15 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep 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