Fourteen years after that first visit, Barnabas and I went up to Jerusalem and took Titus with us. I went to clarify with them what had been revealed to me. At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry.
Significantly, Titus, non-Jewish though he was, was not required to be circumcised. While we were in conference we were infiltrated by spies pretending to be Christians, who slipped in to find out just how free true Christians are. Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude. We didn’t give them the time of day. We were determined to preserve the truth of the Message for you.
As for those who were considered important in the church, their reputation doesn’t concern me. God isn’t impressed with mere appearances, and neither am I. And of course these leaders were able to add nothing to the message I had been preaching. It was soon evident that God had entrusted me with the same message to the non-Jews as Peter had been preaching to the Jews.
Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews. The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that. (The Message)
The former devout Jew, Saul, had become the Christian apostle and missionary, Paul. His ministry was as radical and dramatic as his conversion to Christianity was.
Keep in mind that the earliest church was predominantly made up of Jewish Christians. They had to struggle with the relationship between their historic Judaism and their newfound Christianity. For many of them, Paul was doing the unthinkable; he not only purposely sought to reach Gentiles (non-Jewish people) with the message of Jesus Christ, but he also did not require them to be circumcised. For Paul, one did not have to first become Jewish before becoming Christian.
Paul doggedly sought to preserve the core essence and spirit of Christ’s message, that is, to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and new life through the person and work of Jesus – and not by means of retaining Jewish customs or laws, including circumcision.
The Main Thing
Christianity is more than set of beliefs and practices; it’s a way of life which can be summed up in three important words: faith, hope, and love.
Both new believers in Jesus and veterans in the faith know from experience how difficult it can be to live the Christian life. One reason for this difficulty, even when we want to please the Lord, is due to the confusion that occurs between our inner feelings and our outer actions.
The confusion starts with the creation and fall of humanity. In the beginning, God created humans as persons with a divine/human relationship as central to daily life. (Genesis 1:26; 2:16-25)
What’s more, God created people with the capacity to receive divine revelation through our ability to think and reason. (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10)
Before disobedience entered the world, in the original state before humanity’s fall, all human functions were under complete control with an inner experience of unity and harmony with one another and God. (Genesis 1:31; 2:7, 16-25)
It is imperative for us to recognize the distinction between our personal being and our personal functions. (Romans 1:21-32; 6:16-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Ephesians 4:21-32)
If we don’t grasp how cataclysmic the fall of humanity was, we are going to have big struggles with living the Christian life – illustrated in the way that Paul needed to fend off a bunch of professing Christians who still seemed spiritually stuck.
In Adam and Eve’s original disobedience to God, the authority for life was transferred from God to us so that our sinful bent is to call our own shots without God. The source of authority also got whacky, transferred from a holistic and synergistic approach of body, mind, emotions, and spirit to a one-dimensional approach of simply how we feel at any given moment.
If we fail to understand this dynamic, we will be continually frustrated with people because they do irrational things. For example, many church pastors are flabbergasted that parishioners do not simply take what they teach them and go and do it. Yet, if it were that simple, there would be no place for the Holy Spirit!
Unfortunately, there’s more. In humanity’s fall, we lost control of our capacity to function well. We are all now vulnerable to manipulation, too easily swayed by the surrounding culture, and, of course, Satan. (Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 5:16-21)
As a result, our inner conscience has become confused. We are not always certain of right and wrong. We misunderstand what life is really supposed to be all about.
We lose sight of the main thing. And, in that state, there’s no way we can keep the main thing the main thing.
Instead, we become obsessed with feeling comfortable and secure; so, we pursue false gods – leaving usdisappointed and with a lack of fulfillment in life.
The Good News
However, the good news is that through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, new life emerges; the bondage of sin is broken in our lives, and we are legally reinstated in a relationship with God in which the Lord is central in our daily life and the final authority.
In this new relationship we can again receive truth through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We regain control of our functions.
Yet, unless we learn the Scriptures and growin a daily walk with Jesus, the practical experience of this relationship with all its freedom, joy, assurance, power, and fruitfulness may be greatly limited. (Romans 7:14-25; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4)
Even though we have redemption and faith, it is still possible to regress and give in to our old ways of functioning. This is a big reason why Christians can experience conflict, doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and confusion.
To live keeping the main thing the main thing means to grow in the experience and application Christ’s centrality and authority in our lives.
We must, therefore, make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love based in who we are in Christ and recognize his authority in our lives. The following seven recognitions and awareness may be helpful for you in experiencing Christian freedom and unity:
- You are a person with the ability to function in faith, hope, and love as God’s beloved child in Christ (2 Corinthians 7:1; Romans 8:14-17)
- There is a difference between who you are and what you do (or don’t do). Evil thoughts and emotions do not make you evil, anymore than fantasizing about being a unicorn makes you a unicorn.
- You can take charge of your actions and your life (Galatians 5:22-23)
- The key is the use of your will through living in harmony with revealed biblical truth. In other words, you really can make choices of faith, hope, and love, no matter the situation. (Romans 4:17-21; Psalm 56:3; Psalm 43:5-11)
- Reject whatever is contrary to Scripture, reason, and conscience. Listen to your whole self. Unhealthy patterns of acting and speaking must be broken in Jesus’ name. (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:5-9; Titus 2:11-12)
- Choose to obey the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. Learn to think and act on the basis of truth. (Acts 27:25)
- Practicing the truth results in freedom, a re-patterning of thinking and functions, as well as the fruit of the Spirit. (John 8:32; Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 2:12-16)
The church is intended to be a supportive community of fellow redeemed people who worship and love Jesus together.
Without sharing our collective learning of the Scriptures and daily struggles of faith, hope, and love, believers will inevitably be spiritually immature over the long haul. Instead, talk about your shared experiences of worship, Scripture reading, and Christian living.
In doing so, God is glorified, the church is strengthened, and the cranky circumcisers are seen as the legalistic lunkheads they really are.