“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:10-11
This passage recalls an encounter between two groups of recent converts to The Way of Christ: Pharisees, followers of Mosaic Law on one hand; Gentiles, completely foreign to the old Jewish laws, on the other. The former demanded that any Gentiles joining the faith be circumcised, and follow the legalism they knew before Christ. Peter tells them God does “not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”
Like the Pharisees, we often want to test ourselves and each other to see if we measure up, to determine who will be saved. We carry our sins and shortcomings about our necks like a spiritual yoke. We may want to see our neighbor’s yoke just a bit heavier than our own. Or, we may believe our own too heavy to ever be lifted to salvation. In all these ways, we are testing God.
But, as Peter reveals, there is no prerequisite, no litmus test for God’s love. We cannot cleanse ourselves, or amend ourselves in some way to meet a litany of rules that will earn us God’s love. God loves us, completely and passionately, just as we are. Broken. Fallen. Sinful. Relapsed. Lazy. Regretful. Doubtful. Addicted. Unworthy.
Through grace, God sees and loves us in our faults, yet calls us to rise as heirs through Christ to the eternal Kingdom. Whole. Risen. Cleansed. Victorious. Bold. Joyful. Free. Made one with God through Christ. This is the radical message of grace – grace that turns this world upside down, and gives us eternal life we could never earn.
Lay down your yoke. Look with eyes of grace, rather than judgment, at your neighbor’s burden. And know that God is passionately in love with you, just as you are, and desires nothing more than for you to draw closer to Him.
Almighty God, help us to be always mindful of your gracious love, and by your grace to rise above our human failings, to get back up when we fall, and ever strive to draw closer to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.