’t understand the corporate culture. The more sympathetic ones put their hands over their faces and wait for the boss’s predictable response: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” The icy glare from the boss lets newbie know that those words end all discussion.
Those words: “We’ve always done it that way before” (a variant of the above, of course) have been said to be the seven last words of any church. Businesses will die also if they don’t re-examine their procedures in light of the new situations they face. The early church had a similar problem once the gospel started spreading among the Gentiles. Some of the Pharisees, who had come to faith in Christ, were upset when they saw Gentiles trying to claim a special relationship with God, without undergoing circumcision. It seemed prudent to them to point out to the Gentile Christians how God had always worked before. They took a trip to Antioch and tried to help the Gentiles see the error of their ways. Paul and Barnabas disputed them, so, a little before A.D. 50, they all went down to Jerusalem to discuss this. Paul described his point of view: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors 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.” (Acts 15:10-11)
The idea that Gentiles could experience the same grace that Jews experienced was a sticking point in the early church. The Jews had grown up with the understanding that they were God’s chosen people and that the covenant with God was sealed by circumcision. First Peter, and now Paul and Barnabas, were working with Gentiles who claimed to have a relationship with God, without THE sign of God’s choosing. That’s the way God had always worked. They believed, though, that God would always work that way and the evidence was proving them wrong. Paul and Barnabas related at the Jerusalem conference how God had given His Holy Spirit to Gentiles and all the signs and wonders that He had done. The conference was a tense moment in the development of the church and any decision would have long lasting effects. The final pronouncement was clear: Gentiles would be accepted as full members of the Church without circumcision. They were expected to avoid idolatry and any of the practices associated with idolatry – which makes sense.
Christians become Christians by the grace of God. That’s as true today as it was during the days of Paul and Barnabas. We can’t do anything to secure our relationship with God. “Grace and ….” Is not grace. If we are growing in Christ, though, we will yield to His Spirit daily, letting Him take control of our lives. One of our problems is that we’ve always made it a point to tell others how they need to live if they are Christians. While well meaning, perhaps it associates some kind of actions to gaining grace with God. As we move forward, we can’t do it that way anymore: we need to love them and trust God to work in them, molding them into His people. I kinda figure the Holy Spirit is better at that than me.
Oh Lord, remind me that it is all about Your grace. Change me, in Your grace, so that my life reflects Your love to others. I pray that Your Spirit would work in all Your followers so that our lives would all do that.