And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2 KJV)
There were, as it were, many nations on the face of the earth in the days of Acts; but for any average Israelite, there were only two nations on earth: the Jews and the Gentiles (or the uncircumcised). The Jews were seen as the covenant people of God, while the Gentiles were generally seen as the “heathen”- as those who were lost in the way, and who had no part in the commonwealth of Israel. However, after the Lord Jesus died and rose again, little did many Jews realize this fact that God was forging for Himself a new nation. Not a nation of those who have been circumcised (according to the Jewish ordinance), or of uncircumcised men, but rather a nation of those who have been accepted before God through their faith in Christ Jesus. This was to become the 3rd nation on the face of the earth.
Through the ministry of Saul and Barnabas in the course of their first missionary journey, God had fully granted the Gentiles an opportunity to be part of His commonwealth, and the privilege of enjoying all that God had in store for them without any special physical sign, apart from their faith in Christ and their obedience to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, some brethren came from Judea and began to teach the Gentile brethren that the only way they could be accepted before God was to become Jews (by passing through the covenant rite of circumcision), and also to obey all the laws of Moses. As far as these Judean brethren were concerned, there was no third nation. It is either one was a Jew and saved by God, or one was a Gentile and lost forever. In this teaching of theirs, they essentially rendered the sacrifice of Jesus of none effect as they proclaimed a means of salvation that was based on the legal demands of the Old Covenant.
Of course, Paul and Barnabas argued sharply with them, until they decided to settle the matter by presenting their case to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. It is a pity today that there are so many who claim to be Christians but they do not know the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. How is a man saved? How is a man accepted before God? They do not have an answer to these questions. For some, they feel that questions of doctrine are not very important and that one should not be involved in things that ‘divide’ the Church, but only in things that make us to be united in one. But thank God that Paul and Barnabas were not like these brethren. Paul and Barnabas were willing to suspend their evangelistic and missionary efforts in order to go to Jerusalem and settle this matter. Do you know why? A wrong doctrine allowed to spread can actually make of no effect all the years of a man’s evangelistic and discipleship labours.
The council in Jerusalem was one of the best things that ever happened to the Christian faith. Every Christian will forever be grateful to God for that council ad how they followed the Holy Spirit. Why? This is because it was at that council meeting in Jerusalem that Christianity was forever separated from Judaism, and from the old covenant (i.e. the laws and demands of Moses). Until then, many disciples were still seeing themselves as Jews and were seeing others as Gentiles. It was at the Jerusalem council that the brethren fully understood that a new nation had been formed, not a nation of Jews, nor a nation of Gentiles, but a nation called “the Church of God”. This was why Paul was writing later in 1 Corinthians 10:32, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God:” Did you see the 3 nations there. At that council meeting in Jerusalem, the Apostles acknowledged that though all men were born either as Jews or Gentiles, but when they believe in Christ Jesus, they are then born into a new nation- not the nation of the Jews with its sacrifices and moral codes, nor the nation of the Gentiles with its philosophies and immoral lives, but a nation of the Church of God, who are made righteous through faith in Christ Jesus, and who are following the Spirit of Jesus on a daily basis.
It is very interesting to notice how the Jerusalem council argued their cases and came to a conclusion. Foremost, they argued for a long time, and the argument was very serious. Perspectives were shared and counter-perspectives offered. Whoever told us that the fact that the earlier apostles were fishermen meant that they were not intellectually sound and hence cannot reason out an argument must have lied to us. There in Jerusalem, arguments and counter-arguments were offered as the brethren deliberated on the matter. However, three (3) issues arose that settled the arguments forever:
- THE CURRENT WORKINGS OF GOD: Paul and Barnabas, as well as Apostle Peter, made their arguments on the basis of the blessing with which God was greeting their labours among the Gentiles. They argued that they would never had got results from their labours were it not because the Lord sanctioned it. The testimony of the moves of the Holy Spirit, and the testimonies of changed lives are good points of arguments for the efficacy of the Gospel of Jesus, and of the new and living way that Christ Himself had consecrated through their veil of His body. If God had not blessed their labours, they would never had got so much results. Hence, the results they obtained in ministry were proof that God was indeed behind it all.
- THE TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURES: Now, anybody could arise and claim results for whatever it is that he is doing. This was why when James brought up his own argument, he cited the Holy Scriptures thereby giving credence to the fact that it has been God’s plan from the days of the prophets to include the Gentiles in His redemption plan. The argument from the Holy Scriptures is a solid ground upon which Christian doctrines and arguments can be made.
- THE REALITIES OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: Nearly 90% of doctrinal arguments could easily be settled if people were sincere to their own personal experiences. Peter asked the council if there were any one of them who had really kept the laws of Moses. Even the brethren who were teaching that the way of salvation was through the laws of Moses had not even kept all of the laws of Moses. The Law of Moses was a ‘burden’ that even the Jews had not been able to carry, so, why lay it now upon the Gentiles? In fact, Peter addressed the council saying, Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Acts 15:10-11 KJV) Thus Peter was making the members of the council understand that even they (who were Jews) were expecting salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and not by keeping the laws of Moses. Thus, Peter emphatically declared (and no one rebuffed him) that they were also a part of the third nation. They may have been born Jews while others were born as Gentles, but they all together (Jew and Gentile) look to Jesus for salvation (thereby becoming equal citizens of the third nation.)
So, the council in Jerusalem came to an end, with the council giving credence to the revelations that Paul had received- that salvation is only through faith in Christ, and that one does not need to be a Jew or keep all the laws of Moses before he can be saved. They wrote a letter to the Gentile churches and sent Barsabas (who was earlier selected with Matthias to contest for Apostleship) and brother Silas to travel with the letters and read it to the churches. The letter essentially proclaimed as follows: For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (Acts 15:28-29 KJV). Wherever this letter was read, the Gentile brethren were comforted and grew stronger in their faith.
AND SO? Do you know that there are Christians today who still believe that there is salvation in being a Jew? They feel bad and wish that they were Jews, and some even claim that they are lost Jews? Do you know that there are Christians who still think that salvation can only be found in keeping the laws of Moses? I hope you are not one of those Christians? I hope your eyes have been opened to understand the third nation? Whether we are naturally Jews or Gentiles, black or white, Igbo or Fulani; when we believe in Christ Jesus, we become brothers and are equally saved through our faith in Christ Jesus. Are you aware of this? I strongly encourage you to read the whole book of Romans, so you can appreciate more and more the salvation we have obtained through Christ Jesus.
May the Lord help us to maintain the doctrine of Christ pure and steadfast without mixing Moses and other ancient practices into it. May the Lord help us that we will not lay upon the new converts God had given us a burden that God did not lay upon them. May the Lord grant unto us that we may fully understand this Christian faith and so present (and represent) it well, both in life and in doctrine, that Christ may be all and in all.