Building Bridges, Not Walls
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.
Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2 NLT
God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts of the Apostles 15:8-11 NLT
Childbirth is messy and painful. To bring a baby into the world, the mother endures considerable pain. (Obviously, I have reached this conclusion by observation, not personal experience.)
What we see happening in the book of Acts is the birthing of the Church that Jesus had promised. This Church would include Jews and Gentiles. It would encompass people from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles. How would this much diversity fit together as the family of God?
For some of the Jewish believers, it was important that anyone becoming a follower of Jesus also practice the law of Moses. These laws were the foundation of the Jewish faith. In their minds, following Jesus was just an add-on to their roots in the law of Moses. In their minds, the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and commit to obeying all the Old Testament laws.
Paul and Barnabas believed that salvation came by grace, and it was not necessary to add the yoke of obeying the Jewish law.
Grace is always hard to fully grasp—especially for those of us raised in the Church. There is implanted within each of us certain traditions and practices that we have made sacred just by repeated practice. When someone comes to faith in Christ, we immediately think they need to practice the same traditions we have. These traditions can include the way we dress, the music we use for worship, and even our worship style.
Man’s traditions will always be a closed door to the grace of God. Adding anything to the grace of God is ignoring the power of God’s grace.
In my early days of ministry as a youth pastor, I had a young man who committed his life to follow Jesus after spending considerable time together. My relationship of accepting him opened the door for his decision. He had a rough background and a dysfunctional family. He was considered a tough kid at school and was frequently in trouble. His dress and length of hair were a symbol of his rebellious nature.
Some thought I should immediately address his dress and hair. I chose not to say a word about these issues. Instead, I walked with him in developing a habit of reading God’s Word, spending time in prayer, and opening his heart to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Then, a few months into our relationship, he walked in one day with a totally different look—a new haircut and different clothes. I was concerned that someone had to look this way.
When I asked, he told me that week during his prayer time, he felt that he needed to separate himself from his old life by cutting his hair and changing his clothes. The decision was not based on human legalism but on a personal encounter with God’s grace.
There will be things about us that change when we become followers of Christ. Some things are obvious decisions—we stop lying, cheating, stealing, sleeping around, and getting drunk. These are moral decisions that flow out of our understanding of God’s grace being lived out in us.
Holy Spirit, please reveal to me anything in my life that needs to change. Help me allow Your grace to work in the lives of others. Help me not to become legalistic for myself or others. Help me to build bridges, not walls.
Scroll down to share what you feel God is saying to you based on today’s reading.