According to the Book of Acts, there was an apparent distinction between Gentile believers and Israelite believers. The Mosaic Law – also known as the Law of Moses — contained a special set of rules that were given to the Israelites to separate them from pagan nations. But Paul’s evangelism success among the Gentiles prompted a heated debate among some members of the Jerusalem Church regarding how much the Mosaic Law should apply to Gentile believers.
In response to the dispute, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Council, where they argued for the full inclusion of Gentiles into the church body — without the requirement of following rituals from the Mosaic Law. The basis for their argument was that those religious rituals had been fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, James, Peter, and the other church leaders gave them a warm welcome. Paul and Barnabas gave a full report on everything God did through them on their first missionary journey. Then, the church elders turned to the issue at hand.
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon Peter has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.”
James went on to give examples of how the words of the Hebrew prophets were in agreement with the experiences of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. James ended by declaring:
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)
After much deliberation, James and the Jerusalem Council decided that Gentile believers were not required to follow the Mosaic Law, but should be instructed to abstain from things like pagan rituals and sexual immorality, which were prevalent throughout the Roman Empire. Paul and Barnabas, together with two church leaders from Jerusalem — Barsabbas and Silas – would carry this written decision back to the church in Antioch.
As a result, the way was paved for the growth of a truly universal church. The Gospel was officially separated from the Law. Salvation through Jesus Christ would now be understood as a matter of God’s grace – a gift available to all people.