It is a fundamental truth of Christian faith that God loves radically and unconditionally. A wonderful nineteenth century hymn text by Frederick William Faber put it this way: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea….For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind.” This was clear about God before Jesus. Numerous references and promises in our Old Testament attest to God’s desire to gather all people into his kingdom. Then God came to us uniquely and definitively in Jesus, in a new covenant or testament, and in Jesus we know most clearly and deeply the radical and unconditional love of God for all.
This truth has sometimes been difficult for followers of Jesus to understand and live out in their own lives. Too often we want to draw lines to exclude, or we want to set up conditions others must first meet to gain acceptance in the kingdom that we have already entered by God’s grace.
Ah, but there is the rub, as they say. We have entered God’s kingdom by grace, by grace in Jesus. We did not enter by first meeting exclusive standards or conditions, whether religious, moral, social, political, or ethnic. God showed us radical and unconditional love in Jesus. By the grace of that love, and only by the grace of that love, are we gathered in to be the people of God, to be citizens of the kingdom, brothers and sisters in Jesus.
This truth is what we see wrestled with and finally affirmed in today’s passage in Acts. Some in the early church thought Gentiles (non-Jews) should fulfill Jewish legal-religious requirements to be considered worthy of the kingdom. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter testified that God, through the Holy Spirit, had extended his love to Gentiles without their having to meet those requirements. To paraphrase Peter, “We and they are all saved by the grace of God in Jesus, by grace alone, not by anything we must or even can do!”
This is good news, good news indeed, from God, for us – and for all people in Jesus!