“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 38

‘The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 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. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15:6-11

“I don’t know… If I did follow him, what would I have to give up? I mean, it seems like there might be several, important things that I’d have to let go off…” “Oh boy, I thought I dealt with all of that, but the last few months and years have shown me that it’s all still with me… What do I do?”

When you start out with Jesus – when you begin to believe, and take your first steps, you bring with you a lot of the stuff that was essential and true for you. We can bring good and bad habits, and not be aware of them – good and bad habits that can get in the way. A good habit can become a point of pride that keeps us from loving someone who does not have the same, good habit. A bad habit, of course, dies hard even after we’ve taken a bold, first step.

The Pharisees who became followers of Jesus show us how this works. They carried with them a deep devotion to the Law, perhaps reinforced by what they heard in Jesus’ own words: “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.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

The Pharisees’ devotion to their understanding of the Law, though, became something they wanted others to use as a stepping-stone to Jesus: First, keep every part of the Law, then you can step aboard. Peter must have understood why they were tempted in this way: He was in a protracted dispute with Paul, whose teaching on grace and faith, sometimes seemed to amount to license to sin and break God’s Law.

But at the crucial point, Peter does not fall into the trap of being a people-pleaser, by papering over a significant difference. Peter speaks up, and stands squarely on the gospel: “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus”.

The temptation is great for all of us when the moment arises; when the discussion gets serious, and feelings look like they are about to be hurt, to back off; to make concessions; to tell people, “Sure, you can keep that thing… It’s not really that harmful, after all. I don’t think it will weigh you down, too badly…”. The Gospel is good news, but it also causes offense because it tells us that that stuff we’ve carried with us, from our life before we knew Jesus – we need to look at all of that, carefully, prayerfully, and much of it may need to go.

You may not be at that point. You may feel like you’re on the outside, looking in, and you’re wondering: “If I took this step, what would I have to leave behind?” Or you may be in a season where God has shown you a lot of stuff that you thought you dealt with, but – really – it’s still with you, and you have to work through it, again, and ask God to help you leave it behind. Wherever you are, just begin to talk with God in prayer: He is the good, gentle Shepherd, and when you ask – He, not you – will lift that/those burdens that don’t belong.

Prayer: God, I feel like I’m almost there – and I want to follow you. But, honestly, I’m afraid of what I might have to leave behind, if I follow you. Help me, Lord, to take that step, and – if I must give away something that seems precious, important – then help me, again, to see that it was not the most precious, important thing. Amen.

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