Day 289 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Acts.
Acts 21 – Paul’s visit with James is another episode in the continuing struggle on the part of many Jewish Christians to comprehend the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. With Paul at the forefront, the word about Jesus scandalizes many Jews because it brings Gentiles into the people of God without requiring them to abide by the law. We see Paul confronting this issue throughout his letters, most especially in Galatians and Romans.
Paul is unyielding about the obligation to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, and about their not having to keep the laws regarding Jewish ceremonies and traditions; however, we also see Paul doing all he can to demonstrate to the Jews that he values the law, even undergoing these rites of purification (verse 26). For the sake of spreading the message of God’s grace, Paul insists that he can become “all things to all people,” allowing a remarkable space for adaptation in nonessentials for the sake of mission (without compromising the gospel or his identity in Jesus; see 1 Corinthians 9:19–23). He also encourages others to this flexibility in nonessentials for the sake of harmony and humility in the church (see Romans 14).
The grace of the gospel frequently leads to the charge of antinomianismn (that the Law no longer matters), or lawlessness—that if grace is free, people will feel free to sin all they want. The first to levy such charges are, as here, those who are zealous to keep religious commands and compel others to do the same. Paul goes to great lengths to satisfy the Jerusalem accusers (verse 25), even accommodating James by submitting to a ritual Mosaic cleansing.
Paul’s opponents believed that commands could only be kept out of fear of punishment, and that if that fear were removed, there would no longer be any motivation to live a righteous life. Into this situation comes news of the gospel, in which Jesus has removed the fear of punishment and freely reconciled us to God. Those zealous for the law can only see the potential danger: If Christians do not fear punishment, they will do whatever they want! Think of the anarchy! The book of Acts refutes such accusations, showing that those who have experienced grace are motivated by remembering God’s grace; because of God’s great love for them, they do whatever He wants (John 14:15). They are compelled by the love of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14).
In Galatians, Paul goes as far to say that if you mix in any law with grace, you now have another gospel, which He says is no gospel at all.
How do you see the Gospel of God’s grace (not the Law) being the motivator in your life to love God and love people?
Acts 22 – The gospel Paul proclaims sometimes incites riots: it challenges the livelihood of some (Acts 19), it stirs up fears of antinomianism in others (Acts 21), and here the Jews of Jerusalem are offended that God is concerned with the Gentiles. As soon as Paul mentions God commissioning him to go to the Gentiles, they are infuriated and want to execute him (verse 22).
This is the scandal of the gospel. The Jews treasured their status as God’s people, and found it difficult to accept that God was “grafting in” those from outside their race (Romans 11:17–24). God’s grace extends to those we assume are beyond His reach, even to those we despise.
Paul is living out the persecution that Jesus promised would come to some of His followers when He foresaw that families would be bitterly divided on account of His kingdom (Luke 12:51–53). Paul is convinced that God has called him to this vocation, despite the rejection he suffers. Enduring such suffering for the sake of the gospel involves greater love for the very ones who persecute him.
How do you allow the love of God to flow through you to those who come against you?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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