15 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch. Here is what they were teaching the believers. “Moses commanded you to be circumcised,” they said. “If you aren’t, you can’t be saved.” 2 But Paul and Barnabas didn’t agree with this. They argued strongly with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed to go up to Jerusalem. Some other believers were chosen to go with them. They were supposed to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way. As they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how those who weren’t Jews had turned to God. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, the church welcomed them. The apostles and elders welcomed them too. Then Paul and Barnabas reported everything God had done through them. 5 Some of the believers were Pharisees. They stood up and said, “Those who aren’t Jews must be circumcised. They must obey the law of Moses.”
They weren’t saying they had to obey the whole law: just taking the sign of membership of God’s people, as the scriptures instruct. When they get to Jerusalem, even some of the believers tell them the same thing. Moses did it, why not the gentiles?
But in this seemingly small thing lies a really important issue. Paul explains his reasoning in the first half of Romans. The law was not given in expectation that we could fulfil it and earn salvation: it was given to show us that we fall short and can’t earn salvation. We are totally dependent on Jesus fulfilling the law by dying in our place. We can’t earn it, but God gives it freely. If we place ourselves under even a small part of the law again, we undo what Jesus did. If our salvation still depends on us fulfilling even a small part of the law, his death achieves nothing.
It was a big issue in the 1st century. It was a big issue in the 16th century reformation. It’s still a big issue today: many Australians, including people in Churches, believe that whether they go to Heaven depends on whether they have been good enough. There are many Australians who desperately need
to hear the good news that Jesus was good enough for all of us.
I don’t like arguments, and it’s important not to be divisive. But sometimes there are questions that are so important we need to speak up. Father, please give me humility to know when to be quiet, your wisdom and courage to know when and how to speak, and your love for those who need to hear.
Written by David Cornell