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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christians and the Law: Repercussions

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But what were the consequences of the Apostles’ attempts to deal with the controversy?

The Consequences 

When the meeting at Jerusalem concluded, Barnabas, Paul and their new companions Judas and Silas promptly carried the apostolic letter to the church at Antioch, where it was received with great rejoicing.

Although the issue of whether or not circumcision and Law-keeping were necessary to salvation remained a hotly debated one in the Christian community for some time afterward, and Paul was soon forced to write a lengthy epistle to the church at Galatia to counteract the grievously effective work of the Judaizers among them, there could no longer be a doubt as to the opinion of the leading apostles and elders on this question. 

The official statement had been made: Gentiles were justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and neither circumcision nor observance of the Mosaic Law was necessary to complete their justification.

Jewish believers, too, could see in this ruling a new freedom: knowing that the Law was not necessary to salvation, they could enjoy the positive aspects of their Jewish heritage while not being burdened by it.

Now all who were willing to listen to the teaching of the apostles could rest secure in the atoning work of Christ on their behalf.

Nevertheless, the question of what place the Law plays in the lives of Gentile believers is apt to arise even today. The testimony and ministry of many a church has been shipwrecked as its leaders fell prey to legalism and human pride which would justify itself by the works of the Law. Instead of depending wholly on Christ and glorifying Him as the Author of salvation, too many professing Christians have sought refuge in codes of behavior which give an outward appearance of piety but which have no value in restraining fleshly indulgence.

If, however, believers consider carefully the deliberations and determinations of the Jerusalem council at the beginning of the Christian church, they will avoid legalistic extremes while still recognizing their individual responsibility to be sensitive to the weaknesses and concerns of their brethren.

RJA

Published by permission of the author

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