|Galatians 5: 13|
The entire dialogue in Acts 15 is the first explicit and clarifying confirmation of the fulfillment of the law Christ proclaims in Matthew 5: 17 read here:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5: 17-20This passage speaks of accomplishment and righteousness.
Notice the subsequent repeating of the phrase in Matthew 5 “You have heard that it was said...But I tell you” in the rest of Matthew 5.
What does this speak to when Christ points out the Pharisees and teachers of the law (who rely and stand on the law of Moses) and speaking into effect His new commandments?
One very clear example was the law's requirement to “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” contrasted with Christ's new command to “love their enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 43-44).
It seems what was prior (the law of Moses) has been replaced by what was proclaimed in and through Christ; the coming of new wine that has replaced the old wine (Matthew 9: 17).
When looking at the entire chapter of Acts 15, we see in verse 5:
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
- Acts 15: 5You can read how this issue was resolved in the rest of that chapter, and how the notion that any new believer, even Gentiles, are held to keep the issue of circumcision, or to “keep” the law of Moses, is not a salvation issue, but a matter of misunderstanding and nearsightedness.
The highlights are as follows:
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
- Acts 15: 28-29The Holy Spirit has confirmed (Acts 15: 6-11) what Christ has proclaimed (Matthew 5: 17-20).
The council of Apostles have affirmed what God had revealed through the preaching experience with the Gentile converts; they were blessed and baptized (gifted) with the Holy Spirit despite their ignorance of the law and not being physically Jews (not circumcised).
Here we also find the first instance of binding and loosening mentioned in Matthew 18: 18 when the Apostles followed what the Holy Spirit revealed (see also Acts 11: 1-18).
The one specific item loosened, which was also the controversial issue that gave rise to Acts 15's proclamation, was circumcision.
The several items which were bound over from the law were:
- abstain from food sacrificed to idols
- abstain from blood
- abstain from the meat of strangled animals
- abstain from sexual immorality
Elsewhere you can read how circumcision is now a spiritual pruning of the heart, not of the flesh.
No other issue or specific item was mentioned from the entirety of the Law of Moses.
No other item was bound over from the law.
This, I think, is quite significant and is a striking difference from what was perceived with some early believers, especially the groups from the Pharisees (as mentioned in the opening portion of Acts 15).
Sadly, there is still much confusion and controversy even today among certain groups who, perhaps out of a lack of faith, try to convince themselves and others that the Law of Moses must be kept.
Many are the reasons, and the arguments can be quite vast, especially the wide weaving in and out of Scripture to push this empty argument.
However, there is no such furthering of certain laws, rituals, activities and certain days to perform certain things that was established by the Holy Spirit, Apostles and the early church (as we can find in Acts 15 and elsewhere).
The Gospel seems to not have been God's effort to turn the world into religious and outward Jews, but into spiritual and inward Jews; not outward keepers of the Law 'looking' and dressing a certain way, but internal keepers of the law of love... with this love being the outward evidence for the world to see and come to know God.