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 did not discriminate 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 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 15:7-11
Most Christians don’t understand grace; I know I don’t understand grace most of the time. It’s easy to condemn these Pharisaic Christians in Acts 15, but in their defense, they had never heard of grace. Jesus taught it to the disciples, but these guys had never picked up that teaching.
Grace means that the gift of salvation comes from Christ alone. You mustn’t be circumcised to be saved, you mustn’t be circumcised to remain saved. Paul says in three different places that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. Do you know how HUGE that is? To the Jews, circumcision was everything! They would have said, “my great-grandfather was persecuted/killed/stoned/imprisoned for his circumcision…how dare you say it means nothing!”
But there is a new tradition emerging. Circumcision was the old covenant; Jesus is the new covenant. Loyalty to Christ is the symbol of inclusion in the people of God; He alone is the mark of a believer. That’s easy for most of us Gentiles to swallow, since we’ve never been taught to fiercely defend circumcision. But you could say this about any spiritual practice. “Neither reading the Bible nor not reading the Bible means anything.” “Neither going to church nor not going to church means anything.” “Neither praying nor not praying means anything.” Does that rile you up a little? What does count, then? What must we do to be accepted by God?
That’s where grace comes in. Believe in Jesus. Follow Him. Religion is spelled D-O; God’s way is spelled D-O-N-E. It’s not about you, or what you do. It’s about what Christ has done. Paul is clear in those three passages about what that looks like. He says in all three that circumcision/uncircumcision is meaningless, but:
- “Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” (1 Cor 7:19)
- “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6)
- “what counts is the new creation.” (Gal 6:15)
We must stop focusing on the little actions we think make God love us, and instead focus on the fact that we are already loved and say to the Lord, “I will do whatever it takes to follow Jesus today.” For some that means praying for an hour straight. For others it’s memorizing the Bible. For others it’s joining a church. For most of us, it’s all of the above and more. Don’t pretend to be someone else’s Holy Spirit. Listen to the Spirit and follow Jesus.
Lord, may we live in Your Grace today, not using it as an excuse for sin, but reveling in it as we grow closer to You day by day. Amen!