Summary: Though different and unique, the people of God’s family are united by one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
Acts 15:1-17 “All One Family”
There are times when it is rather easy to tell that people are in different groups. For example, it is usually easy to tell a diet/exercise fanatic from a couch potato. We can have a hand inspection and probably tell who’s a blue collar worker and who is a white collar worker. Nationalities can sometimes be determined. Sometimes you can even tell a person’s denomination. If they are walking around with ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, you know that they aren’t Baptist.
There are times, though, when it is very difficult for us to determine what an individual is or isn’t. What does a Christian look like? How do you know that a person is a Christian and when they are not a Christian? Who’s in the family and who isn’t? Our lesson today has the first church council, which took place in Jerusalem, meeting to determine answers to these very questions.
A WATERSHED DECISION
The conflict continues between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians. A strong faction in the early church believed that people had to become Jews—be circumcised, eat Kosher, and observe the Sabbath, before they became Christians. The Gentile Christians argued that they only needed to have faith, and they did not need to follow the Jewish teachings.
Peter cast the deciding vote. He stands before the council and recalls his experience with Cornelius a Gentile who became a Christian. While Peter was still preaching to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and his household and they were filled with the Spirit. This happened before Cornelius had a chance to become a Jew.
After deliberation, the council decided that the determining factor in being a Christian was faith. People did not need to become Jews before they could become Christians. This decision transformed Christianity in to a world religion, and gave us the Lutheran “battle cry” “We are justified (saved) by faith.”
When we talk about faith, it is important for us to remind ourselves that it is a gift. The Spirit descended upon Cornelius and his family, gave them faith, and filled them with his presence.
Faith isn’t something we can conjure up. We cannot create faith where once there was no faith. We cannot earn our faith.
A DIFFERENT FAITH
The faith that the early Christians were talking about, though, is different from the way faith is popularly understood today. We place a great emphasis on believing the right things. Many people believe that faith believes that the Bible is inspired, Jesus rose from the dead, and that Jesus died for our sins. Or people think that you have faith when you come to the end of your reasoning: “I can’t explain it. Just have faith.” Faith wasn’t first understood as believing several theological points. The early Christians believed a person—they believed Jesus because he was a person with whom they had a relationship.
Faith is more than believing things. Faith is trust. Faith is resting in the reality that God has us in the palm of his hand. We have nothing to worry about. Soren Kierkegaard gave the example that faith is like floating in one thousand feet of water. If you relax the water supports you. If you struggle, you begin to sink.
Faith is loyalty. Faith is not placing anything before the Lord our God. Another word for loyalty is fidelity. God called Israel, in the Old Testament, to be faithful to him, but the people followed the path of infidelity and followed other Gods. Faith is living in the reality that we live and breathe to love and serve God.
Faith is vision. It is common for people to see the world as evil and “going to hell in a hand basket.” Others see the world as indifferent. Life is them against the world. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, Christians can see the world (and God) as life giving and nourishing. Christian’s perspective on God and the world transforms us and make us very different from the people who hold other points of view.
Faith is a gift. Faith is also an object of the heart. It is a heart filled with trust, loyalty and vision. Faith is walking in God’s kingdom, while on earth.