Thursday, May 8, 2014

Acts 15: Freedom from Moses' Law, not Moral Law

Acts 15:1-12 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.   When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

The word "law" has been used quite loosely among Christians nowadays. But specifically, we read in Acts 15, the issue confronting the early church was Moses Law, not the Moral Law. In particular, the Jewish believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees wanted the Gentile believers to keep all the laws of Moses, beginning with circumcision. So, the conclusion of the debate and discussion at the Council of Jerusalem is this: Gentile believers are no longer under obligation to Moses' Law, but they are still under obligation to God's spiritual and moral law: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well."

The above injunctions given to Gentile believers were to address the prevalent spiritual and moral corruption in Greek society: participation in idolatrous feasts, secret practices of pagan mystery religious and widespread sexual immorality. The sexual immorality engaged in NT Greek society ranged from homosexuality, pedophilia, temple prostitution, incest to polygamy. While Gentile believers are under no obligation to Moses' Law, we are nevertheless under obligation to God's higher spiritual and moral laws of holiness as Paul emphasizes in 2 Cor 6:14-18,

  • "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

To confuse freedom from Moses' Law with freedom from the Moral Law  is to open the floodgate of idolatry and sexual immorality in the Church. It is already happening among believers because of this mistaken doctrine of  grace without discipleship.

Father, grant us wisdom to walk in holiness. Amen.

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