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“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” – Acts 15:19 (NIV)
James, the brother of Jesus, speaks the words in this verse of scripture. The Greek word that is translated here as, “make it difficult,” means “to annoy.” It gives the verse an interesting twist, “Don’t annoy those who are turning to God.” Interesting, yes, but what does it mean?
When I am traveling, I become very annoyed by detours, roadblocks, and traffic jams. Sometimes, I am so annoyed I just want to forget about the journey, turn around, and return to the place from which I started.
I believe this is what James is talking about related to a journey of faith. He is referring to those who come to Christ, give their hearts to him, and promise to follow and become more like him. They have begun their faith journey, but have run into annoying detours, roadblocks, and traffic jams created, not by Satan, but by the church and/or other believers.
Sometimes it happens when a church or group insists new believers adopt certain traditions, or dress a certain way, in order to really be Christians. Underlying it all is an emphasis on what people must do, rather than what Christ has done.
Other times it occurs when a church or group blurs the distinction between justification and sanctification. It is important we know the difference:
- We are justified, freed forever from the penalty of sin, when we accept Christ as our Savior. It is not something we earn; it is a gift. It is not made possible by what we do, but is a declaration made by God because of the work of Christ on the cross. Justification is a one-time occurrence and is instantaneous with our acceptance.
- We are sanctified, set apart for God’s use, following justification. Sanctification is an ongoing process where the Holy Spirit helps us become more and more like Jesus.
In general, we have a part to play in our growth during the sanctification process. We play no part, however, in the justification process other than saying “yes” to Christ. When we blur the distinction, we often create doubt, guilt, and uncertainty in the new believer, not to mention teaching something that is completely unbiblical.
We should all do our part to help those who have come to Christ grow and mature in an atmosphere of love and patience. I think Satan does a pretty fair job of throwing up enough detours, roadblocks, and traffic jams without us trying to help him.