15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
I had planned to move on to the next section today but feel compelled to address this verse. The underlying thinking is the core of what is wrong with religion. The sentiment is clear. There is this one thing you must get right, this one thing you must do or God can't and won't save you. When you scan the religious landscape today every religion and every sect within a particular religion has a particular thing or formula or list you must follow to get the reward God is withholding from us.
First of all God is withholding nothing from us. Jesus came while we were still in rebellion. He didn't come or die because we deserved it or because we got something right. He came because we needed Him and He loves us. Our need was His motive, not our performance. In John 6:28,29 the religious leaders asked Jesus "What do we need to do to work the works of God?" What they were really asking was "What does God want from us? What is the formula?"
Jesus answered "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom He sent."
I can't emphasize enough how opposite Truth is from religion. Jesus is the Truth. He is the "reward", He is our 'salvation'. The Greek word for salvation is the same word used for 'healing'. When the Bible says "Jesus saves" it means Jesus heals. In religion everything is external. We do tangible things to get a tangible reward. In the context of Acts 15 these men were teaching that only by the physical removal of the foreskin of the penis would God open the gates to paradise. A tangible act earns a tangible reward. Essentially it is a business transaction. Think about that. How many business transactions have you engaged in in your life? Everything from a stick of gum to a car or house. In every one of those transactions goods and/or money was exchanged right? What relationship was involved? How many cashiers became your friend? Business is business. No relationship is needed and really none is wanted. "Just take what I have and give me what I want and I'll be on my way."
We have reduced our relationship with God from what He always designed it to be down to a cold formal business transaction. That may sound harsh but it's true. God wants to heal us and heal the relationship between us but we just want to pay Him off so we can get what we think we want from Him. For Catholics it's mass and confession. For Baptists it's baptism by immersion. For Adventists it's worshiping on the "right" day.
"Unless you confess your sins to the priest and receive the sacrament you cannot be saved."
"Unless you are baptized by immersion you cannot be saved."
"Unless you keep the Sabbath of the Bible you cannot be saved."
Somewhere along the way we missed the part where Jesus disregarded all the careful rules and formulas of the Jews as a means to get a reward. Christianity just morphed into a new religion with a new list and essentially nothing changed. God is still on the outside looking in (Rev. 3:18-20). Salvation is still a reward purchased from a God we want no personal relationship with.
Jesus never came to revise the list and start a new religion. He came to reveal Himself and the love of God. He came to heal the broken relationship. He came to help us see God for who He really is. He came to win us back with His relentless love. He just wants us to believe Him and believe in Him. That choice alone will begin the healing process. The rest is just religion in all it's varied yet identical forms.
Choose Him or choose a system that ultimately leads to nowhere.