Acts 15:8-9 “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.”
Once again Peter comes through on behalf of God’s plan for the Gentiles. God’s plans are really very interesting. Peter ministered largely to Jews, yet God used him to establish the principle that Gentiles are equal with Jews before God. Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” yet he is the one whom God used to establish clearly, in Romans 9-11, that He is not through with the Jews, and they are no lower in the kingdom of God than Gentiles are. Entrenched attitudes can be very hard to change, and that was what God was dealing with here. By the time you get to verse 11, you can practically hear the passion in Peter’s voice as he makes the case for salvation by grace through faith. Thinking about it, Paul was essentially quoting Peter in his famous statement on the subject. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It’s not that he was intentionally quoting, but rather that the Holy Spirit was being consistent in speaking through multiple messengers. (He does that a lot.) This whole incident arose because we are so prone to want to be able to take credit in some way for our salvation, but God makes it clear it’s all of Him. Sadly, even today churches put up all sorts of “performance tests” for those they will accept. Alcohol and tobacco use immediately come to mind. Questions of wisdom and stewardship arise with those, but they can’t be legitimate tests of salvation. The Bible stresses moderation, not abstinence, when it comes to alcohol, and tobacco originated in North America, so is naturally unmentioned in the Bible. There are behaviors that God clearly and explicitly forbids, and clinging to those certainly raises huge red flags when it comes to the Lordship of Jesus in someone’s heart and life, but the principle remains: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no-one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
As a pastor I have to keep reminding myself of this. Believers make all sorts of foolish choices, as do I, but that doesn’t change the fact of their salvation, or mine. I like what one evangelist said God told him: “You catch ’em, I’ll clean ’em.” The image of fishing is very apt. My job is indeed to make disciples, which does involve all sorts of performance issues, but I must not think, much less say, that a performance failure impinges on salvation. We do have to answer before God for our actions, and our behavior has a huge influence on how much and how well we enjoy the blessings God has for us, but those things are not the same as salvation itself. A few days ago I talked to someone whom I baptized years ago who, by his own admission, is not living a life pleasing to God, but whether he is saved or not is between him and God; I am not the judge.
Father, I’ve long struggled with the issues of holiness and legalism. Help me be a pure instrument of Your grace to all, so that I may not get in the way of their salvation but be fully useful to You in Your harvest, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!