by Christina Crumbliss
From childhood, I grew up in the church and was raised on Sunday school answers. I did my best to keep good morals and stay out of trouble. In fact, I was pretty good at it. From the outside I was certainly the model young girl without any glaring issues. If I’m honest, looking back, this created in me a false pride and a terribly sinful sense of “being better”, not to mention a completely distorted foundation for my understanding of my identity.
More than I would like to admit, I was similar to the “party of Pharisees” referenced in Acts 15:5. In this account, Luke paints a dramatic picture of Pharisees telling new Gentile believers that they must be circumcised to be saved. Circumcision would have been a mark of belonging to the Jewish family of God from birth. The false teachers who were imposing this on the Gentiles saw themselves as better than the Gentiles. There is a complete lack of understanding of the Gospel as we see this group of people requiring additional human efforts for salvation.
Luke tells us how Paul, Barnabas, and Peter confront this party at the Council at Jerusalem. What I love about Luke's story is that he says this brought Paul and Barnabas in “sharp dispute” (Acts 15:2). I can hear his passion. This is not a minor theological nuance. This is essential to our understanding of the Gospel and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for us. I cannot say it better than Peter: “‘God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith’” (Acts 15: 8-9).
In my adult life, God has brought these words to life for me. Through my own failure I realized that I could not maintain the Sunday school shell in which I had hidden for most of my early years. In my arrogance I acted as I was already “good enough”. God forgive me, I judged others when they did not look like me or act like me. God’s mercy reached me with John 15:3, which parallels this chapter of Acts in many ways. In it, Jesus says, “‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’” In a Jewish culture that fixated on clean versus unclean foods and activities, this was radical! Jesus is essentially saying, “Give it up. I’ve done it for you! All is taken care of.” Friends, I cannot tell you how freeing this was for me!
From my own lesson, I have learned to be vigilant in living out of God’s grace that, if I believe, requires no additional work on my part. There is no such thing as making ourselves good enough for the Gospel. God doesn’t need a helping hand. Jesus has done it! I call us, as Meadowbrook Church, to be passionate about loving and encouraging those who have come to faith through the “grace of our Lord Jesus… just as they are” (Acts 15:11).