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In Acts chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas preached a compelling message that salvation was a gift available for all, and circumcision was not a requirement.
In the Law of Moses, circumcision was a religious duty. Genesis 17:14, of the English Standard Version, wrote, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14, ESV).
As a book of the Old Testament, Genesis spoke of the required Law before Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. It told what God’s people needed to do to be right with God. And it ultimately revealed how we as human beings could never measure up to or fulfill the Law by our own accord.
But when Jesus came to our earth as a baby, grew up as a carpenter, and saved the people from their sins through His death on the cross, we see that Jesus died for all by fulfilling the Law.
It can be confusing to see the value of the Law without valuing the Law above the one who created it.
It can be a challenge to understand that a relationship with Jesus is more important than a list of rules and regulations, but obedience to His Word is still detrimental to our faith.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, English Standard Version).
Jesus died for all, circumcised or not, and we are saved by His grace alone. As sinners in a fallen world, His grace is the undeserved mercy and love that we do not deserve.
Jesus died because we could not fulfill every measure of the Law, not because we could.
Yet the religious sect in Acts 15 believed that circumcision and obedience led to salvation. They believed, in a sense, that we could work our way up through the Law to His righteousness.
“While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:1-11, New Living Translation).
I am not sure if you caught it, but while the Pharisees claimed salvation required circumcision, Paul and Barnabas said such a claim was a yoke and burden never meant to bear.
“But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue” (Acts 15:5-6, New Living Translation).
Why Are You Challenging God?
But Paul said, “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear” (Acts 15:10, New Living Translation).
And unfortunately, like the Pharisees, I too have placed burdens and yokes on myself that God never asked me to carry.
Maybe at times, I have even placed these unrealistic expectations on others.
But more than anything, I cannot stop thinking about how so many people, including myself, apply this principle to salvation and God’s love.
His Law Or His Love?
Because the truth is, even though I got saved at eight-years-old, I still overthink and stress and worry.
I believe lies about proving my worth and doing X, Y, Z to prove myself to God.
But Jesus came because we, nor our ancestors, could bear such things.
He Never Asked
Jesus never asked me to kill myself with productivity and busyness but rest in Christ alone.
He never asked me to do; He asked me to be.
He never asked me to be perfect in the sense of worldly perfection here on earth; He asked me to be perfect as my Father is in Heaven (striving for eternal perfection that will not be fully achieved until I reach that place; Matthew 5:48).
He never asked me to have the best body, sexy six-pack, and flat stomach 24/7; He asked me to be strong in the Lord and recognize that my body is a Temple and I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He never asked me to be King of my life, Queen of control, and worry every second about things I cannot control or predict; He asked me to trust Him when my eyes do not see (Matthew 6:34).
He never even asked me to make myself worthy of love; He asked me to receive it (1 John 4:19).
Yet I Do
Yet, in all of these things, I still do every single one.
I am a Pharisee with bonds and yokes to myself.
I try to prove my worth by what I do.
I strive for worldly perfection when I should look toward my Heavenly home.
I lurch for control as if it will satisfy me.
I try to make myself worthy of love.
But I long to be set free, and Jesus sets me free.
That is why His Word says in Matthew 11:28-30 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
His yoke is to be one with Him.
His burden is to lay down your life and cares in exchange for His.
Because He is peace, joy, life, and rest.
And when we are yoked to Him, the burden tastes like freedom and looks like living.
We all need His help to believe these things.
We Are Saved
Over 2,000 years ago, salvation came by the grace of Jesus Christ and not what we do. Today, salvation comes by that merciful, redeeming love.
I am loved as I am, yet God loves me too much to leave me as I am.
We Are In Need
And we are all sinners desperately in need of a Savior.
I am Gomer, the prostitute, guilty before her husband, but He pursues me anyway.
He says, “Come as you are. I see you. I forgive you. I know you, and yes, I still want and desire you. Not to use you. Not to make you prove yourself to me, or buy back your worth. Not even to pay a fee or sell yourself to be free. I want you no matter what you have done or ever will do, free of charge. I have bought you with an everlasting price, triple the cost. Won’t you pledge yourself to me?”
And no matter how many times I run back to those yokes and those burdens, those brothels, sins, or lovers, He runs after me.
No matter how many times I choose an activity, obsession, or person over Him, He still loves me the same and runs recklessly after my heart.
You Are A Miracle
Because while Paul and Barnabas told the crowds about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through the Gentiles, a group of people the Pharisees tried to steal or stop from salvation, I am compelled to think about the miraculous sign and wonder He has done through saving me.
Every time I ran back to my eating disorder.
Every time I ran back to exercise over Him.
Every time I ran back to productivity over presence.
Every time I ran back to religion over relationship.
Every time I ran to my friends or family instead of Him.
Every time I doubt His trust and love.
Every time I still do.
But He whispers to me, “I am still here chasing after you with Hosea’s kind of love. You are Gomer. You are not fallen Israel. You are not who people have told you you need to be. You are not even the lies and standards you have told yourself you need to uphold. You are Sarah. You are Gomer redeemed. I am waiting on you, and I always will be. You are the miracle I made. We are the remnants of the House of David restored. We are the rebuilt ruins so that others may seek Him fully” (Acts 15:10-16).
You Are His
Because we are His, and He is ours.
He is mine (Acts 15:17-18).
And while obeying God’s Word is still crucial, it is not through obedience salvation arises, but His undeserving mercy and grace lavished upon each of us (Acts 15:19-21).
His grace is not a free pass to keep running back to our sin.
His grace is not a reason to cling to your old life.
His grace is undue compassion and love.
It is up to us to accept and receive it.
That is all He ever asked of us.
And it is all He ever will.