Acts: Day 23

Is Christ Enough?

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Today's Text: Acts 15:1-35, Romans 2:17-24, Galatians 5:1

Text: Acts 15:1-35, Romans 2:17-24, Galatians 5:1

Those first Jewish individuals who converted to Christianity were initially a bunch of scrupulous rule-followers. It’s no wonder they were having a hard time with the fraternity of Gentile converts, who’d seemingly sailed in from a laissez-faire, lawless background without “earning” the grace of God they were now reveling in.

And so, the Jewish Christians decided to erect a hierarchical ladder with a few more steps leading to redemption (Acts 15:1-6). They adapted the “Faith in Jesus + Nothing = Salvation” message that Peter, Stephen, and Paul had preached, into a “Faith in Jesus + A More Restrictive Menu and Circumcision = Salvation” lecture. I imagine they secretly surmised it was a harmless enough edit.

I mean, we aren’t expecting non-Jews to adhere to all 613 Torah rules or anything—just the biggies. All they have to do is order their steaks medium-well and agree to get their private parts tweaked a bit. That’s just a teensy outpatient surgery. Heck, we’ll even pay for the ice packs!       

This prejudiced-based friction between Jews and Greeksofficially titled “The Jerusalem Debate”endangered the fellowship of the early Church. It caused such a rift in Antioch that Paul and Barnabas left, traveling back to Jerusalem to sort the matter out with the rest of the elders and apostles. Imagine the murmurs of differing opinions rippling through the multi-ethnic congregation of our mother Church when Peter stood up to address them:

“Brothers, you know that in the early days God chose me from among you to preach the Good News to the nations. They heard the Good News from me, and they believed. God, who knows the thoughts of everyone, accepted them. He showed this to us by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. To God, those people are not different from us. When they believed, he made their hearts pure. So now why are you testing God by putting a heavy load around the necks of the non-Jewish believers? It is a load that neither we nor our ancestors were able to carry. But we believe that we and they too will be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
-Acts 15:7-11 (NCV)

The first point Peter argues is that the gospel they’d been preaching (Faith in Jesus + Nothing = Salvation) had already resulted in an international harvest of salvation. Obviously, the Holy Spirit was able to soften sinners’ hearts unto repentance without first whacking them over the head with a 50-pound rulebook. The testimony of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected was perfectly sufficient to compel the lost to find their living hope in Him.

I bet most of the men listening to Peter argue his case were now dumbfounded, slack-jawed with the realization that he’d just nailed them to the wall with his observation: the weight of the law almost broke your back, so why in the world are you so determined to strap it on someone else’s shoulders?     

Here’s the deal about the judgment God declared as a result of humanity’s sin against Him (Romans 3:23): WE CAN NEVER BEHAVE WELL ENOUGH TO SATISFY IT. We can’t get good enough. No matter how many biblical rules we’re able to keep, it’s impossible for humans to attain perfection, and perfection is the only remedy for God’s wrath. This is why He sent His only begotten Son into the world, wrapped in a suit of skin: to live a perfect sinless life and shed His perfect blood during a sacrificial death, making perfect atonement for our sin.

Jesus is the only One who could justify us and reconcile us into a right relationship with our heavenly Father. If we could close the gap with God ourselves, Jesus could’ve just kept chilling out in Glory and skipped the whole sordid “Redeeming Mankind” mission.    

The Mosaic Law these well-intentioned Jewish Christians were so eager to push onto the Gentiles never had the power to save anyone. That wasn’t God’s intention when He gave it to Moses in the first place. God didn’t proclaim those commandments on that ancient pinnacle so that by them we could be saved. He gave them so we’d realize we can’t save ourselves!

The Old Testament moral and ceremonial stipulations underscore our absolute inability to achieve perfection. They were always, always, always meant to lead us to Jesus.

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Lisa Harper is a master storyteller with a masters of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary. She’s lauded as an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher. She’s been in vocational ministry for 30 years and has written 15 books and Bible study curriculums but says her greatest accomplishment by far is that of becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole.

  • Leonetta Elaiho

    Thank God for GRACE! Great devotional

  • I agree Jessica! Thanks SRT

  • The devotional was on point. Wow. I have to read it again.

  • Thankful tonight God’s grace is enough!

