Connecting to the Larger Story
God had chosen Paul for the mission of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles - that is, non-Jewish people who did not believe in the God of Israel, much less Jesus himself. Paul spent time building up churches and inviting Gentiles to become a part of the church. Many Gentiles came to believe and became practicing members of the church. Yet there was a question about what made one truly a Christian - did you have to follow the Jewish law, specifically those concerning circumcision - the sign of the covenant with God, first? Paul's understanding of the gospel was that Jesus had fulfilled the law and thus had freed us from its burden. Many of the Jewish Christians understood the gospel to be an addition to rather than fulfillment of the law of Moses, so they expected that Gentile converts should first become law-observant Jews and then profess faith in Christ. This issue came to the forefront in the Council of Jerusalem as Jesus' original disciples met with Paul. What was at stake was what it means to be a part of God's people.
Important to Note
1) Recognizing the fruit of Paul's ministry as evidence of God's approval, Peter spoke out in favor of accepting the Gentile converts as they were without the requirements of the law. James then added that burdens should not be placed that would keep the Gentiles from turning to God but that the Gentiles should be instructed in how to live in a holy way: avoiding idols, sexual immorality, and unclean foods. At the heart of this discourse is one of the great tensions in the faith: we are freed by Jesus from the consequences of the law and yet we are not free to simply live how we want to without consequence. While we are saved by faith alone, the way we live after receiving salvation should bear fruit of a transformed life.
Thoughts for Reflection
1) Why should we worry about how we live if Jesus forgives us of all our sins?