As Gentiles started coming to Christ in droves, controversy was inevitable. When a Jew came to Christ, he already had a strong background in the Old Testament and was very familiar with Jehovah. Circumcision symbolized his sanctification. But when Gentiles started obeying the gospel, many Jews were scandalized because these uncircumcised Gentiles were being accepted just as they were. Some Jews began teaching that, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). As debate swirled over this issue, “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question” (v2).
The first to speak at this meeting was Peter, who recounted his vision from God and visit to the house of Cornelius (see Acts 10). His point was that God had clearly made his will known that Gentiles ought to be accepted as full & equal heirs of God’s grace without circumcision. Next, Paul and Barnabas echo Peter, describing “what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). Finally, James lends Biblical perspective to these events, quoting from Amos to show how God foretold these events.
This meeting has often been used as a justification for church councils and denominational conventions where crucial doctrinal questions are decided and voted on. Yet it’s clear that no deciding of truth or voting occurred in Acts 15. Luke records the statements of four people in this meeting, and all four draw their authority from God. Peter stresses that, “God made a choice among you” (v7). Paul and Barnabas emphasize the signs that “God had done through them among the Gentiles” (v12). James declared this accorded with what God’s inspired prophets foretold (v15). Luke makes clear that no deciding of truth occurred in Jerusalem. Rather these men discerned God’s will from their miraculous experiences and Bible study and then contended for the truth God had already revealed.
In matters of truth & error, we do not decide what is true. Truth is never determined by a majority vote, who yells loudest, or what consequences may follow. We never decide truth. Rather we discern the truth God has already revealed. And when God’s will is discerned, true disciples will always quiet down their think-so’s and submit to God. Richard Hays writes, “The New Testament teaches us to approach ethical issues not by asking, ‘what will happen if I do X,’ but rather by asking, ‘what is the Will of God?’”
Is there some part of God’s will you have yet to submit to? Is there some activity or work God has said he wants his people to do that you are neglecting? Is there some sin you’re languishing in instead of repenting? Is there some teaching of Scripture you’re hesitant to accept because you don’t like the consequences of accepting it? Our job is never to decide what we want to believe or what’s true for us. We don’t decide truth; we discern God’s Will. And when his Will is known, we must submit to it.