Acts 15:1-21 (ESV)
The Jerusalem Council
15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant[b] of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
The debate in Acts 15 is a historical moment for the early church. When given the option to accept Gentiles into their community, some Jews declared that the Gentiles could not be saved without circumcision, which was a law of Moses in the Old Testament.
Since the Gentiles were not exactly like the Jews, they believed these Gentiles must be inferior. This mentality of "others" needing to earn their place within a group is still a threat. Consider last week's events in Charlottesville. The main premise of hate groups lies in the idea that "others" are different, and therefore inferior to those in their own group. It is a shame that people today and throughout history have determined others' worth based on their similarities and differences.
In response to the debates about the Gentiles, Peter proclaims that since salvation is given as a gift in Jesus, the Gentiles cannot earn salvation through circumcision anyway, and it would be pointless to require them to follow this law. God does not favor people because of their ancestry. He favors people because of their faith in their hearts, as Peter declares in this passage. The Jewish people were God's people not because they were Jewish, but because they believed in Him. It remains true for all of us today that our God does not distinguish among us because of where we have come from. God's grace has no conditions, and our worth comes from Him alone.
Dear God, we know that all people are worthy of your love and grace. We know there is nothing we can do to earn that grace. Help us to live out and share these truths each day. In Jesus'
Written by Sam Neahring Director of Children and Family Ministries firstname.lastname@example.org