Key Verse: Acts 15:19
Big Idea: The churches of Jesus may not add cultural barriers to the gospel.
What does a Christian dress like? How is her hair cut? What kind of music does he listen to? The Old Testament law included these kinds of regulations, from the kind of food that the people ate to the kind of clothes they wore. Their unique behavior showed that they were unique people. We should not be surprised that some people want to impose similar standards on Christians. But should they? If so, what are they?
Younger kids: What does a good person look like in a cartoon? What about a bad person? Do those kinds of things really help us tell a person's heart?The New Testament is absolutely radical about these points. Christians are not marked out by any of these things, but by love (John 13:35). Many of the first century Jewish Christians could not wrap their minds around this, so the leaders of the early churches gathered in Jerusalem for an associational meeting. Surely a Gentile convert must at least be circumcised? They needed to become Jewish to become Christians. But the firm decision was no: cultural barriers should not be added onto the gospel.
Older kids: While cultural barriers are illegitimate, what kinds of things should Christians refrain from? Can a Christian listen to music full of vulgar language, or watch a dating show that glorifies sexual immorality? How is this different from regulations about church decorations or haircuts?
Today, circumcision is unlikely to be the barrier that we add. Maybe we look at other churches and say they must be unfaithful because they use old music or new music. Because they have a coffee bar or do not. The preacher wears a tie or he wears jeans. But none of these are God's markers, and what we are really saying is that people must become like us culturally before they can join our family spiritually. We want to tame the radical gospel, and make it into a plan that turns people into respectable citizens of our neighborhood, rather than citizens of Heaven. But it won't work. The restraint on our behavior is love, and a desire to keep our neighbor from stumbling (Acts 15:21). The only change necessary to come to Christ is one of the heart. Christ's message is offensive enough without us adding barriers: you and I are such wicked sinners, that the only way to defeat the sin in our lives was for the Son of God to come and overcome it as priest and sacrifice. If someone will be offended, let it be by that, not our opinions.
Discussion idea: Why do we like to label people by external things? How does God see people?
Prayer focus: Pray for a heart that loves people like God does, and a desire to reach the lost.