Becoming a Christian makes us a new creation in Christ, but it doesn’t necessarily change our personality. An extroverted atheist becomes an extroverted Christian. A contemplative agnostic becomes a contemplative Christ-follower. I suppose there are always exceptions to any rule, so if you’re one of those that did sort of a Jekyll and Hyde when you became a believer, post a comment and tell me about it! I’m always interested in God’s miraculous interventions—since I’m one of them! But my so-called Jekyll and Hyde had more to do with my ACTIONS than my personality. In my B.C. days (Before Christ—try and keep up), I cussed like a sailor, smoked like a chimney, and drank black-label Jack like a Tennessee hillbilly. When I realized all the Cross meant to me, and I understood I could begin enjoying my eternal Jesus NOW, I willingly gave up those actions. I changed what I did, but I was still me…because He lovingly created the ME I’m meant to be. During the transition from my “lost” soul to my “found” salvation, I struggled to discern what truly defined ME. What was the essence Jesus wanted to guard and enjoy as His beloved Mesu? And what had I allowed to define “Mesu” that was contrary to His desire for me? Perhaps by looking at a few of the early church leaders, we can study their profiles before, during, and after Jesus’s life on earth—and learn how to guard the YOU Jesus wants you to be.
Acts 15:1-4 – “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.” (emphasis added)
Paul and Barnabas – Paul started as a young, ambitious Pharisee, zealous for the truth…as he knew it; Barnabas is always portrayed in Scripture as an encourager and defender. No matter where they were, they testified of God’s faithfulness. In churches, where Paul and Barnabas were leaders; or in Jerusalem, where they speak to leaders, their testimonies remained the same. They taught. They testified. They seemed undaunted by any argument or circumstance. Amazing men—it’s obvious why the Holy Spirit called them to this ministry, isn’t it? Not everyone is wired this way, not everyone’s a fiery, outgoing, intellectual, like Paul. Not everyone is a nurturer, encourager, like Barnabas. Rather than waste time in envy or regret, we can marvel at God’s wisdom in creating unique individuals and placing them in special circumstances in which they will use those talents. No regrets—that we’re made like another.
Acts 15:5 – “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’”
Oh, those Pharisees. The same yesterday, today, and forever. Ugh. If there’s a law to be made they’ll make it and find someone who’s breaking it. Then, they’ll delight in pointing it out. Isn’t it interesting that some of the Pharisees were won over to believe in the Messiah they crucified—and yet they maintained their legalistic, judgmental view on life. HOWEVER…let’s talk about some of the good work of the Pharisees (which won’t take as long). They were devout, committed, and they sought holiness. It was their attitudes and motives that got them into trouble…that’ll preach.
Acts 15:6-11 – “The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’” (emphasis added)
Peter – ya gotta love Peter. The burly, brash fisherman, the disciples’ constant spokesman. He always says the wrong thing at the wrong time—and it’s exactly what I would say. The one who denied Christ after promising he’d rather die than betray Him—and then faces Jesus after the resurrection for a fish-breakfast forgiveness session (Jn.21:15ff). It was this same redeemed Peter who spoke on behalf of Paul, Barnabas, and the Gentile hundreds of miles away that he’d never met. It was forgiven, redeemed Peter—whose passion had been chewed-up and spoon-fed as Grace by our Lord Jesus Christ—so Peter could swallow his pride and receive forgiveness at that fish breakfast by the Sea of Galilee. God’s grace left Peter the same bold man—but changed forever the way he wielded his passion.
Acts 15:12-21 – “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.” It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.’” (emphasis added)
James—brother of Jesus – Keep in mind that James and his brothers were skeptical of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We don’t know his conversion story, but we can assume James was a hard nut to crack. But those “converts” are sometimes the most devout, the most tenacious—and most logical-minded among us. One who has reasoned so long, and then finally been convinced, has already conquered many of the logical obstacles. And perhaps because of James’s great wrestling, he didn’t want to place unnecessary obstacles in front of others. On the other hand, he wouldn’t stand for excuses. Laziness, ignorance, or apathy was inexcusable. Moses had been preached in every city. Those who accepted Christ should know what they were signing up for. No nonsense—but a big heart. Probably had to take a few etiquette lessons to be a gracious leader, but James was immovable in his faith and in his desire to see God honored. Some details seem to point to an intellectual bent before he became leader in Jerusalem…and we see the same logical leadership qualities after the Holy Spirit created him anew. Same but different. It’s what Jesus does with each of us.
- Lord, when I’ve had to work for something, I sometimes think others should have to work for it, too. When I have to suffer, I like a little company at the bottom of the pit. When I see a standard of holiness, I think others should follow it—especially, if I have to. And I’m in awe of folks who can nurture, encourage, evangelize, and do a hundred other things I don’t do well. But none of that has to do with the ME You meant ME to be. My eyes are on THEM, not on You, and so the model I’m using to sculpt my life becomes skewed. Forgive me, Father. I want to be Your ME…the ME You want me to be. Right now, I think I might be so screwed up from looking around, I’m not sure what You want me to look like! Could we just take a little time—and could You show me the ME You want me to be? I love You, Jesus.