Part 1 covered Acts 15, the story of the young Church’s debate over what parts of the Law of Moses would be required for new Gentile believers. Part 2 zoomed in on one of the four requirements the Church picked: to abstain from sexual immorality.
A summary of the four requirements:
- Exodus 34:12-17. Eating food sacrificed to an idol is participation in worship of that idol, which is idolatry.
- Leviticus 17:13. The commandment to drain blood from animals you wanted to eat.
- Leviticus 3:17 and 17:10-14. The commandment to not eat or drink blood. (Deuteronomy 12:23 explains why: “for the blood is life itself–you must not eat the life with the meat.”)
- Leviticus 18 and 20, Deuteronomy 12:13-30. The laws on illegal sexual acts and relations.
Gentile Culture Shock
I think it’s key that we realize these new Gentile believers were from cultures that followed customs opposed to these four requirements. Gentiles did eat and drink blood, ate meat with blood still in it, ate meat sacrificed to idols, and were sexually immoral. Now the Gentiles didn’t consider themselves sexually immoral. For example, when Roman soldiers had sex with younger soldiers or with teenage boys, they considered it moral—as long as the soldier was playing the part of the man. That is to say, perhaps crudely, as long as he was the top. But God’s law called both men who participated in homosexual sex sinners.
So by giving these Four Requirements, the Church was requiring the incoming Gentiles to change their culture. Now it may seem like scattered and arbitrary laws to choose, but remember why the Church chose these particular four:
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements:”
Acts 15:28 NLT
And earlier from James’ own words:
“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Acts 15:19 NLT
Saved by the Law?
Now the big question: are these Four Requirements saving Gentiles? No. Considerable space is used in the New Testament arguing against the idea that the Law of Moses saves anyone. In fact, in the same Acts 15, we see the Apostle Peter say:
“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 15:11 NLT
The Four Requirements weren’t necessary to be saved; they were requirements for Gentiles who already believed Jesus. We don’t need them or the Ten Commandments or any part of the Law to be saved. Instead the Law’s purpose is to be our guide against sin. Paul wrote:
“But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.”
Romans 7:12 NLT
Yet—he did also write:
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
Galatians 5:1 NLT
Why’d he say this? Look in the verse right after:
“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.”
Galatians 5:2 NLT
Circumcision: the exact issue that set off the debate of Acts 15! So if the Apostles were trying to argue against circumcision as a requirement for salvation, why would they come up a set of four extra salvation requirements? No; The same Paul who argued against circumcision in Acts 15 and Galatians 5 also wrote:
“Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
Romans 3:24 NLT
The Law’s Punishments Today
This brings me to a point from part 2 that bears repeating: Christ freed us from the penalty of our sins. We don’t need to be killed anymore for being sexually immoral, especially if we’re expected to stop being sexually immoral by the Four Requirements. Can’t be a dead church member!
“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT
This makes me consider then: are other punishments from the Law cancelled too? Because if practicing homosexuals were required by Law to die, but now thanks to Christ no longer, what about the others that were required to die by the Law of Moses? Like adulterers? Or sorcerers and idolaters? Or blasphemers and disobedient children? Or murderers?
But that’s whole ‘nother post.