God long ago said that His intention was to redeem all of mankind to Him and that He would use the Jews to eventually do this. When God began working through the evangelistic efforts of the apostles, it seems like it took them by surprise. Apparently, they had forgotten what God had said in this regard.
Once God moved among the Gentiles with Peter, and with Paul and Barnabas, they woke up about this ancient promise, so they got fully on-board with God’s agenda to also save the Gentiles.
Naturally there were people who opposed this. According to Acts 15:5, they were believers who were Pharisees. That created a problem for these men. Pharisees were quite legalistic. They interpreted God’s Word in such a way that the dos and don’t of the Law outweighed any issues of the heart. It was all about the works they did in obeying the laws that they had understood in a fleshly manner in order to presumably follow God’s commands. Because of this, when the discussion came up about Gentiles whom God had brought into His kingdom, their mindset and orientation was to impose upon them the same rules and regulations they believed they had to live under.
The question can rightly be asked about these men whether in their belief they were actually saved. Since they didn’t grasp the sacrifice of Jesus as being one completely from the grace of God, it’s doubtful. Ephesian 2:8-9 tells us:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
These pharisaical Jews continued to consider works as part of the salvation experience. As such, they felt they had a role to play through their physical actions to complete God’s salvation. In thinking that, it would have left room for them to boast of how they had done such and such to fulfill God’s purpose in them.
In the Jerusalem Council where these issues were debated, it became clear through the witness of the apostles, who had been out among the Gentiles and had seen God’s good work in them, that He had no need for non-Jews to follow the laws He had imposed on His Chosen People. Aside from the moral laws such as the Ten Commandments, the other 613 laws weren’t for Gentiles. That was effectively a burden God had placed on the Jews so as to eventually bring them into His kingdom by using these laws to teach the Jews His ways.
Through the Council’s deliberations, they decided there were only four critical requirements for the Gentiles in their new Christian faith. These were according to Acts 15:20:
… but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
The basis of these four items had to do with pagan practices that directed people’s hearts and resulting actions away from the One true God. This was in line with the rebuke of those in the party of the Pharisees who wanted Gentiles to submit to all aspects of the Law. They had made the Law an idol to be followed so strictly that all their physical actions were subject to it. Refraining from these four items was the minimum and the absolute necessity to keep the Gentiles’ hearts focused on faith through grace and not reliance on works.
Apparently the believers who were Pharisees eventually agreed to this. They certainly couldn’t argue logically against these conclusions after the apostles described their experiences with the Gentiles. Did this change their hearts? Did they ultimately become true believers?
The same restrictions should apply to us today. If they were important for Gentile believers at that time, the same could be said for now. We have no need to sacrifice in any way to idols and the pagan thinking that is behind their worship. By keeping our eyes on God and remembering that our faith in Him is wholly dependent upon His grace through the sacrifice of shed blood by His Son, we remain free from attachments to the things of this world.
Salvation is actually quite easy to obtain. Isn’t it great that God in His mercy has given such a simple path to enter His kingdom?