Betraying the Gospel
A daily devotion for July 5th
The Council at Jerusalem
15 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’—
18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.Acts 15:1
In the fifteenth chapter of Acts is the story of a betrayal of the gospel. Here we learn of the clear emergence of what we can only call false Christianity. You will never understand Christianity until you understand that there are always present, in any so-called Christian gathering, manifestations and representatives of both true and false Christianity. Unfortunately, false Christianity is believed by millions who think they have understood the true, and have rejected the false. Therefore their minds are closed to the truth when it comes. Here we see the first emergence of that kind of false Christianity which is unthinkingly accepted by millions of people today.
It all began with the introduction of a very plausible and attractive heresy which came disguised as Christianity. Luke says that certain Jewish brethren, who ostensibly were Christians, came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. They came among the Gentile believers there, who had just come out of raw paganism, who had been idolaters, had been devotees of the licentious and sexually immoral practices of the pagan temples. These Gentiles had been hopeless in their outlook toward the future beyond this life and were sunken in despair and darkness, but then God had saved them. They were now rejoicing in Christ.
But these Jewish brethren came to them and said, as Luke quotes them here, verbatim:
Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved. This introduced an issue which split the church at Antioch wide open. They were really saying,
In order to become a Christian, you must first become a Jew. Unless you become a Jew, you are a second-class Christian, if a Christian at all. Thus they challenged the gospel of the grace of God. So the first really serious internal strife within the church was over race and ritual — over the question of Jews versus Gentiles, and of circumcision as the sign of acceptance.
This specific issue has long ago passed away as a concern to us; but the principle behind it is very present with us yet today. The enemy has simply changed the players on the program. I remember how shocked I was at the reply a young couple gave to my suggestion that they visit another couple who were newcomers to our church. They looked at me and said,
Oh, no, you don't want them. They're not our kind of people. That is a denial of the universality of the church, and of its inclusion of all types and ages and backgrounds and races. Not only people, but also rituals often become bones of contention today: Substitute baptism for circumcision and you bring the issue right up to date. There are many who think you cannot become a Christian unless you are baptized. These external issues are the kind of things that Christians are splitting over today. And that was what was occurring in Antioch.
Forgive me, Father, for those times I have denied the universality of the church. Teach me to accept and embrace those who put their trust in you.
Life Application: What was the first serious challenge to the gospel of grace in the early church? How do issues of race and ritual continue to undermine authentic Christianity in the church and in our personal experience?
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