“Paul came first to Derbe, then Lystra. He found a disciple there by the name of Timothy, son of a devout Jewish mother and a Greek father. Friends in Lystra and Iconium all said what a fine young man he was. Paul wanted to recruit him for their mission, but first took him aside and circumcised him so he wouldn’t offend the Jews who lived in those parts. They all knew that his father was a Greek.

“As they travelled from town to town, they presented the simple guidelines the Jerusalem apostles and leaders had come up with. That turned out to be most helpful. Day after day the congregations became stronger in faith and larger in size.” Acts 16:1-5 (The Message).

Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction? Paul has Timothy circumcised and then takes the message to the Gentile believers that they don’t have to be circumcised to be saved! At face value it seems so. However, we have to examine the motive behind the action.

In spite of his frustration with the stubbornness of the Jews and their unrelenting persecution, Paul had a passion to preach the Word of God to them first and did so whenever he could. Timothy was a member of the covenant people of God through his mother. In order to have as much favour with the Jews as possible, he wanted Timothy to carry the sign of the covenant in his body, so he had him circumcised.

This was not about salvation. This was about identification. It was Paul who said, “I have become all things to all people. To the Jew I became as a Jew…” Paul was not changing his belief but imitating his Master. Jesus did everything He could to identify with humanity.

He came from the Father to be one of us, “born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights as sons.” Galatians 4:4, 5 (NIV). He was baptised to express His identity with us and He was crucified to complete that identity by taking our debt upon Himself and paying for it with His own blood.

Paul would never compromise the truth he stood for and defended with his very life. Jesus is the only Saviour and His work sufficient, plus nothing, to justify the sinner and give him access to a holy God. Through Him we have been redeemed from the slave market of sin and restored to the Father as His sons and daughters

No additions, rule-keeping or rituals, can make us more acceptable to God than we are now. In fact, anything we think we need to do to gain God’s approval actually disqualifies us from sharing in God’s grace and in the life of Jesus. Not even the work we do “for Jesus” can influence Him towards us.

“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

‘Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,

With joy shall I lift up my head.”

(Ludwig von Zinzendorf -1700-1760; translated by John Wesley – 1703-1791)

Whatever we might change or add to our lives had nothing to do with our acceptance with God; it only affects our acceptance with people. We may need to adopt dress, diet or behaviour to identify with people who are different from us, but none of these things will alter our standing before God unless we are depending on them for acceptance with God or to impress Him in any way.

What we do as believers should always be the outflow of the grateful and obedient heart of a son or daughter of the Father and never the reason for coming to Him. On the other hand what we do should be from a desire to identify with those we want to win, becoming one of them so that they can become one of us.

Luella Campbell

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