Have you ever felt confused about the relevance of the Old Testament commands of God and what they mean to us today? Many followers of Christ will reach a point in their walk with Him when they will have to decide if they continue to just accept the traditions of men, which have been handed down through family and church, or if they will study the Bible to learn for themselves what it actually does and does not say. There can at times be a thoughtful debate amongst believers about how to apply the commands of God from the Old Testament now that Christ has come and died for us and risen again. We will read later from Acts 15 and see that this is a discussion that has been going on for thousands of years.
We know we are forgiven by grace through faith, and not by works or properly performing religious ceremonies or obeying God’s commands perfectly.
However, this is often misunderstood to mean that we can (or even should) completely disregard the laws of God and just rely solely on grace for salvation. Is that right? Absolutely not.
Romans 6:15-16 15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?
We are called by God to obedience. He calls us to obey His commands. It is one way we show love to Him. Are we really only concerned about doing the bare minimum to be saved? or do we actually commit to serving and showing love to Jesus as evidence we have submitted to Him and have genuine, wholehearted faith in Him?
John 14:23-24 23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24“He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.
Jesus actually goes so far as to say in verse 24 above that “He who does not love Me does not keep My words;” When we refuse to obey God, even if to rely on the grace He offers, we are demonstrating that we do not love Him.
It is also important to keep in mind that Jesus, Himself, clearly stated that He did not come to change the law. He emphasized that whoever annuls even the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19 17“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.I did not come to abolish the law
These are strong words… and very clear when you read it directly from God’s word in scripture. It is important to have this teaching of Christ clear in our minds when we read scriptures such as Acts 15 so as to avoid falling into the trap of misinterpretation. If we come in predisposed to disregarding God’s laws, we may convince ourselves we are right. Many read it and conclude that Peter just claimed that there is no need to obey any of God’s laws anymore, but this is not accurate. Careful reading reveals that the discussion is about being saved, not what is the best way to show love to God and live our lives.
The Council at Jerusalem
1Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
6The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8“And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10“Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11“But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”
12All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
The key point of the discussion is actually salvation. As we discussed above, salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. We do not have to accomplish other works or rituals to receive it. However, when we love Jesus and truly submit our lives to Him, we will obey His commands… as Paul did, as the disciples did, and as Jesus did. If we love Him, why would we not trust Him and obey Him?
Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.