If circumcising the gentiles, i.e. requiring that they become Jews, is not the answer for holiness within the Body of Christ, what is? As I claimed in my previous blog-post, what was at stake in the Jerusalem Council was “…nothing less than the superiority of Jesus Christ as our Mediator over of the Law.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize, that once the gentiles began believing in Jesus, what was once an exclusive Jewish movement/church would become a predominantly gentile body. The Jews looked to the Law to tell them what sinful behavior was, and thereby sinful activity could be reasonably held in check if not avoided. What do gentiles, coming out of an ungodly pagan tradition, have to help them recognize sin for what it is?
This was the concern of many Jewish believers at Jerusalem, and it was certainly the concern of the false brethren (and others of the same group tracing the steps of Paul in Cilicia, and Paul and Barnabas in Galatia) who came to Antioch and taught the believers there that gentiles ought to be circumcised (Acts 15:1-2; cp. Galatians 1:6-10). Josephus tells us that at least some in Judaism who preached to the gentiles taught that the outward act of circumcision could be omitted as long as the spiritual significance of the rite was realized; i.e. as long as the gentiles practiced Torah faithfully, addicting themselves to obedience to God (Antiquities 20.2.4), but this opinion was not shared by the majority of Judaism, for even a liberal such as Philo of Alexandria believed that the outward rite of circumcision was necessary for all Jews and proselytes (Migration of Abraham, chapter 16; 89-94).
Therefore, if the Law was removed from the obligation of a believer in Jesus, what would become of holiness, knowing that gentile believers, coming out of the pagan tradition, could not be expected to know what sinful behavior actually is? The answer, of course, is in Jesus’ two commandments of love. Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love everyone else as we love and care for our own person (Luke 10:27). This is what Paul taught (Romans 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:14; 1Corinthians 13:1-13), and James the brother of Jesus (James 2:8); it is what Peter taught (1Peter 1:22), and it is what John taught (1John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12).
The fact is, only God, working within his people, could ever make a Jew righteous; and only God could bring a gentile pagan, who is completely ignorant of God and what he expects, into his Kingdom of the righteous. The Law has failed in this regard. While it certainly can point one to righteous behavior, it could only condemn those who were not perfectly obedient. So, it is by God’s grace that we are saved and not through our behavior. Our behavior is a fruit of the grace of God and his Spirit working in the believer. We are not perfect, but Jesus, whose we are, is perfect. He is the Vine and we are the branches. We may have to be trimmed (read disciplined) that greater fruit could be born out in our lives, but if the fruit is good fruit, then the Vine and the branches of the Vine from which the good fruit comes must be good, as well. Therefore, if the Root is holy, so are the branches