This entire passage is a reminder that salvation is by grace, not works!
Ephesian 2:8-10 “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
And if it’s belief and faith instead of works that makes you a Christian, then even the Gentiles can be saved! In fact, that’s what was foretold in Amos 9:11-12 as quoted in Acts 15:16-17: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,’ says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.“
We also are reminded here of the structure that God brings to the church as it is being established. In 14:20 we were reminded that they “appointed elders in the various churches.” Here they go up to Jerusalem to meet the “apostles and elders.” While some today try to deny the existence of structure in the local church, the New Testament demands it!
James (the half-brother of the Lord who seems to be the leader of the Jerusalem church at the moment), suggests that a letter should be sent to Antioch. In it he says that the Gentiles should abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. Many suggest that this addresses moral and cultural issues that will arise from having both Jews and Gentiles in the same church. This makes some sense, but the issue of things strangled weakens the argument. There is another possibility here. The Greek word for strangled can also mean “drown,” “suffocate,” or “choke.” The early church was very against the murder of infants that were unwanted, which was done by exposing them in rural settings, or by drowning or suffocating them in more urban areas. If this understanding is correct, then two of four prohibitions deal with the sanctity of life! And the letter has less to do with converted Gentiles and converted Jews getting along in the church, and more to do with helping Gentiles who don’t know God engage in behavior that is pleasing to Him. Don’t engage in idolatry. Don’t engage in sexual immorality. Don’t kill your infant children. Don’t murder anyone! Rules to live by!