  • My favourite reading in the acts series so far! I can hear Paul reading the letter he wrote to the Gentiles .. It’s so to the point and an amazing testimony of God’s enormous grace for ALL of us! My prayer is that we would extend the hand of God’s grace to ALL

  • Caroline

    I love this reminder that we can’t and won’t ever be good enough. It’s all HIM, not us! It’s always about him

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • Jennifer H

    Question regarding the letter sent by the disciples to the Gentiles: why aren’t the foods listed in the letter (idol-offered food and anything that has been strangled) clean yet under the new covenant? I know that Paul addresses this often in his letters, particularly to the Church in Corinth, but why do these things still stand for the new Gentile believers? Can anyone provide some cultural context here? Because I think that’s what I’m missing!! :)

    • Jessica P.

      Jennifer H.,
      The way my Acts professor explained it was that the intent behind this letter isn’t about clean vs. unclean food. The intent is to bring unitiy to a church that is fracturing over the little things. Just as you wouldn’t serve steak to a vegitarian who is visiting your house, these early letters are encouraging a sensitivity to the cultural norms of the Jewish believers. It was a call for unity more than a statement about clean vs. unclean food.

      By the end of the new testement, the only thing in this list that was truly overturned was the food sacrificed to idols, which Paul makes in a later argument. In the social and historical context: strangled meat and blood was literally unclean. The way food was prepared at the time rendered blood, either sitting in a strangled animal, or included in food, a dangerous substance. It’s one of those awesome God commandments that have way more to do with the protection of his people than the keeping of arbitrary law.

      I hope that helps!

  • Rosemary

    Good eye. At this point in Acts the apostles haven’t really finished arguing about this yet. This letter was sort of a compromise position between the two sides. The end consensus was that, as you say, it ISN’T OK or necessary to add those extra rules…..it just took everyone a while to get there. I think we’ve all been in church arguments like that! ;-)

    • Rosemary

      So sorry, that was meant to be in reply to Carissa!

    • Carissa

      Thanks Rosemary! I can definitely understand it taking time.

      • Ginger

        I just wanted to point out that Paul also says “it’s my judgment” that they abstain from meat. He then later addressed this in Romans 14 that this was a judgment call. So I don’t think these were hard and fast rules, but rather things he felt could possibly hinder their growth. We are obviously called to live holy lives, that represent God. Certain judgement calls could hinder these baby Christians from growing spiritually. Just like an alcoholic should stay away from bars to avoid temptation, he’s saying these Gentiles should stay away from these things to avoid falling back into idol worship. Hope that helps and makes sense!

  • Tammy Thomason

    M

  • Ok so I feel like I’m missing something here. It seems to me, even after Paul and Barnabas have come and talked to the church about not imposing rules, they still missed the boat and, though dropping the circumcision rule, they are still imposing rules.
    19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Then they all, along with the apostles write and sent the letter.
    I loved the commentary but this part of the reading wasn’t explained and I’m wondering why it’s ok to still impose those rules?

  • Sabrina Klomp

    Praise God for this simple Gospel! It’s not our own works that could satisfy God’s wrath, yet we keep trying. Thank you Jesus, for you continued grace as we grasp this truth.

  • Erin Cox

    .. the Holy Spirit was able to soften sinners’ hearts unto repentance without first whacking them over the head with a 50-pound rulebook. The testimony of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected was perfectly sufficient to compel the lost to find their living hope in Him.

    That last sentence… His grace is sufficient- for me, for you, for every soul upon this earth, for our deepest wounds, our sickest sins, our greatest desires, our broken hearts. Perfectly. Sufficient.

  • Diane Huntsman

    I mean, we aren’t expecting non-Jews to adhere to all 613 Torah rules or anything—just the biggies. All they have to do is order their steaks medium-well and agree to get their private parts tweaked a bit. That’s just a teensy outpatient surgery. Heck, we’ll even pay for the ice packs!  
    Oh this is just probably the best commentary I’ve ever read!!!!!

  • Christianity isn’t about what we have done, it is about what Christ has done for us. Thank you for the great reminder we are not saved through rules but a relationship with Christ.

  • Keri Underwood

    I think out of the whole year that I’ve been reading SRT, THIS has touched me the most. I used to think that Christianity was rule and regulations and I had to work on myself and let God show me what true belief in Him looked like instead of relying on what others had told me. I recently started reading through the Old Testament chronologically and with the whole “Christianity is not a set of rules” mentality I now have, I was sorely confused why God had given Moses and the Israelites SO many rules and laws. I have been having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. Why would this rule be significant, why would that rule matter? Reading this, it puts it all into perspective for me. Thank you for that SRT!! Love this devotion and community so much :)

