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…we should not make it difficult…” (Acts 15:19)
Those six words are some of the most moving words any pastor ever spoke. Those words, spoken by James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem and spokesperson at the Jerusalem Council, were the foundation of his reasoning for urging church leaders in Antioch to remove cultural traditions (i.e., circumcision) as requirements for spiritual conversion and growth among Gentiles.
The ESV translates it “we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who are turning to God.” The CSB? “We should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God.” The NIV strikes me as the clearest in this case:“We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
In other words, James is, in the simplest of terms, exhorting them: “Don’t make it humanly hard to come to and grow in Christ!”
James isn’t saying it isn’t spiritually hard to come to and grow in Christ. Sure it is. In fact, it is spiritually impossible. Apart from Christ, no one can resurrect themselves from the graveyard of sin or bring the necessary power to live in victory over sin. There is no self-grace that gives the gift of eternal life or self-power that enables divine sanctification. Only God grants both. Left to ourselves, genuine regeneration and transformation is beyond the realm of spiritually difficult. It is spiritually impossible.
He is, instead, calling on them to not make it humanly hard by adding cultural traditions or personal preferences. He is urging his partners and parishioners to remove manmade barriers and human obstacles that would prevent others from seeing Christ alone as clearly and singularly sufficient for our new birth and continued growth. He is pastorally pleading with them to get off their soapboxes and, instead, stand solely on God’s Son as the source of salvation and sanctification.
As a side note, let me remind you this is heart-gladdening, not soul-saddening, news. Why? Because it assures us “anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Were it not for God, no one would have hope. But because of God, anyone has hope. Yes, God will do the impossible for all who repent and believe: save and sanctify human sinners. It is his work to start and his work to finish. And he will do both (Phil. 1:6). Hallelujah!
This is precisely why we don’t want to add human hurdles that people to have to jump over in order to be saved by Christ and grow in Christ. The gift of God’s salvation shouldn’t be held out as the glorious gift it is with an asterisk, indicating “You also have to do this,” or “You better do that as well.” God forbid!
Instead, let’s boldly display the universally leveling truth that all have sinned, and the universally leveling remedy for that sin—Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And anytime a sinner repents of their sin and turns to Jesus alone for forgiveness through his finished work on the cross, God does the impossible—He raises the dead to life, turning rebel sinners to righteous saints.
When we do that, we keep the gospel simple. When we continually show that coming to and growing in Christ is not by anything we do, but only by everything he has done, we uncomplicate the issue. In the words of James, “we don’t make it difficult.” After all, salvation isn’t accomplished by what’s on your to-do list, but what’s on his already-done list. That’s my kind of simplicity.
So let’s join James, shall we? Let’s not make it hard for others to come to and grow in Christ. Let’s keep making our witness all about the gospel. Let’s simplify and uncomplicate any unintentional confusion by consistently pointing to the cross as the place where it was finished. Let’s direct all eyes to Jesus’ work, not our lists. In so doing I think we’ll continue to see a work of God among us as he saves and grows all who come to him.
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