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 told to ask the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way. They traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria. There they told how the Gentiles 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, “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must obey the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After they had talked it over, Peter got up and spoke to them. “Brothers,” he said, “you know that some time ago God chose me. He appointed me to take the good news to the Gentiles. He wanted them to hear the good news and believe. 8 God knows the human heart. By giving the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, he showed that he accepted them. He did the same for them as he had done for us. 9 God showed that there is no difference between us and them. That’s because he made their hearts pure because of their faith. 10 Now then, why are you trying to test God? You test him when you put a heavy load on the shoulders of Gentiles. Our people of long ago couldn’t carry that load. We can’t either. 11 No! We believe we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The Gentiles are saved in the same way.”
It is interesting to me that Peter describes the attempts of some Jews to get fellow believers of a Gentile background to follow the law of Moses as “testing God” (vs10). In essence, these Jews were requiring the Gentile believers to keep the old ways of Judaism as well as put their faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. God certainly had worked in and through those laws and ways in the past, but these were new days.
Peter is saying, “but they received the Holy Spirit by simply believing what I said about Jesus, so why are we trying to add to what God seems completely fine to work with?” Peter observed that God was working in new ways in his time – responding to faith from a believing heart, not outward signs like circumcision. God was more focused on a believing heart, not a rule-abiding religious lifestyle. Is this what it means to test God? Requiring God to work in ways He’s moved on from? Requiring God to keep working like he’s worked in the past, rather than moving with what He’s doing here and now?
Testing God seems to be, in the mind of Peter, not simply doubting God and looking for signs that assure us of Him. I can end up “testing God” by pushing for my own religious agendas and ways of being spiritual, rather than learning and working in His ways. Peter was adaptable. I’ve got to be adaptable – not to get so set in my ways that I miss the ways God is actually moving and working in the world, and so testing him by putting religious agendas out there that he doesn’t require.
Lord, help me learn and walk in your ways, and neither get stuck in the past nor get lost in pursuing what is right in my eyes but is not how you’re working anymore.
Written by Ps. Rob Waugh