When they heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).
Working with GES has given me the opportunity to hear many people tell their stories about how they came to understand Free Grace Theology (FGT). There is a very common thing that most of these stories have in common. The person will say that they had never heard such a thing existed. It sounded strange to their ears. They had been in church their whole lives, and when they first heard it, they just assumed it was wrong. How could all they had heard from people they respected in the religious arena—parents, grandparents, preachers, evangelists—be wrong? People will almost always say it took them some time to see the truth. They had many obstacles to overcome.
There is something else in common in all these stories. All of the people involved should be commended. In their search for the truth, they climbed over those obstacles. It wasn’t easy. They sincerely held their former beliefs. It was difficult to lay them aside, but they did.
Even though it did not involve accepting FGT, there is a wonderful example of this process in Acts 11. A group of people are confronted with some religious teaching they had never heard before. In fact, it went against everything they had been taught by the people they respected. It sure sounded strange. They, too, are to be commended for how they responded. They laid aside what they previously thought was true for the truth of God.
After Peter preached to them, a group of Gentiles believed in Jesus for eternal life. But they also were baptized by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). Jewish believers up to that point knew that Gentiles could and would receive eternal life and be a part of the kingdom of God. But they didn’t know they would also be baptized by the Holy Spirit into the church. That privilege was seen to be an exclusively Jewish one. They still thought there should be a separation between Jews and Gentiles.
When Peter came to a group of such Jewish believers, they rebuked him for staying and eating with these Gentile believers. Peter had broken the strongly held rules about separation. Peter explained to them how God had told him in a vision to go to those Gentiles and that He would make them clean. To top it all off, those Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit. There were even other Jewish witnesses to this as those Gentiles spoke in other languages, just as the Jews themselves had.
These events changed everything. If the Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, they were equal to Jewish believers. There could be no separation from them. Jewish believers were to eat with them and stay in their homes. The Gentile believers were just as “clean” as any Jewish believer.
But how could that be? They had never heard such things. Their grandparents and parents had taught them it was impossible. Their religious teachers did as well. Peter had told them so (Acts 10:28). The idea was preposterous and could not be true. The obstacles that prevented them from believing what Peter was telling them now were formidable.
How did they respond? We must remember that they did not have the NT. But they did have the word of God coming to them in the words of the Apostle Peter. In those days, God communicated with the apostles through visions. He had spoken. We could paraphrase Peter in this way: I didn’t believe it at first either, but God revealed this truth to me. The fact that these Gentiles spoke in other languages in the presence of Jewish witnesses confirmed the truth of what God had said. Those witnesses didn’t want to believe it either (Acts 10:45-46). But when confronted with the truth, they believed what God had said.
Now, the Jews to whom they told the story faced the same challenge. To their credit, they did the same as Peter and the other witnesses. The word of God challenged their long-held, sincere beliefs. They now believed that Gentile believers were equal members of the Body of Christ (Acts 11:18).
Those Jewish believers are to be commended. They pleased the Lord.
Their example connects with us. We can feel their tension. We’ve felt it too.
God is pleased if we overcome the false ideas we brought into the Christian life. He will commend us one day for all the times we were responsive to His Word.