The following is an excerpt from the letters written to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). Acts 15 records a conference that took place in Jerusalem. God’s requirements of the Gentiles was the topic addressed regarding which, “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).
Though these Pharisees believed and were part of Christ’s church, they were still up to their old ways. Jesus said of the Pharisees, “…they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). The apostles and elders went to the Jerusalem conference to consider this matter (Acts 15:6), but it was not that they were going to determine by majority vote what position they were to take. Rather, it would be established again to those at Jerusalem what God had declared about the Gentiles through miracles and wonders (Acts 15:12). It was God’s choice that was acknowledged, not man’s choice that was decided (Acts 15:7). Those Pharisees who were intent on binding the law of Moses and circumcision, were questioned as to why they were trying to put an unbearable yoke upon the necks of the Gentiles (Acts 15:10) and ordered to not trouble the Gentiles with laws God did not require of them (Acts 15:19).
There were requirements God had for the Gentiles. They were to abstain from idols, fornication, from eating things strangled and eating blood (Acts 15:20, 29), but the extra laws the Pharisees desired to bind were not to trouble them. God wants to bind on us no additional burden than the commands necessary to keep us from harm and in godliness that leads to eternal life (2 Peter 1:3).
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). There are requirements we must keep to follow Christ. We must not seek to be loosed from what Christ binds upon us. But His yoke is easy and His burden is light. His commandments are for our good and are not grievous, nor burdensome (1 John 5:3).
But we must beware of those who would add laws which are not a part of the Gospel. Christ has given us true freedom in His laws, so we should not be ensnared as slaves to man-made religious requirements (Galatians 5:1-2). While it is often shown that man flouts the Lord’s commands, certain people have a tendency to go the other way and forbid things which God allows (1 Timothy 4:3). Spiritual death is lurking in either direction. Spiritual life is found in doing Christ’s commandments (Revelation 22:14). When I continue in Christ’s word, then am I truly His disciple and truly free (John 8:31-32).