Ever since the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, there have been those in the church who have attempted to grow the kingdom of God through the use of some sort of "new math." Not content to rely on the divine formula of "faith alone in Christ alone," they have resorted to coming up with their own equation for salvation. The result has been redemption by addition. And that's what we see happening in Acts 15.
Men have always seemed obsessed with adding to God's simple plan of salvation. His way just doesn't seem like its enough. There has to be more. And the "more" usually involves us having to do something to earn salvation. In Paul's day, it was the "plus" of circumcision. The Jewish believers just couldn't imagine that anyone could come to a right relationship with God without having to go through their time-honored tradition of circumcision. After all, God ordained it, so who are we to neglect it? But these well-meaning individuals were missing the point. They were putting too much stock in something that was man-focused. Circumcision was to be a sign. It was a visual reminder that the one circumcised belonged to God. But circumcision didn't make you holy or righteous before God. Over the years, God destroyed plenty of men who wore the outward sign of circumcision, but their hearts were hardened and disobedient.
Christ, plus nothing
So, in Paul's day, the Jewish believers were trying to fill in the blank with circumcision. Unless you are circumcised, you can't be saved. Thank goodness that is not an issue today! But what do we put in the blank? What do we add to the gospel in order to make sure the equation always equals salvation?
How about a little works or human effort? A little self-made excellence or man-made righteousness? While most of us would say that works plays no part in salvation, we live lives that communicate something radically different. Sure, we say we were "saved by faith," but we seem to believe that we are sanctified by works. In other words, God redeemed us, but now it's up to us to transform us. And so we end up adding to the gospel message. Rather than bask in the sufficiency of Christ, we feel obligated to add our two-cents worth of self-effort, in a misguided attempt to insure our ultimate acceptance into God's kingdom.
Worn out from adding to
If the truth be known, most of us are exhausted from living a life of salvation by addition. We have somehow convinced ourselves that Jesus was enough to save us, but He needs our help to sanctify us. And that is adding to the gospel. Because the gospel has always been more than just our initial acceptance of Christ as our Savior. The gospel has always included salvation, sanctification, and ultimately, our glorification. And every step of the way is based on the simple formulate of faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, it is grace. God's grace extended to undeserving sinners, who are totally incapable of saving themselves or improving themselves.
Pleasing God vs. Trusting God
If you boil it all down to the basics, the blank line following the statement, "Unless you" can only be filled in with one statement. But we all have two choices, and ONLY two choices. We can either choose to believe, "Unless you please God, you can't be saved or we can choose to believe, "Unless you trust God, you can't be saved. The good news of the gospel requires that we trust God, not please Him. It requires that we stop trying and start believing. It means that we stop relying on what we can do and start trusting in what Christ has done.
Are you worn out trying to please God? Then you've put the wrong thing in the blank. Why not start trusting God instead? Let Him complete His saving work in your life by allowing Him to transform you day by day into the likeness of His Son. Give up your attempt at sanctification by addition. Trust His formula for spiritual multiplication in your life.
For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. - Philippians 1:6
Father, forgive me for sometimes trying to add to what you began. For trying to fill in the blank with some twisted form of self-effort that only leaves me feeling exhausted, worn out and disappointed. Help me remember that the good work You began, only You can complete. Show me what it means to trust You, instead of trying to please You. And thank You for making the gospel so simple and grace so accessible.