The story told in today’s New Testament lesson (Acts 15:1-11) has always intrigued and challenged me. The church is still in its early days, and God has been at work, bringing Gentiles to faith in Christ. This expansion of the gospel’s reach, however, does create some issues in the fledgling church, because the lifestyles and customs of these Gentiles differ dramatically from those of the Jews, who – up to now – have formed the foundation of the Jesus Movement. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that certain teachers would step forward and insist that “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses” (v. 5). After all, getting circumcised and obeying the Law formed the backbone of what identified someone as a child of God. How could one be saved and become a part of what God is doing in the world without adhering to the most basic and time-honored traditions that had defined God’s people down through the ages?
But Peter and the other leaders of the church come to a different conclusion:
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:8-11)
We know that we’re saved by grace; and yet, we’re constantly tempted to put our trust in “amazing grace and something else,” aren’t we? It could be our favorite doctrinal position or our preferred worship style. It could be our political persuasion or our convictions about some issue related to lifestyle. And these things do matter, of course. They are addressed by the scriptures that God has given us; and in many cases they form a vital part of the tradition that defines us. But they’re not the heart. They’re not grace — which alone has the power to save and transform — because only grace meets us where we are, sets us free from the debt we can’t pay, and unleashes the gratitude that makes us joyful followers of the One who gives grace to us.
In what “something else” are we tempted to put our trust? And what does it look like for us to remain faithful to the traditions and practices that define us without allowing those traditions to blind us to the grace of God, which is amazing enough to transcend our understanding?
May God help us to trust in His grace today. And to extend His grace to others.