What seems good to the Holy Spirit and to you today?
For many years, I have felt intrigued by a phrase from the Council of Jerusalem that Luke portrays in Acts 15. As the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem sends a letter to the Gentile-Christian church in Antioch about turning to God together, the Jerusalemites write, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:” (Acts 15:28)
The list of necessities that follows has elicited debate from its inception, and it seems to entail a thorough study of Leviticus 17-18. Still, when the Gentile congregation in Antioch received the letter “they rejoiced at the exhortation,” (Acts 15:31) which makes me wonder, as Acts often does: How can I—how can we—get in on that moving of the Spirit with its attendant joy? To borrow a term from Paul, how can we discern how to “walk by the Spirit”? (Galatians 5:16)
When I read Luke’s depiction of the Council of Jerusalem, two truths stand out: First, they listen to testimonies about conversions that embody the Gospel truth that “we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:11) Second, they find that as God converts Gentiles “the words of the prophets agree” with God’s surprising new action. (Acts 15:15) It seems that, as God rebuilds “the dwelling of David, which has fallen,” (Acts 15:16) the arrival of Gentiles as Gentiles reveals that God’s house has more variety and colour than God’s people up to that time expected.
It turns out that God’s rebuilding of his fallen people looks like Peter going into the homes of uncircumcised men and eating with them. (Acts 11:3) God’s recreation of the human family in Christ looks like Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them. (Luke 15:2) These grace-filled table gatherings seem like major messages about what it means to walk with the Spirit. When I think of sharing a table with people different from us—except that we are all sinners, whom Jesus saves by grace—that seems good to the Holy Spirit and, I hope, to us all. (Acts 15:28)