“In-N-Out” – Acts 15:1-11, 22-29 – Greg Ng
How can we be unleashed to be a Gospel Community of Growth for Every Generation?
Acts 15 is about the Jerusalem Council where the Jewish leaders of the early Church met to discuss, debate, and decide the requirements for salvation, specifically for Gentile or “non-Jewish” Christians. The Jewish Christians were the “In” group and the Gentile Christians were the “Out” group. It was Paul and Peter who intervened in the Jerusalem council to show the Jewish Christians that these requirements were a burden, a yoke, a leash on the Gentile Christians and on the Church. It is Gospel truth and Gospel love that will bring the insiders and the outsiders together. When that happens, the church is truly unburdened, unyoked, and unleashed.
An Unleashed Church “Fits Out” in Truth
These first five verses set the stage for the Jerusalem Council. Paul and Barnabas had been reporting in “detail” as eyewitnesses in “describing” God’s work of salvation to the Gentiles and “declaring” all that God had done. Jewish Christians wanted to place additional requirements on all the new Gentile converts. They said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” and, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” These Jewish hardline Christians were promoting a Faith+ model of Christianity where salvation means becoming culturally and ritually Jewish. This is the crux of the Jerusalem Council debate.
In versus 6-11, Peter jumps into the debate. He refers back the events of Acts 10 and 11 when he said that, “the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe,” and how God gave the Gentiles “the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.” God gave them the Holy Spirit as proof that they are saved by faith alone and not Faith+. Not only did God bear witness to them, but He also “made no distinction between us and them.” This means that when it comes to salvation, there is no distinction in the eyes of God. God is not trying to abolish differences in culture, instead we need to break out or “fit out” of any distinctions that we have elevated above salvation.
God has given us the means to break out of our distinctions, to “Fit Out” in truth. Verse 8 says, “giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.” Them just like us. God turns the tables on the Jewish believers. Verse 11 says, “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” It was always them like us, but here it is us just like them. God made it so that when it comes to salvation, not one side can say that they are better than the other side. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Jesus broke down the dividing walls, the distinctions, so that we can fit out in truth. Us and them together, insiders and outsiders together. The church is unleashed and unyoked.
A Biblical yoke refers to the wooden collar that is placed on an animal. Verse 10 asks, “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” This yoke on the neck is a metaphor for a burden, specifically the Faith+ model of Church. It is the Gospel truth that truly allows us to “fit out” of our old covenant Christianity and “fit in” to the new covenant Christianity. It removes the yoke from a Faith+ Gospel. Our salvation is received and not achieved.
An Unleashed Church “Fits In” in Love
Verses 22-29 describe how the Jerusalem Council sent a letter to the Gentile Churches in the Antioch region to say that the Church would not put any additional requirements on salvation and faith for the Gentiles. The letter ends saying, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” This ending seems counter intuitive, they wanted to remove any “trouble” and lay no “burden,” but then they add four more requirements. To the Gentile Christians receiving this letter, the meaning and intent is clear. In truth, the Jewish Christians will not impose their culture on the Gentile Christians. In love, the Gentile Christians will not impose their culture on the Jewish Christians. The Gentile culture and rituals of that time included sacrificing food to idols and prostitution.
The Jewish Christians are making an appeal to the Gentile Christians to “fit in’ to the Jewish culture in a few specific areas – not as a requirement but out of respect and love for one another. We see the appeal through the phrase “seemed good” in verses 22, 25 and 28. This phrase means an opinion or thought. It is not a command or requirement. Also, the phrase, “You will do well” in verse 29 refers to appreciation, a thumbs up, a pat on the back. It is not a must do or have to do. The letter acknowledges the Gentile Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of whether they go above and beyond to abstain from certain practices. There is freedom and liberty here. Gospel Love does not insist on its own way and it liberates us to put others before ourselves. The Gentile Christians are unleashed from the troubles and burdens of becoming Jewish. They are allowed to remain Gentile, they are accepted for who they are, and are given the choice to “fit in” for the sake of love and fellowship. “Fitting in” is about giving up some of what makes you “you” in order to help someone else feel more like themselves. It is about stepping out of our circle so that we can step into someone else's circle.
As we “Fit Out” in truth and “Fit In” in love, we are unleashed as believers and the church is unleashed to be a Gospel Community of Growth for Every Generation.
Praise Singing: I Lift My Eyes Up, Build My Life, Nothing But The Blood, Doxology