“God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith” (Acts 15:8-9, NLT).
The first-century Church was at first mainly comprised of Jews and Christianity was, in many respects, a sect of Judaism. So it was not surprising that when Gentiles began to believe the gospel, the Jewish leaders in the Church wanted the Gentile converts to be circumcised.
For Jews circumcision had religious significance as the sign of the covenant that God had established with the people of Israel. And so these Jewish leaders thought that circumcision should be a sign of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey to their home church at Antioch of Syria, some Christians from Judea came to Antioch and began to teach the believers that they must be circumcised according to the law of Moses or they cannot be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed and argued with them. Finally, the Antioch church decided to send a delegation that included Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to appeal to the apostles and church leaders there.
The apostles and elders in Jerusalem met together to resolve this issue. During the ensuing discussion, Peter addressed the church council reminding them that God had chosen him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and that the sign of being saved was not being circumcised but receiving the Holy Spirit! And the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers had.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, which was written in response to this controversy: “It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.” (Galatians 6:5).
Receiving the Holy Spirit is the true sign of salvation. And then the indwelling Holy Spirit will transform you into a new creation in Christ.
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16, NLT)