When I notice something that bothers me in Church, or with other believers, it’s good to ask a question first: Is this a salvation issue or is it just a preference issue?
Christians are commanded not to judge others, but in a sense we do need to be able to judge for ourselves the non-negotiable territory is. According to scripture, that line in the sand is where grace becomes legalism, and we start to do things because we think it will add anything to what Jesus has already done.
In Acts 15, some Jewish men from Jerusalem came to the church at Antioch and started teaching that it was necessary for gentile believers to be circumcised in order to be saved.
When the apostles got wind of what was being taught, they were very concerned and had a serious debate. They all then decided to have a meeting with the church in Jerusalem to clarify what the truth was and ensure all churches around were teaching the same thing.
These men from Jerusalem are likely Jewish converts to Christianity who were part of the Pharisees’ group. Pharisees were known for being extremely devoted to the law of Moses and keeping everyone else around them accountable for their transgressions of the law.
In the mind of these men, the significance of circumcision was a no-brainer. Circumcision, had been commanded by God to Abraham (see Genesis 17), and was meant to be an outward sign of being under God’s covenant. Any male not circumcised was cut off from the Israelites. It was natural that they assumed any command which had been an undisputed symbol of faith for thousands of years would follow through into the age of the new covenant.
However, that assumption revealed a very basic misunderstanding of what Jesus did on the cross. By requiring human effort for salvation, the implication is that Jesus’s work was not enough. This is directly contrary to the Gospel.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
Not every issue is a salvation issue. Throughout God’s word we see many examples of things that are not a matter of salvation, but what is right or wrong is left up to the believers on a personal or local level to decide. That’s the freedom Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 10:23: “‘Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up.’
To illustrate, consider the question of alcohol. Some Christians avoid it entirely out of deep conviction. Some feel comfortable in partaking. Who is right?
Either way, there is a conviction of conscience to make a personal decision regarding drink. And both can bring glory God in their own ways.
The teaching that Jesus + [fill in the blank] saves, totally undermines the whole message of the Gospel. It’s the freedom we have to be under Grace – but it does not figure into whether we are saved or not. We must understand we are saved by faith alone by the grace of God. Not the grace of God, plus our own power.