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • Let’s see if I can make this short. :) I am 55, married, mother of 3, kindergarten teacher, Christ follower, daily Bible Studier girl. And I STILL can be knocked off my feet and muddle around for days in a fog when it comes to this issue of “being good enough”. I was abandoned by my father when I was a little girl. He walked out. I never saw him again. I’m the middle child – both of my siblings had addiction problems as teens. I made my self invisible so as not to add to the chaos. I worked 2 jobs and paid my way through college. My mother abandoned me shortly after that. Just dropped out of my life. Not all of a sudden – conversation by conversation. She was just disinterested. I no longer have any kind of relationship with her. It was church people who made me feel NOT GOOD ENOUGH. If I giggled and yes, cut up, during youth choir…… CHURCH PEOPLE treated me like I wasn’t welcome. CHURCH PEOPLE had these rules that I just couldn’t live up to. I couldn’t have a parent attend with me. My mother wouldn’t give me the money to go to summer youth camp. I remember a Sunday School teacher singling me out as one who was different. Rode her bike to the neighborhood church because her Mom didn’t attend. Oh how humiliating. I never went back to 7th grade Sunday School after that. So many examples of how CHURCH PEOPLE imposed their rules on me as a girl, ignoring me, pushing me aside, leaving me out of activities. Just plain mean to me. (I said I was going to make this short but oh gosh, I just can’t) But God…….. kept his hand on my shoulder. He was my firm foundation. I never let go of his hand. I will always cling to the cross and exchange it someday for a crown. I still remember those stinging words and disapproving looks. And sometimes they still upset me even all these years later. This morning when I read Galatians 5:1 I added it to my memory verses I keep in the car. Stand Firm. Do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Jesus has set me free!

    • Jen

      I am so sorry this happened to you. Church people can be some of the cruelest people. May we all be better church people, loving the lost and broken, treating children with the love Jesus would show them, gently guiding them. I am so glad you made it through to the other side, knowing God was with you.

    • Deb

      Yes, Patti, I am glad you are focused on Christ! We are all sinners and make mistakes, and I am sorry people treated you like that. If our focus is on Christ, we will feel His joy, as you feel your freedom through Christ, no matter what other people do or say!

    • C Gunckel

      Thank you Patti, I am so glad GOD kept His hand on you. The truth is, I can never be perfect but I am so thankful that I have a Savior who is and my only job is to introduce others to His saving grace, no rules, no, you gotta do this first. He accepts us just as we are! We come naked and exposed, He puts the robe of righteousness on us not because of what we do but because of who He is.

    • Christine

      Church people have hurt me too. I still have a hard time with community despite loving Christ deeply. It hurts my heart that I have such anger towards His Bride. I find fellowship in ministry, and friendship, but my ‘church family’ is full of gossip and people pretending their lives are perfect. As if all of us do not fall short of His glory…

    • churchmouse

      It’s been said that “hurting people hurt people.” Hurting church people hurt people. But God can reach the hurting, be they church people or others, through us who live and love to be different.. A good goal for us church people. I’m sorry for your experiences. I’m sure God can use them to give you more compassion and sensitivity towards those who seem outsiders. We are all outsiders without Christ.

    • Chloe

      I can relate to you, Patti. My mom worked two jobs as a single mom of four kids (one has a drug problem), so going on those mission trips and weekend getaways with the church were rarely an option. It was hard to go to Sunday school and Wednesday night worship when I had many fellow Christians judging me for what I lacked. But, I’ve found a wonderful relationship with God this year, and I have moved past those hardships. I can now STAND FIRM in Christ, knowing that my faith is enough.

    • Kellie

      Patti,

      Your story really touched me this morning. What an amazing testament to the grace, goodness, and sovereignty of our God. While my heart hurts to think about the pain you’ve experienced, I also rejoice knowing that your unique circumstances have enabled you to uniquely speak to others who find themselves in a similar situation. praying for you this morning that the deep wounds of your heart would continue to be healed by The Healer himself. Thank you for sharing your heart with us today; its impacted me greatly.

    • Sarah Shell Teague

      Religious people don’t say and do destructive things in the name of religion because they’re Christian; religious people say and do destructive things in the name of religion because they’re human.

      http://Www.sarahshellteague.net

    • Sydney

      It is always so challenging, when the “perfect people of the church” hurt us. However what people forget is that the church is made up of imperfect people, which is why we need the church. I am so sorry for the pain you endured and the way you were treated. Just remember that even Jesus was treated poorly by the church. You are in great company with this suffering. Praying that God would heal your wounds. xo.

    • Taylor

      Patti, thank you for sharing your story. I admire your bravery to tell others your about your hurts. You are amazing. You are good enough. You are beautifully and wonderfully made, in Christ’s image!

