One of the things that has bothered me over the years is the conception we have concerning whom we don’t accept as Christian. Who is and who is not Christian, and how do with justify this understanding with “judge not lest you be judged” and “…and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)? Now, I have participated in this judgment, but slowly and deliberately I’ve come to realize I have no right to say who is and who is or is not one of Christ’s if that one claims him as their Savior. This includes what we have called nominal Christianity.
Acts 19 has caused me to really take a good long look at grace. Where does grace begin and end? When is grace free and when is it cheap? Do we really know? I understand that there are those who claim they know and are willing to tell us, and many of us believe there story—it sounds so logical. ‘A Christian is a follower of Christ, so if a person isn’t doing or saying what Christ would do or say, he must not be a Christian!’ Isn’t that about how the claim goes? We seem to like judging the masses of ignorant brethren, saying their behavior doesn’t match that of Christ, but does our own behavior match his—does it? Who would be the first among us who would be willing to compare himself with Jesus day for day—every day? I know how I would measure up—do you? If works is the criteria with which we may judge one another as a follower of Christ—who would be left standing at the end of the day? Isn’t Grace with a capital ‘G’ the criteria with which we should measure everyone’s work, including those whom we refer to as nominal?
One thing I’ve noticed is that when we are judging the ignorance of Christians who don’t behave as we think they ought, we are looking at them with eyes, not of Christ, but similar to those who told us to do it or said it was okay to judge them. In other word we judge with the eyes of men, and Ephesians 4:15 is taken completely out of context when we use it to correct the behavior of brethren who don’t walk like we think they should. What we are told to do by men doesn’t fit what Jesus told us to do—or not to do—in Matthew 7:1-2. Paul later would claim we have no right to judge another man’s servant—to his own Master (Jesus) he stands or falls and concludes with “God is able to make him stand!” (Romans 14:4). Isn’t judging someone as nominally Christian just another tradition of men that causes us to make the word of God of no effect at all? Look at the fruits of such an attitude.
Ephesus and, indeed, all of Asia was very superstitious. When people believed Paul’s Gospel, they took with them a lot of baggage from paganism. What makes us believe they were able to turn off their own former religious practices any quicker than the Jews were able to accept brethren who were not physically circumcised? Notice, for example, that people came to Paul while he was at work asking for ‘aprons’ or ‘handkerchiefs’ to bring back with them to rub on the sick, so they could be made well (Acts 19:12). Who told them to do that? Was this Paul’s idea, and, if so, where did he get it? I have not found another single instance where this idea was used by Paul or any other New Testament writer, but such things were done in pagan practices. Yet, God did many powerful miracles through Paul, including such practices as rubbing cloths (like amulets) on sick people.
Another matter we sometimes overlook is the fact that many brethren took their books they used in their former pagan religion—and contextually seem to have continued using after their conversion—and burned them once they saw what occurred to the two sons of Sceva (cp. Acts 19:17-19).
People who call themselves Christian but believe in things like astrology and other like superstitions practices are judged as nominal Christians at best. Yet, I don’t see Paul judging the believers at Ephesus in such a manner. Rather he seems to have had mercy on their ignorance and permitted the Holy Spirit to convict them of their wrong practices. God certainly didn’t seem to judge them, but rather caused all things to work together for their education and a personal correction that came from their own hearts, once they were convicted by the Spirit.
This part of Acts has certainly strengthened my own faith in the power of God, and has convicted me of my own sin of judging others. I had been slowly putting that practice away, but I had no idea of the height and depth and width of my sinful practice, until I began contemplating upon what was done here. How about you?