"And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. . . But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
- Acts 15:8-9, 11, ESV
Does God Make Distinctions Between People in Salvation?
Today's reading confronts us with a vitally important question: Whom does God save and how? Some Christians believe that God saves all ethnic Jews because they are Jews and God's chosen people, according to the promise made to Abraham. Others believe that God saves Jewish people who keep the Mosaic Law and who are faithfully awaiting the Messiah still. Yet other Christians believe that God saves all religious people according to the beliefs and requirements of their religions. (Does this include militant atheists or Satanists?)
Today's passage makes it clear that all such distinctions are wrong. When God sent the Gospel to the Gentiles through Peter and then later through Paul and Barnabas, He made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. As Peter made very clear in his speech before the Jerusalem Council: "we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
God has but one way of salvation: Jesus Christ. Yesterday, we examined the importance of keeping anyone from adding to or distorting Christ alone as necessary for salvation. Today, we are seeing the clear truth that we cannot replace Christ alone by saying that He is only one possible way for God to save people.
If you want to come and worship with us at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, you must come to Forest Hill, Maryland, in beautiful Harford County. If you go to the one in Richmond, Virginia, you'll be lost. You must then drive to Newport Drive and come all the way down Newport to the Newport Terrace building. Oh, and you need to come on a Sunday morning at 10:30. It's simple, but distorting the directions will get you lost.
Now this is not the same thing as saying that God does not recognize distinctions between people in any sense whatsoever. God knows the difference between a man and a woman. It's also legitimate to have certain cultural differences. If the Jewish believers wanted to keep kosher and be circumcised, this was not forbidden by God, as long as they weren't trusting in such observances for salvation or imposing these practises on others. Doing either one of those crosses the line from cultural observance to legalism.
Heavenly Father, Your Gospel is good news indeed! Your Son is wonderful, the mighty Savior and Lord of Your own people. Give us the grace to trust in Him always and not in ourselves. Keep us from making unbiblical distinctions, but let us see all of Your people as one in Christ, saved through Christ alone. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Proverbs 18:9-16:
Whoever is slack in his work
is a brother to him who destroys.
Father, You give us our work as a gift and a blessing,
so let us work hard, for Your glory, in all we do.
The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
and like a high wall in his imagination.
Before destruction a man's heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.
Lord, You alone are our refuge and our strength,
so we flee to You for hiding and shelter.
Hide us and keep us safe.
Father, let us never trust in riches or in our pride,
but only in Your grace and Your Fatherly care.
If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.
A man's spirit will endure sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
A man's gift makes room for him
and brings him before the great.
Father, we are such frail and foolish creatures,
and we need You to preserve us from the shame and discouragement that come to us so easily.
Give us sound minds and diligent spirits to search after the truth,
and give us the humility to honor You in all we do,
for You indeed alone are the Lord!
In Jesus' name, Amen.