    • Veronica

      Oh Patti…thank you for sharing your story today. My heart hurts with yours, and I rejoice that you have a relationship with our Savior despite the wrongs of the church. You are strong, you are loved. If not by the people who abandoned you, if not by the church that was supposed to take care of you, if not by anybody else you are fully loved and known by our creator who never singles you out, who never abandons, who never fails.

      Yes, it’s true- you are free today!

  • Christina

    What a great passage! I am a perfectionist, and my biggest character flaw is anger. I don’t like rules. Thank goodness Jesus’s only requirement is to believe. I often beat myself up when I do not do things right and sometimes get very snarky with other people. One of my friends reminded me that I was a human being yesterday, and I told myself to beat myself with a feather. Progress not Perfection. As for other Christians, I don’t bother me what they need to do to believe. I know the only requirement for me is to believe.

  • Kelly Smith

    Law vs. grace trips me up all the time. I like to think I can do law well enough that I don’t need grace. Why do I fight my need for a savior? This pierces me: “God didn’t proclaim those commandments on that ancient pinnacle so that by them we could be saved. He gave them so we’d realize we can’t save ourselves!” Thank you, Lisa!

  • 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” This was convicting to me. How many times has the name of God been blasphemed because of actions and attitudes of Christians. Reminding myself to only point to Jesus, not any man made ideas of what a Christian is supposed to act or look like.

  • Is Christ enough? I think we may even goes as far to say we put rules on ourselves because in rules we find comfort because if we are good rule keepers we must be good Christians therefore God loves us. So opposite of the true freedom of the Gospel which rests in Christ. Is He enough? Challenging question this morning. Praying the Lord reveals our hearts to us and our “rule books” we rest in and that He will become enough for us.

  • churchmouse

    The freedom we have in Christ is such a daily blessing! I can love Him loud or quietly. I can love Him a capella or with a full choir. I can love Him with the KJV or with The Message. I can love Him at the shore line or at the mall. I can love Him in a chapel or in a cathedral. I can love Him in my bathrobe or in my ball gown. In all things and with regards to all others, I am to love in His great name. What a gift, privilege, honor and responsibility! Thank you SRT and Lisa for the JOY and FREEDOM found in today’s Scripture and devotion. I’m lovin’ it!

    • Brandi

      Made me smile! Awesome!

    • Sarah D.

      Amen and amen!! In our weakness, God is our strength! He makes us new and whole. We don’t have to be perfect because we have HIM to rely on! Woo hoo!!

    • India

      You know, I just always love your comments. They always make me smile and think throughout the day. My mom and I always talk about your comments.^^^^ Thank you for putting in the time to make people around the world smile.

      • churchmouse

        Appreciate your kind words. You warmed the cockles of my heart! Isn’t Jesus just the best to draw us together? In Christ, none of us are strangers, no matter our address!

        • Hope

          I loved your words but since none of us are strangers can I push the conversation further? So, I’m trying my best not to throw the baby out with the bath water but what does this mean in practice? We don’t have to do anything but love God? I might be going early church on y’all but I got some people in my life who rest on (more aptly said, they cop out on this point) the fact that all they have to do is “Love God.” For them this might mean, saying it and seemingly doing nothing. I hope I’m not policing them polemically. But they don’t dwell with a community of believers or commit diligent time to the word (according to them). Ok, so what does this have to do with me, right? Water your own grass, Hope. I’m just trying to figure out how to better water my grass. Do I just walk in what I feel like doing? I guess I’m still wrestling with freedom. I guess I’m still asking the ridiculous question, “Is Christ enough?”

    • Tina

      Amen churchmouse. ..loving the words today. …I can love Him a capella or in a choir….absolutely Amen
      Blessings friend…

  • Mary Beth

    I think as Christians we often also try to immediately slap all sorts of rules on new Christians. That’s not our job, it’s God’s. He will gently guide them into holy living because they want to please Him, not because they have to follow the rules. Rule following does not lead to a true relationship.

  • Colossians 2:11-14. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And HE has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross!! – that is grace which saves

  • Saved by grace alone a timely reminder

  • Brittany

    I loved this so much! Jesus is our perfect King!

  • “The Old Testament moral and ceremonial stipulations underscore our absolute inability to achieve perfection. They were always, always, always meant to lead us to Jesus.”

    You have NO idea how long I have been searching for this very answer! Thank you! Thank you!! <3

  • Alice Carroll

    ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling’. Good news indeed.

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