November 14 I Wednesday
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...”
The teaching that necessitated calling a council in Jerusalem was an emphatic one. The Jewish believers used words like “must” and “required” to describe their position that all Gentile Christians had to be circumcised to be saved. But Peter challenged this position when he addressed the council: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles should hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us” (Acts 15:7-8).
This understates how astonishing it would have been for Peter when the first Gentiles experienced salvation. The Jewish people had been chosen as the people of God. Theirs was the Law, the prophets, the Messiah and the covenants with God. Gentiles were outside the covenant, unclean, and Jews were forbidden from even entering Gentile homes! It would have been shocking enough when God led Peter to preach in the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius, but before Peter had finished his message, Cornelius and his whole household believed and received the Holy Spirit.
God giving His Spirit to these Gentiles was not because of anything Peter had done. Neither did Cornelius or the other Gentiles do anything to earn their salvation. As James, chair of the council, would summarize, “Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for His name from the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14). Salvation is not a mutual work where we do our part and Christ does His; salvation is totally and entirely “the gift of God.” There is no precondition for receiving the Spirit other than an open and receptive heart. We have to respond in repentance and faith, but the initiative, conviction and revelation behind our salvation is God’s.
The alternative is what leads some Christians to think our actions somehow contribute to our salvation. They live as though their salvation is only valid if their “good outweighs their bad,” thinking those whose “bad outweighs their good” are undeserving of heaven. But the truth is that all believers are justified on the same grounds: by relationship with Christ, whose death and resurrection is sufficient to remove all sin.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once wrote, “The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.” Before salvation, our position before God is naked, helpless and foul, having nothing to offer. But the gracious gift of God is that Jesus makes us His own by faith; cleansing us, saving us and indwelling us by His Spirit.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that Your people now consists of both Jews and Gentiles and that I can be part of this people by the gift of Your grace.