1 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. 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.”
It’s been an action-packed few years since Paul has been in Jerusalem. He was there to meet with Peter and James and other leaders of the church in Jerusalem. When he was there, they discussed the Gospel, Jesus, and the truth that should be taught as they went out to the nations. They were all in agreement.
But there were some, who in other places are aligned with James, that didn’t like the level of freedom that Paul was preaching. They believed that following Jesus was a room inside a Jewish house instead of being an entirely separate house down the street. If you wanted to follow Jesus, in their minds, you had to come into the Jewish family first.
This, of course, didn’t fit with what Jesus taught. When Jesus called people to come and follow Him, He certainly called them to a commitment, but not a commitment to the Law of Moses. John, one of the leaders in Jerusalem, said it well in his Gospel:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17
Becoming circumcised was the hallmark of being Jewish. It was an “outward sign of an inward change” to some people, but it became the defining factor of whether you were Jewish or not. All other works of the 613 laws of Moses hung on whether you had done that one thing or not.
So, the controversy then, as it is now, is what do you have to DO to be saved? After this meeting with the council in Jerusalem (Spoiler alert!), Paul would write “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” and also “there is neither Jew nor Gentile.”
It is by faith alone we are saved and not by works. We also trust the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out so that we would live by the Spirit and not by our flesh (flesh=our way of life that isn’t dependent on God.) This all gets spelled out in Galatians and Ephesians as well as throughout the scriptures.
As laws and various “way of life” rules pop up, may we always draw together as a church (like the original Church did!) and understand the power of the Holy Spirit among us. It is for freedom that He set us free, and He’s working it out among us.
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