Acts 15:1-11 (NIV)“Now then, why do you try to test God?” This is a question that probably ought to be asked more often in modern society. I suspect the majority of the times it is asked are outside direct conversations between two parties of opposing views. Out loud, it probably is uttered most frequently as a rhetorical, and with a “they” instead of “you.” When asked directly, it probably comes through the media of social networking or Internet comment forums.
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.” 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. 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. 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.
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.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 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. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them 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 that we are saved, just as they are.”
I have a very easy time thinking, writing and believing salvation comes through grace alone. I hope I am teaching this to my children, and I know our church presents this via Christian education. But reading what Paul says in regards to a yoke is rather convicting. While I’m not, as are the Pharisees here, directly addressing nonbelievers and putting conditions on what such people must do in order to be “true” Christians, I am certainly not above silently pondering what makes someone a “good” Christian, though I know full well there’s only one being empowered and able to make such a ruling.
Again, I’m not a Pharisee, so it’s not a matter of circumcision and keeping the law of Moses, but I have to ask myself: what are the yokes I might be putting on other people? How can I try to hold anyone to any sort of standard knowing I can’t bear the weight of my own expectations? God knows the heart, does not discriminate and accepts everyone who chooses that path. And yet here I am, placing all sorts of conditions on people and my relationships. Sure, I don’t know the heart like God does, but it never has been as easy as it should be to remember everyone I encounter is a creation of the same God I worship.
I hope I am not passing on this tendency to my kids. I hope they will always be much better than I am at seeing other people as just that — regular, normal people who deserve unconditional respect. I hope in trying to teach my children to see the world this way that I start to see it more the same way myself. I claim to dislike injustice, to be upset when things aren’t fair. If I’m going to do that, I need to make sure I’m not part of the problem.
A prayer for July 25:
Lord, purify my heart. Take my sins, my prejudice, my irrational assumptions, my disrespect, take it all away from me and let me start over. Remake me in your image. Give me the strength I need to walk the path you set before me and the courage to hold firm to my convictions. And please help me teach my children so they might be able to succeed where I have failed. Amen.