Jerusalem Council

The Lord had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. The Christian community had known that there was a prophecy that Jesus would be the light to the Gentiles but when the Holy Ghost had been poured upon the Gentiles as well as the Judaic Christians, it must have been a wonderful thing to behold. Once salvation has been given to individuals, we know that it has been given through grace. It always seems that there will still be those that want to return to the beggarly elements of the law that Paul spoke of in Galatians.

About AD 50, when Paul and Barnabas went up a second time to Jerusalem for the settlements of the great question which was then agitating the Church, we again see Saint James as the most prominent figure. The effect of this council was to clearly determine in the minds of both Jewish and Gentile Christians the divine method for the present age, namely, the gathering out from the Gentiles a people for His name; second, the personal coming of the Lord Jesus immediately afterwards; third, the millennial age and the salvation of all the world. Now ready to enter into evangelization, the second missionary movement began.

The question now at stake was not the treatment of an individual case, but the obligations of the whole Gentile world. Whether the Gentiles were or were not to be circumcised was a question of which would shape the entire future of Gentile Christianity. It involved the whole relation of the Gentiles to the Mosaic Law. Was the culmination of the Jewish Messiah to the annulment of the Jewish Law, the obliteration of all that was most distinctive in the Jewish Church? Such were the questions which led to a storm of passionate dispute.

The whole weight and responsibility of the decision rested on James, and he rose on this occasion to a height worthy of his parentage and character. In the face of all the prejudices of his life James rose superior to the views of all the rabbis, his predecessors and contemporaries. Ignoring the wrathful murmurs and fanatical arguments of the Pharisaic Zealots, he decided in an opposite sense to what seems to be expected of him. He, the Righteous - he the bulwark of Judaism - he the priestly Nazarite, gave his voice to the liberal view.

It is clear that if James was satisfied as to the right of Saint Paul to act as he had done, many of his adherents were not. In violation of the whole spirit of the synodical compact, they insisted on maintaining a rigid line of distinction between Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles. Their presence in Antioch was so successful in reawakening the terrors of a fancied orthodoxy that Peter himself once more wavered, and even Barnabas was led away with the dissimulation which followed the arrival of "those certain from James." This was the bitter quarrel which nearly tore apart the unity of the early Church and took a century to heal. Stripping the church from Judaistic mixture saved the gospel from legalism, thereby setting Christian freedom on its own course as a universal spiritual movement.

When Paul wrote that everything is permissible, he also writes elsewhere to flee fornication. It is the single most condemned sin in scripture. Christian liberty is the issue, since we are not under the law, we are free to do what we want but we are also told to walk in the spirit. If we are in the spirit, we will not sin, it is impossible, it would be against our spiritual nature that is led by Jesus if we are in Christ. The Jerusalem council was over the issue of whether we should be subject to Jewish law, the answer was no but there had been a few admonitions that the council added that identified sins that we should keep away from. One of them was sexual immorality, or fornication; the others concerned idolatry and the occult. This is the scripture:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Fare ye well. Acts 15:28, 29.

Do you see here that they laid no other burden on us? Now this would be heresy to those that want to put up all kind of rules for us to follow such as not smoking and drinking and dancing and rock and roll or any other worldly activity that make them feel more righteous than the rest but Christian liberty is something that a legalist cannot know about.

Paul also speaks of license. Liberty and to be liberal is not the same thing as license, no matter what do nothing conservatives would have us believe. Paul teaches us not to let our grace turn into licentiousness, that would be another form of slavery which could be idolatry. These things are then allowable but not edifying, so discretion is needed and that comes from bearing witness with the Holy Spirit. You can be spiritual and smoke but you cannot be spiritual and join yourself with a harlot. They both may be a sin against your body but the seriousness of one over another is clear.

As to being in the kingdom and for our relationship to God, it is mindful to recognize that we are in the kingdom now if Jesus is reigning in our hearts. If He truly is King at any present time, we would not be in the kingdom and in the state of adultery at the same time. As far as forgiveness, it is infinite so we cannot put a limit on how many times we can sin and God can forgive us. If we are in a state of unrepentant continual sin, we are not walking in the spirit but God is the judge of that, there are no answers there. And as far as sinners not inheriting the kingdom of God, we know that all have sinned and come short. We are to be perfect. Are you? Am I? If we come short, we will not inherit? Again, God is the judge but to think that we can sin and be forgiven and the blood of Jesus will protect us from wrath is a sham if it is used as an excuse to sin.

So how are we to act? In fear of the Lord and of His righteous judgment. We are to endure to the end, are we not? So until the end, we had better continue in that fear for it is those that cannot endure to the end that the Bible teaches may be erased from the book of life. I can say that nothing can separate me from the love of God, but what of His wrath? I had better have a more profound respect for God than those that tell me I can approach the throne of grace with boldness but without fear and a responsibility to do what is right and abstain from sin and worldly lusts.
[328, 330, 339]

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