Read Acts 15:8-9
"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."
Read Acts 15:1-35 and answer the following questions: In verses 1-2, what were the "men of Judea" teaching the new gentile Christians? In verses 6-11, what evidence does Paul give that these Jewish traditions are unnecessary?
There's never a time in life where someone isn't telling us what to do. If it's not the teachers at school, it's the parents at home. At work we have our bosses giving orders, and when we get older, the doctors and nurses start exercising their authority over us. It's rules, rules, rules; do this, don't do that, etc., etc. And if church has even more rules, many people wonder, why bother?
This has been a controversy in the Christian church almost since day one. How many rules should we follow? Christianity came from the Jewish religion and they had thousands of rules they had to follow--do Christians need to also? Some people said yes, others said no.
The key difference lies in what people think rules accomplish. Does following the rules cause God to love us more? If so, then more rules are needed. But does God love us unconditionally whether we break the rules or not? If this, then it doesn't matter how many "thou shalt's" and "thou shalt not's" we follow. God's love and acceptance of us will stay the same regardless.
And, in fact, God does love us all unconditionally. In His eyes we are all equally loved whether we're a model citizen or a hardened criminal. Everyone has the same opportunity to experience a relationship with God.
Rules are necessary in life; they help us get along with each other and live peacefully when we follow them. But when people try and say that God's love is based on how closely we follow the rules, all they are doing is creating a religion. And Christianity is not a religion.
Lord, thank you for your incredible love that's not based on our performance. As I draw closer to you, show me how to express your love to others who don't know you. Amen.