We Must Do What To Be Saved?
Troubles and conflicts have been in the Church since the beginning. We saw this specifically in 6:1-6 where a controversy arose concerning meeting the needs of the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jewish Christian widows. Well, here an even greater controversy arose that we may say “rocked” the Church in the first century. As God called the Gentiles into His Church, Jewish Christians who still followed the law of Moses as it pertained to ceremonial matters, especially circumcision, demanded that the Gentiles do the same. Naturally the Gentiles recoiled at this having received the Spirit without such laws, and would have also found the Old Testament ceremonies quite burdensome and virtually impossible to live by in their pagan environment. The matter came to a head when “some men came down from Judea [to Antioch] and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
Well, this didn’t set well with Paul and Barnabas who had worked among the Gentiles and seen the gift of the Holy Spirit given to them and the great signs and wonders God had performed among them. So the church at Antioch decided to send Paul and Barnabas to the Jerusalem church to resolve this matter. Again, the Christians who were “of the party of the Pharisees” contended that the Gentile Christians be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, which was the same as saying that the Gentiles must become Jews to become Christians. The whole debate is briefly related to us in this passage, but it seems that all was put to rest (at least for the moment anyway; Paul would struggle with the “Judaizers” his entire ministry) when Peter reminded the church of his experience with the pagan Cornelius whose household received the gift of the Holy Spirit while he was preaching (Acts 10), perhaps some ten years prior. James (the Lord’s half-brother) agreed with Peter citing Amos 9:11 in support. (This is significant as we learn from the Jewish historian Josephus that James, though a Christian leader, was an observant Jew.) They decided that the Gentiles should abstain from meat which had been offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8, 10; Revelation 2:19-20), meat with blood in it, and sexual immorality, as fidelity between husband and wife is at the very heart of our faithful God and thus His commandment.
But the point is, which Paul would pen so eloquently years later, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Because of our sin, no work will save us, no law can bend our stubborn wills. But grace teaches our hearts to fear, and only by grace are our fears relieved.