How would you teach a young child math? Would you start with multiplication and division or would you start with counting and learning the numbers? How about writing? Do we start with paragraphs and writing books? No. We start with learning ABCs. We learn our letters. These seem like silly examples and obvious to us… but the same principle applies toward helping new believers obey God. We must not burden them with all the commands of God as it may overwhelm them. This does not mean that the more complex items are not all important or that we do not want to learn and practice them… at the right time. We start with some basics depending on their particular skills and problems and then we grow from there over time as they are ready to learn and obey more and more. Transforming one’ life is a gradual process, not at all like a light switch where you just flip it and all of a sudden you are living a life of consistent obedience to Jesus. We need to provide a place for them to start with a manageable set of principles to focus on.
13After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14“Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15“With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
16‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return,
AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN,
AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS,
AND I WILL RESTORE IT,
17SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD,
AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’
18SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.
19“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
22Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23and they sent this letter by them,
“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
24“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls,
25it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27“Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth.
28“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:
29that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
30So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. 33After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. 34[But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] 35But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord.
To say that the Gentile believers should “abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” is not to say that they should not also obey God in other commands. It was a starting point that held particular significance for the Gentiles considering their culture and practices at the time. These were some fundamental building blocks that serve as an important starting point for the Gentiles to break away from their past pagan practices and begin to serve God. These points were also important starting place for creating unity between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
The leaders of the church never intended to say that these three things are all the Gentiles need to do to show they submit to and love and follow Christ. In effect that would be to say that rules are not important, except for these three. That seems absurd. It was a specific starting place to help these Gentiles get started on their journey to submit to Christ and live for Him. It highlighted items that may tempt them to be drawn away back into their pagan practices and away from Christ.
Helping someone to learn something new always follows this pattern. Start with some basics based on particulars of the students, allow them to focus on and get those right rather and then introduce more information and then more and so on. Train them gradually, but always with the intent that they continue to learn more than just the basics where they started. It is not effective to burden them with an encyclopedia full of knowledge of a subject all at once.
How can you apply this principle in your own life as a new believer or as someone who is helping new believers? Start with the basics.
Ephesians 2:8-10 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 1And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
We are all encouraged, however, not to remain living as infants in Christ, but rather to grow up spiritually and be able to care for ourselves and teach God’s word to others. We should not encourage any to remain as infants in Christ, clinging only to a few basics, but rather encourage them to grow continually in the faith such that their faith is demonstrated through their life.
Those who love Jesus Christ want to obey His commands, not come up with excuses to disregard them saying “I am free in Christ to do whatever I want. I do not have to follow His law or commands because they are from the Old Testament.”
Romans 6:1-2 1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Quite the opposite… if we love Him, we willingly obey His commands. We do not seek to do the minimum we can get by with and still scrape into heaven… that is not love of Christ… that is love of self and just trying to avoid hell.
John 14:15 15“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Be intentional so that you and those you influence do not become complacent accepting a relationship with Christ that stagnates as if still a baby or young child. Focus on continually growing closer to Him through Bible study, prayer, and application in your life of what He commands… even when it makes you different from the world… especially when it shows you to be different from the world. That is what it means to be a light and shines to others. Whether a new believer, or someone who committed to Jesus many years ago, you should never become complacent that you have done all you should do.
Love for our Lord drives us to continue seeking to know Him and show love for Him just as love for a spouse does the same. Do those in a successful marriage ever say… “I have loved my spouse enough. I can stop now.” Of course not!
Changing our lives to be more like Christ is a journey that lasts a lifetime… we continue on the journey one step at a time, we never reach the destination, but we transform our life in the process to be less like our sinful desires and more like Christ.
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.