“You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
There are many churches I would love to visit and observe the work God is doing. The church in Jerusalem was one of those churches. In the early chapters of Acts, we read about this church that began as a work of the Spirit, was birthed in revival, emphasized outreach, focused on discipleship, and even sent out saints to impact the world. We read that they gathered at Solomon’s Porch (an area adjacent to the Temple), to worship, pray, and preach. No building in the city was large enough to house the multitudes who were coming to Christ, so the believers met together in homes throughout the city for prayer, study, fellowship and communion. What a thrilling time it must have been to be a part of that work of God. Sadly, by the end of the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem had changed. No longer was it the hub for ministry that it once was. Instead, it had become a place filled with internal conflict brought about by legalism. The seed of that is found here.
Imagine the scene. Peter arrives back from his trip. He has had a vision in which God spoke to him. That is exciting! They should be intrigued and celebrate how amazing God is; that He would interrupt Peter’s sleep and speak to Him. Beyond that, Peter had just led a whole family to Christ. The kingdom of God just got bigger! In addition, this family was not Jewish, they were Gentiles. Their acceptance of Christ was now opening up the entire world to the Gospel message. The church should have been ecstatic; celebrating the fact that the whole world was now their mission field. Instead, what these guys took away from Peter’s story was, “you ate with Gentiles!” That blows my mind! How sad, that this once vibrant church could become so legalistic.
Legalism could be defined as putting restrictions upon us that the Bible does not place on us. Now, it is clear, there are certain restrictions that the Bible does place on us. Those restrictions are the driving force behind many who refuse to come to Christ. John wrote that “. . . light came into the world but men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). We must understand, the restrictions Scripture places on us are for our best. God is, in fact, trying to keep us from something, and that something is unnecessary suffering.
That being said, the legalist is the one who puts restrictions on us beyond what the Bible teaches. They focus on what we wear, what we eat, the day we worship, the style of music, and the list goes on and on. Once legalism enters a person’s life, or a church body, people no longer measure their Christian life by growth in Christ, but instead, by adherence to the rules. Instead of clinging to Christ and seeking for others to know Him, we become focused on making sure the women are wearing the right clothes and the men eating the correct foods.
It is abiding in Jesus, not adhering to a set of rules, that will transform our lives and attract the world to the Gospel. If we want to see Christ continue to work in us, we must continue to abide in Christ.