Reading: Acts 15-16
Summary: The first missionary journey concludes with Paul and Barnabas rejoicing over the fact that the “door of faith” has been opened to the Gentiles (14:27). These men soon learn that not all their brethren are as joyful as they concerning this turn of events. A major gathering of prominent leaders in the church takes place in Jerusalem in order to address this contentious subject of Gentile conversions to Christ. Though the leaders come to a definite conclusion as to how this matter should be handled, the question is far from over and would continue to plague Paul’s efforts for the rest of his life. The books of Galatians and Romans devote significant space to addressing this subject.
Following the “Jerusalem conference”, so-called, Paul and Barnabas find it impossible to continue to work together, due to strongly differing opinions regarding the inclusion of John Mark in their effort. The two part ways and consequently now two mission teams go out. Acts traces the work of Paul and his new companion Silas.
A Good Heart or a Clean Heart?
The condition of one’s heart is of extreme importance. Yes, that is true literally and physically, but we’re talking figuratively and spiritually.
A frequently spoken, well-meaning and kind pleasantry is that a person has a “good” heart. That’s better than a bad one for sure. It’s rather ambiguous, though, isn’t it? Is this merely a pleasant person? a well-intentioned, nice, and otherwise innocuous kind of a person? Good-hearted is hard to nail down.
When the controversy about Gentiles becoming Christians came under discussion in Jerusalem, Peter observed that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Such was also David’s desire when his pled, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10).
Sincerity does not cleanse a heart. Neither does good intentions or fervent desires. Those may make a heart good; one that would not hurt or harm and one that would favor what’s good and right. But hearts must be cleansed.
Peter says that for the Gentiles—no doubt thinking of Cornelius and his household, see Acts 10—that cleansing happened by faith. That’s consistent with other Scriptures. God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Salvation is “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
Cornelius’s heart wasn’t cleansed by his pious, benevolent life, nor by the coming of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. It was only by faith; his “faith in the powerful working of God” as he was baptized into Christ, making his appeal to God for a good conscience (Col. 2:12; Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21).
Is my heart clean or just good?