Acts 15:8-11 NIV, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted [Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 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? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as they are.”
So Jewish believers gathered at this Jerusalem council expected Gentiles to come to Jesus in the same way they had come—through historic Jewish faith and practice. All Jewish men, for example, had been circumcised on the eighth day of their lives. This was a scriptural practice that they felt was required of anyone who would come to God through the Messiah Jesus.
It strikes me that the evidence Peter offers to the Jewish elders and apostles in Jerusalem was the evidence of experience and witness. He does not here quote the scriptures (though he would do that often). He points out that the very same evidences of God’s Spirit being present in fullness came to the Gentiles as it had come to the Jews. But it came without the outward sign of circumcision. (Circumcision was not a common practice among Gentiles in that day).
Instead of being purified through a physical symbol like circumcision, Peter points out that they were purified by faith (9) and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (11). Faith in grace is my trust and God’s generosity. This was and is the basis for our deliverance and entry into the kingdom of God. Beautiful.
There are certain Evangelical “circumcisions” that we want everyone to take on if they are going to be “real” followers of Jesus. They have to look a certain way, believe certain things about end times, or the scriptures, or such. For the most part, they probably shouldn’t drink any alcohol. They should go to church, pay their tithe, get involved in doing ministry tasks, study the Bible, etc. These are seen, at least at a practical level, as entry requirements. We claim that one comes to Jesus through faith by grace. While we seem clear on this as the first step of the journey, it is really anyone’s guess as to what place my faith in God’s grace plays in the practicalities of living and practicing this “following Jesus” way.
Peter reminds them that we must never put on another a burdensome yoke that we ourselves have failed to bear. Conservative Evangelicals do this all the time. We demand certain outward appearances as it relates to morality and such. But appearances are often a cover for an inward mess. Our focus on the outward betrays a failure to give much meaningful attention to the inward.
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