If you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.
Acts 15:1-35 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”
12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13 After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 ‘After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its
ruins, And I will restore it, 17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’
18 Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.
19 Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them,
“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
24 “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Yet in today’s text there were those who were trying to hold the early believers to the works of the law. The text says: Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved…But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” Even today there are those who want to hold people to the regulations and traditions of man rather than the grace and the freedom of Christ. The problem with that religious thinking is as James 2:10-13 says: Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. We can’t pick and choose, according to our own preferences, which laws, which of God’s regulations we and others should abide by. If we choose the law, we must abide by the whole law. In addition it is not just to our own understanding or interpretation of the law, but rather it is God’s standard of the law. An example of this in the church today is how some view divorce. Because Jesus said that anyone who has been divorced and remarries commits adultery, some view divorce and remarriage as unpardonable. They neglect though, what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “ God judges the heart. If we expect to be judged by grace for our thoughts, then we must be willing to extend grace to others also. I don’t use this example to justify or minimize divorce. God hates divorce. As one who has been divorced and remarried, I know two things. Divorce is rooted in sin and it is sin. There are consequences for sin which can affect not only those who are divorced but also future generations, children and grandchildren. There is however also forgiveness and redemption from sin. The fact that Jesus genealogy is traced through Solomon, the son born to the adulterers, David and Bathsheba, speaks to the power of redemption in Christ.
Still in today’s text, even in the end, the new believers were given this instruction: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. So were they still holding to the law rather than grace? I think it’s more a case of what 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says: Abstain from all appearance of evil. If we are to be Christ’s representatives in the world, there should be a clear distinction between us and the world. Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16) In Romans 6:1-2 Paul speaks of sin and grace: Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Jesus paid the price to redeem sinners. He never redeemed or redeems sin. Not only should we neither continue in sin or the appearance of sin, but as it says in Galatians 6:1: Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. James 1:14-15 says: each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. We should judge others by grace, their temptation may not be ours, but each of us have areas of temptation with which we struggle.
We should not put the burden of the law on anyone, nor should we allow anyone to burden us. Instead though Jesus says: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) Walking and working with Christ, He will keep us from sin, even from the appearance of sin and from those things which tempt us. He and the Holy Spirit in us will: keep ourselves free from such things, we will do well.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the free gift of salvation, redemption from sin by Your grace, through the cross. Thank You that I am not saved by what I do, but rather by who and what I believe in. I am though as Ephesians 2:10 says: created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit keep me from sin, even the appearance of sin, that I might be salt and light in the world. Amen.