“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)
There has always been a tension in the church between grace and truth. In reality, such a tension shouldn’t even exist. Too often we think that we need 50% grace and 50% truth, but Jesus, the embodiment of both, was 100% of each. He was all grace and all truth.
The first debate in the church arose over this issue: is grace enough, or do new converts to Christianity also need to be converts to Judaism? Those Christians from the group of the Pharisees believed that new gentile converts also needed to become Jewish – in particular, the men needed to be circumcised. Additionally, they needed to be trained in obeying all 613 Jewish laws and customs before they could be welcomed into the church.
Now before we write them off as being ridiculous, there’s a sense in which the modern church does the same thing. We require people to clean up their acts before joining the club. You need to dress the right way, drink the right things, and use the proper language before we welcome you in. Frankly, it’s not much different than what the early Christians were trying to impose on the gentile converts.
It was James, the brother of Jesus, who stood up and said proclaimed that they should not be making things difficult for those who were coming to faith. In other words, the laws and the customs of Judaism were an unfair burden to place on the backs of the disciples. Instead, they should abstain from sexual immorality and from food that had been sacrificed to idols. What if our churches today took a similar approach to welcoming people in?
Is it possible that God can cleanse a person’s heart before cleansing the person’s flesh? What if we were bold in our truth AND in our grace? What if we didn’t simply stand on street corners preaching truth but defended those suffering the judgmental attitudes of others while encouraging them to sin no more? Paul said that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance… not living up to the law that leads us to repentance. And once the Spirit begins working in our lives inwardly, the effects start showing outwardly.
Father, help me to remove any obstacles that I create from people coming to faith in You. I want to embody both grace and truth the way that Jesus did. As I lead the local church, give me wisdom and guidance in helping to create an environment that embodies both grace and truth, and let people who walk through our doors sense Your presence in a unique way.