In chapter 15 we see another pivotal moment in church history as the Jerusalem council deliberates on what they will require of Gentile believers if they are to be a part of the church. There are those who propose that Gentile believers should have to be circumcised like the Jewish believers and those who argue against that. In this chapter we see that Peter and James (the brother of Jesus) have very influential things to share. Let’s examine three different sections of this debate and dive into what they had to say.
First, read Acts 15:1-6. We see that what is at stake here is a fundamental aspect of the gospel and the question that must be asked is: “Is the gospel for all people, or just for a select few?” Perhaps this brings to mind the experience of Peter with Cornelius just a few chapters ago. Flip back to Acts 10 and remind yourself of Peter’s response to Cornelius. Who does Peter believe the gospel is for? (10:34-35)
Second, read Acts 15:7-12. Now we see in verses 7-12 that Peter stands up to speak and the content of his speech is the question of whether our salvation is something that can be earned, or are we, in reality, helpless and must be saved by grace. This question is important as we see the council debating whether or not they will ask the Gentiles to perform a certain action in order to be saved. Dive into these passages: Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 10:9-10. We see that we are unable to earn the favor of God and that the great paradox is that in order to have victory, we must surrender.
Third, read Acts 15:13-21. The debate concludes with the closing argument of James, Jesus’ brother. James is held in high regard in the church and was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He had a special resurrection encounter with Jesus apart from the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7) and was considered to be a pillar of the church (Galatians 1:19). He was nicknamed James the Just and one common story of James is that he had knees as hard as a camel’s because he knelt in prayer so much.
James argues that it should not be made difficult for the Gentiles to turn to God but that if they are going to be a part of the church, there are things that must be abstained from. He encourages them to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols. Read what Paul has to say about that in 1 Corinthians 8-9. He also encourages them to abstain from sexual immorality. The church was situated in a perverse culture and was known for its purity, and this was the expectation for Gentile believers. Finally, he asks the Gentile believers to abstain from eating blood or anything strangled. This was a harkening to some of the Jewish food laws that were found in Leviticus 17:8-13.
After this debate, the judgement is clear that it should not be made difficult for the Gentiles to believe in the Lord for salvation. We see there are still clear expectations for those who are part of the body of Christ, but judgement should not get in the way of young believers being a part of the community.
Friday, November 13 and 14 with both in person and virtual options
As we’ve read throughout Acts, since the beginning of the Christian Church, there has been a commitment from believers to care for vulnerable people in our world. That is why for more than a decade, passionate followers of Jesus have gathered together through the Imagine Conference to collaborate on effective ways to serve Pittsburgh and the world through mentoring, refugee care, engaging in racial reconciliation efforts, seeking justice through combating human trafficking, em-bracing life, adoption and foster care, and supporting local and global missions. You won’t want to miss out on learning from this year’s keynote speakers, Will Ford and Matt Lockett, authors of The Dream King, who will be inspiring conference participants by sharing their remarkable story of racial reconciliation and missional engagement. We’ll also hear from many different perspectives through-out the entire conference that will equip us to make a transformational difference with our lives in addressing some of the most significant challenges that our world is currently facing. Click here for more information and to register.
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