Around the middle of the first century, the preaching of the gospel became more solidified by the documentation of important doctrines in letters or scrolls that were circulated throughout the churches. James’ letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad is thought to be the first of those types of documents. A dispute about the Pharisees’ requirement to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:5) led to a more intentional effort by Jesus’ apostles to make clear the teachings of Christianity. Act 15:11 states plainly, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” The Greek word translated grace, charis (khar’-ece) refers to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). One way to describe grace would be an action of God that removes the misery of guilt.
Peter, who was probably considered to be the final authority on Jesus’ gospel message, stepped in to clarify the issue about Jews and Gentiles being treated equally. Peter reminded the other apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem of his experience with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:17-48). He said, “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9). The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians expounded on the concept of grace and what it meant to be saved by faith. He stated, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The idea that salvation was something that anyone could receive without doing anything to earn it was very difficult for Jewish believers to accept. The Jewish religion referred to as Judaism emphasized the importance of keeping the Ten Commandments. In their struggle to abandon the rules of their former religion, James suggested a compromise. He said, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions to idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20). These requirements have little relevance to us today, except for the sin of fornication. The Greek word translated fornication, porneia (por-ni’-ah) is typically associated with adultery and incest, but from a broader perspective porneia refers to anything that is considered to be illegal sexual behavior, including pornography and sex outside of marriage.
The problem with the stipulations the Jewish leaders placed on believers in Jesus Christ was that it distracted people from the real purpose of salvation, to obtain God’s forgiveness for the sins we commit. Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasized the guilty state of all who are unsaved. He stated, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-12).