“And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things.’” (Acts 15:15-17)
James is the speaker here. The context for his words is that Paul and Barnabas have come to Jerusalem to get input from the apostles and elders there on the issue of whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised before they would be acceptable in God’s sight to be then born again.
The subject came up when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from their first trip together into Asia Minor “and certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (Acts 15:1).
The implication is that being born again through faith in Christ was not enough. Instead, the Judaizers were teaching that Jesus plus circumcision was enough. (For the record, Jesus IS enough all on His own.) So, Barnabas and Paul took the issue to the leaders in Jerusalem for their thoughts and after some discussion, James stood up and said what is recorded in Acts 15:15-17.
Now, the point of this being recorded in Acts has to do with some of the implications of Jewish believers and Gentile believers working out some of the intricacies of BEING one in Christ after being considered to be so different prior to being born again. These people who didn’t associate much, if at all, before Jesus would be sitting at the same tables as they gathered in homes worshiping the Lord. They would freely associate with one another in public and, even, share meals.
James addresses these things in his words, but what caught my eye as I was studying this passage was a term James used as he quoted a verse from Amos (9:11-12).
God was interested in the Jews being saved, but not just Jews. Jesus came for all people to have a chance to be born again. He wanted the “rest of mankind” to seek the Lord, including Gentiles “called by My name”, says Jesus. This is wonderful news for those of us whose earthly bloodlines can’t be traced back to the subset of all humanity that is known as the Jews.
Let’s take a minute to see what caught my attention. This term “even all the Gentiles who are called by My name” does not refer at all to people who speak of themselves as being Christians. In other words, this isn’t about us saying, “I am a Christian.”
No. The term “called by My name” refers to the fact that GOD renames us when we are saved.
“For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles (referring to non-believers) shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah (God’s delight), and your land Beulah (ruler over); for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” (Isaiah 62:1-4)
So, in Acts 15:17 when James quotes God speaking in Amos, saying this: “‘so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things…’” he is speaking of a fundamental and (if we receive it) earth-shattering shift in the foundation of how we view ourselves and the world in which we live.
We are no longer to be spiritually identified by ANYTHING physical. We are “called by the name of Jesus” – NAMED and LABELLED accurately by Him. In other words, we are to be identified only in terms of the Lord and what HE has done in and for us. This means that the assessments people make of us (even when we do it to ourselves) in which we are valued or devalued because of our gender or our race or our nationality or our successes or failures…these no longer matter.
While on the earth we WILL be male or female in gender, whatever physical race we are, and our origins will be from some physical nation. We will be left or right hand dominant…all sorts of physical attributes will be true for us and we are to honor the fact God chose all that for us. But, we are to be assessed only in terms of whether or not we are in Christ…born again. If we are, we are to be “called by His name”.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)
I find that to be incredibly refreshing and freeing.
Are you called by the name of Jesus? Do you belong to Him? Are you characterized, in your own mind, by the Lord? Is being in Him and Him being in you the most significant thing about your life? Do you IDENTIFY with Him?
Or, have you fallen into the trap of thinking this only means that the label “Christian” is just one of many that have been hung on you? Or worse, do you find yourself “being Christian” a few hours a week worshiping in a building somewhere and then taking off the label for “real life”?
The journey that began for each of us on the Cross when we were crucified WITH Jesus (Galatians 2:20) is intended by God for us to be one in which we have our minds renewed (Romans 12:2) so that we see ourselves first and foremost in terms of our Lord.
“…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
May we all grab hold of that.
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
Like Paul says in verse 12, let’s grab hold of that for which Jesus grabbed hold of us.
Our identities in Christ…in TERMS OF CHRIST. That is the prize!
Let’s go get that today…and all our remaining days. Jesus paid dearly so that we could be fundamentally different and spiritually sound. Let’s never waste that.