Monday, July 24, 2023

            Acts 15 describes a pivotal moment in the early church.  The first believers were wrestling with how to incorporate Gentile believers into the life of the church.  Acts 15:1 says that “certain people” were introducing improper and incorrect influence into the life of the church.  These people were suggesting that Gentile converts to the Christian faith needed to undergo circumcision and even scrupulously keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5).  Peter and the other apostles and church leaders met to debate and consider this matter.  After their discussions ended, Peter stood to speak about their conclusions.  He said, “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” (Acts 15:7-11).
            In his own words, Peter made quite an impact.  Acts says that the whole assembly of church leaders became quiet.  They even listened to Paul and Barnabas testify about the work that God was doing among the Gentiles.  Peter gave us four truths to consider in his statement.  First, he clearly indicated that God was at work.  God had chosen to bring salvation to the Gentiles through His Son.  The cross had application to Gentiles who repented and believed every bit as much as it applied to Jewish converts.  God still works to save, to forgive and to change lives today.  You might think that you are too far gone or someone else is.  But God can do astounding work in the lives of those who believe in Him.  We can be much too quick to write God off or to limit what He might choose to do.  But we have to remember that He can do immeasurably more than all we might ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
            Second, God knows the heart.  He sees our condition as we are.  He knows when we are repentant and humble before Him.  He knows our pain and weaknesses.  He remembers that we are made from dust (Psalm 103:14).  Not only does God see hearts but He can change them too.  A heart that is centered on sin and rebellion can be changed into a heart centered on obedience and service.  Peter, Paul and Barnabas had witnessed first-hand what God had done and was continuing to do among Gentiles who turned to Christ in desperation and repentance.  Indeed, Paul was an excellent example of God’s transforming power and grace.  He turned from terrorist to missionary, from one who hated the gospel into one who would die for it.  Peter had been restored by Christ after his three denials.  For these men, to burden Gentiles in an undue way would quench the Spirit and put boundaries on God.
            Third, we are not to demand of others what God does not demand.  In the situation described by Acts 15, the human demands were asking Gentiles to undergo circumcision and to keep the very law that Jews themselves had failed to keep perfectly.  Today, we can easily insist on others seeing everything exactly the way we see it.  There is a difference between unity and uniformity.  Unity gathers believers around the big issues like the deity of Christ, salvation through Christ alone, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith as a few examples.  Uniformity often insists that everything be in total compliance to our interpretations, standards and expectations. Some of the opponents that Peter confronted preferred uniformity to unity.  The tragedy of uniformity is we can often miss some very important truths and moments as we chase down lesser things.  Not every hill is worth dying on.  Not every rabbit is worth chasing.
            Fourth, never minimize the power of grace.  It is grace that saves.  It is grace that remakes and remolds us.  It is grace that changes us.  It is grace that softens the hard places and edges that we have developed in life.  Just when we are tempted to think that we have earned something from God or that we deserve something special, we are confronted by the reality of grace.  Grace helps us to realize that we have been given far more than we have earned but we have also been spared from what we do deserve.  Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.”  But grace is often felt more easily than it can be explained.  Grace changes people, marriages, families, homes and everything it touches.  Peter trusted grace more than circumcision.  Salvation based on what humans had done or could do was no different than thinking the Law had power to save.  Grace was the new dynamic that Peter recognized. 
            Later in life, writing near the end of his first letter, Peter quoted Proverbs 3:34 to speak about the power of grace.  He wrote, “God opposes the proud but shows grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5b).  Peter’s own experiences with grace would likely remain with him as he wrote his two letters.  Grace restored him after three denials.  Grace was the open door for Gentiles as well as Jews.  And grace was, for Peter, always about what God had done to save a fallen and dying world.  Have a great Monday!  Remember you can share our worship any time at      

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