The Christian Uniform
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1
While addicted to opiate pain pills, to keep everyone else from knowing something was wrong, I had to keep up the facade that nothing was wrong. So, every Sunday, I got dressed up and went to church. Though my addiction turned me from God and though I didn’t really want to face him, I kept dressing up and going. As long as I played the part, and as long as I could keep my secret life a secret, I blended in with those in church. I didn’t look like a drug addict and so, my disguise worked.
Now, in recovery meetings, I’m surrounded by those who may appear out of place in a traditional church service. Though we’re in recovery, this crowd looks very different than my old Sunday morning crowd.
I understand why we clean ourselves up on the outside for Sundays, but I’ve also realized that this can be a trap. When we uniformly dress and act alike to symbolize our faith, we’re tempted to make our uniforms a part of our faith. When others come to faith then, we expect them to do the same. If you want to one of us, you must look, talk, and dress like us. As long as others conform to the uniform, they’re accepted. We often mistake superficial, external changes for authentic repentance, because it’s far simpler for us to measure.
This is what happened in today’s passage. In the story, some of the early Jewish converts to Christianity taught that for gentiles to follow Christ, they must also be circumcised. These old-school believers had to be circumcised and so, they demanded that everyone else do likewise. This wasn’t part of Christ’s teaching, but they insisted that this external change was necessary to follow him. Under this system, one could have been circumcised and accepted, without ever truly repenting. As long as they conformed externally, they were in.
God calls us to take the gospel to everyone, including those who don’t look like us. The gospel is about internal transformation and repentance. We like measurable results though, so, often, we expect cosmetic changes, asking that others look and dress like us before we accept them. God, of course, cares far more about our hearts than he does about our uniforms.