Advent: December 8

Advent: December 8

Acts 15:5-11

5 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.’

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 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 should hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 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? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’

Christianity born from within Judaism. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and Jesus had ministered mainly amongst his people. As the new faith grew, there would be clashes of opinion about its identity as the original converts from within Judaism came together with converts who knew little about the Jewish faith and religious practice.

Some believers had come from the Jewish Pharisees – they had taken on new faith but were acting in old religion. The Pharisees were rigid in their interpretation of the Law, and they found it hard to accept that Paul the Apostle was going out of Israel, drawing new non-Jewish members into the faith. They’d even been going round to the places where Paul had been, following up with their “you must come through the Jewish pathway to God” message.

It all came to a head when Paul and his travelling companion Barnabas decided to come back to Jerusalem to sort the matter out. God had already primed the apostle Peter, and he understood the situation – it is not by the practice of our religion that we become pleasing or worthy before God, but by living in the grace of God revealed in Christ Jesus. Religious practices in themselves do not make a person any more acceptable to God. All we need to do is to live in Jesus.

Perhaps it’s easier to call up, as witness, our rites of initiation, our pattern of attendance at church. Perhaps the old ways are clearer – you know where you are with the Ten Commandments! It may not be easy to accept that Jesus has taken away the requirements of the Law, so that we have trust in his grace. Our salvation is salvation from the Law!

Is my relationship with God based more my faith or on my religion?

Which should a church inscribe on a wall-board – the Ten Commandments, or John 13:34-35?

Father God, forgive me when I put obstacles in the way of faith, when I prefer to demonstrate my abilities before others to my weaknesses before Jesus. Amen.