The Jerusalem Council wrote a letter to the believers in Antioch and asked Judas and Silas to deliver the letter. The letter said that the believers did not have to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses. Then it continued, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…”. Then they asked them to abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols, from bloody meat, and from sexual immorality. The Gentiles were asked to abstain from these three abhorrent actions, not under the Law, but through grace. The letter ended: “If you keep yourselves from these things, you do well” (see Acts 15:23-29).
James and the Apostles were not replacing the old Law of Moses with a new law, rather they were simply making recommendations on how to live a godly life. Notice the difference between the Old Testament law that says “Thou shalt not…” and the New Testament recommendation, “It seemed good to us…” (Acts 15:28). Under Christ we have freedom. Not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to choose to do what is right.
Look at what Paul tells the church in Rome, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Paul does not command believers to be holy, he beseeches us to be so. Paul uses the language of grace, not the language of the Law. Working for God is our “reasonable service.” And we serve God, not on the basis of Law, but because of grace.
The proper role of pastors in today’s society is not to enforce rules; it is to help people live better lives. People should hear the church saying, “We love you. We care about you. We recommend the following course of action. But our recommendation comes from our desire to see God’s best in you, not from a desire to force you to live a certain way.”
For example, if an unmarried couple is living together, what should be a church’s response? Should the church condemn them for living in sin? Or should the church recommend that the couple get married because marriage is God’s best plan for the husband, the wife, and the children?
What should be the church’s response to someone living a homosexual lifestyle? Should the homosexual be kicked out of the church until he gets his life right? Should the church hit the homosexual over the head with a Bible? Or should the church lovingly recommend that being gay is not God’s best way?
Imagine, a couple is about to get divorced. Should the church shout, “God hates divorce—if you get divorced, you are sinning”? Or should the church explain, “It seems good to us that you work out your differences and stay together”?
When the church shouts the Law at people, it turns them away from the grace of God. But when the church extends grace to people, it attracts them to God.