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 territories. 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 addition to believing in Christ. 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 the true teaching and ensure that all Christian churches were teaching the same thing.
The men from Jerusalem were 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.
“Those of the sect of the Pharisees who believed made a critical mistake. They looked at Israel’s history under the law with eyes of nostalgia, not truth. If they had carefully and truthfully considered Israel’s failure under the law, they would not have been so quick to also put Gentiles under the law” (Guzik).
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 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.
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 partaking. But who is right?
When the early Church struggled with consuming food that had been offered to idols, Paul offered this wisdom in Romans:
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him…
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.”
(Romans 14:1-3; 20 ESV emphasis mine)
If there is a conviction of conscience to make a personal decision over the way one does certain things, and it is done without sin and true devotion, it can surely bring glory to God in its own way.
Reflect: The thing to remember is that we are saved by the mercy and hand of God who gifted us the measure of faith we needed to believe. Our righteousness is not our own. No measure of good behavior or abstention can make any sort of dent in the work that was already done.
Journal: How has a certain conviction of yours (or someone you know) caused stress or discord among believers? What do you think would be a Biblical way to handle such a situation?
Pray: Dear Father, thank you that we are saved by your work and not our own. Help me to relate to other believers with grace and love, regardless of their non-salvation beliefs.
All scripture references taken from ESV unless otherwise noted.
Enduring Word Bible Commentary. “Acts 15 – The Jerusalem Council” EnduringWord.com, accessed 25 Jan. 2023, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/acts-15/.
Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash
The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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