Now, that’s a loaded question! And not one I am about to try to answer here. But it is the question the Christians in Antioch were asking.
Grace through faith in Jesus? Definitely!
He [God] purified their [Gentiles] hearts through faith. . . . It is by the grace of the Lord Jesus that we shall be saved, just like them. (15:9, 11)
But is there more? At least some of the early Christians thought so:
“They must be circumcised,” they [believers from the party of the Pharisees] said, “and you must tell them to keep the law of Moses.” (15:5)
Much like Acts 2, Acts 15 is one of the more significant chapters in the book. There is so much to say about this chapter. The chapter also produces so many further questions. Some of these observations and questions would be:
- When an argument ensued, they gathered together to talk it out.
- The Scriptures played a important role in their decision-making (15:15-18), but so did the everyday ministry experiences of the apostles involved (15:12).
- Early Christianity was diverse enough to encompass former Pharisees and former prostitutes, Zealots and tax collectors, those with a great level of obedience to the Jewish customs and those who thought those customs were largely irrelevant.
- Even after the decision was made to disagree with the Pharisaical Christians, the apostles and elders still accept them as “some of our number” (15:24).
- This conflict ends with feelings of “delight,” “encouragement,” and “peace” (15:31-33).
- How did the apostles and elders making the decision know what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (15:28)?
- Why was blood in food deemed that much more important than circumcision or the Sabbath?
- This decision was given to Christians in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. Was it also intended to apply to other churches too? For instance, Paul didn’t make a big deal over food sacrificed to idols in Corinth.
- Is baptism equivalent to circumcision? Do the principles here regarding circumcision apply to modern debates over baptism?
- What modern issues of debate would be in line with the topic of law observance? Worship styles, gender roles, marital history, sexual preference?
However, I don’t want us to miss the big point in this chapter, so important that Luke says it twice:
Therefore this is my judgment: we should not cause extra difficulties for those of the Gentiles who have turned to God. (15:19)
For it seemed good to the holy spirit and to us not to lay any burden on you beyond the following necessary things. (15:28)
This did not mean there were no boundaries or requirements. The Gentiles in Antioch were expected to avoid food associated with pagan idolatry, food that would still have a good amount of blood in it, and sexual perversions (15:20, 29). Still, the apostles and elders decided to go the path of least resistance. They endeavored to place as few barriers as possible between God and those Gentiles seeking Him. Important to any debate Christians might have today regarding what it takes to be saved should be this same principle: don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be.