Acts 15: 1-12

Written by kathleen on Aug 30, 2015 in - No Comments

Acts 15: 1-12

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As we come to chapter 15 the gospel has by this time spread to the Gentile world. Paul and Barnabas have accomplished the first missionary journey. The Jerusalem church has already established a presence in the Gentile world in the church in Antioch of Syria, and from there, Paul and Barnabas went out to evangelize Cyprus and the area of Galatia in Asia Minor. They have finished their journey returned back to Antioch, and the closing of verse 28 indicates “There they abode a long time with the disciples.” Ending off chapter l4.

It had been a difficult and record setting journey in the sense that it established a whole new direction with a new approach, to a new ministry and a new dimension for the church. For now there is the invitation to pagans, Gentiles, heathens, and any non-Jews, to enter into the fullness of the church of Jesus Christ, and all of the blessings promised Israel are now theirs, equally, therefore this becomes the fuel for the fire in chapter 15

It was always a very difficult thing for Jews to allow the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. For the most part, Jews in the early years of the church saw Christianity only as a sect of Judaism. Christianity had no distinctness from Judaism.

1 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.”

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them…

It was very difficult for some Jewish Christians to accept that Gentiles could be brought into the church as “equal partners” without first coming through the law of Moses.

“It was one thing to accept the occasional God-fearer into the church, it was quite another to welcome large numbers of Gentiles who had

no regard for the law and no intention of keeping it.”

By their teaching, these certain men from Judea were passing a negative judgment on all of Paul and Barnabas’ work on their recent missionary journey, saying they had founded churches among the Gentiles without bringing them under the Law of Moses. In other words these certain men were saying “Jesus saves us, but only after we have done all we can do to keep the Law of Moses.” and Paul and Barnabas were all wrong because they taught a man could only be right with God on the basis of what Jesus had done!

This was not a side issue; it had to do with salvation itself. This was not a matter where there could be disagreement among believers, with some believing you must be under the law, and some believing it wasn’t important. This was an issue that went to the core of Christianity, and it had to be resolved.

2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

You might be thinking; could you be a Pharisee and a Christian? Sure. Pharisees were literalists. Pharisees believed in the literal interpretation of scripture. They believed in a literal resurrection, and had no problem with the resurrection of Christ, and also believed in literal actual angels, they were the fundamentalists of Judaism so it was possible for a Pharisee to be a Christian.

At the same point it was impossible for a Sadducee to be a Christian. They were the liberals, they didn’t believe in resurrection or angels. Consequently they couldn’t become Christians and still be Sadducees

The first response of Paul and Barnabus was to persuade. These two who had seen God work so powerfully through the Gentiles they would not and could not abandon that work of God. So when persuasion did not end the issue, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to have the matter settled by the apostles and elders. They couldn’t just agree to disagree on this issue, because it was at the core of what meant to be a follower of Jesus.

The divisive question was “How is someone saved?” The false teachers were right and wrong! They were right because there is only one way of salvation. However, they were wrong about which way!

The false teachers required faith in Jesus (v.5) from their converts. But they also added the necessity of male circumcision and a strict observance of the law. They were teaching that faith in Christ alone was not sufficient to please God.

There are parallels to this error even today. There are still teachers that insist upon the following additions to faith such as “Unless you are baptized, you cannot be saved.” “Unless you keep the Ten Commandments, you cannot be saved.” “Unless you belong to a particular church, you cannot be saved.”

The Christian who feels they must earn God’s approval or do something extraordinary to gain God’s forgiveness or blessing has fallen into this same error as the Pharisees in this passage.

So if these false teachers were wrong, what is the right way to think about salvation? We must realize that: We all have the same problem. Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all have the same provision. Romans 3:24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.          

We all have the same prescription. Romans 10:12-13 for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

It’s the cross plus nothing! Paul & Barnabus are now in Jerusalem

6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us. 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

The question raised by the Jerusalem council was huge:                              Are Christians saved by faith alone, or by a combination of faith and obedience of the Law of Moses?      (works)                                                       Is the work of Jesus by itself enough to save the one who trusts in Jesus, or must we add our work to Jesus’ work in order to be saved? In other words, they couldn’t just be saved by faith, they had go through the whole ceremonial thing including an actual physical medical operation to be circumcised; and then keep the law of Moses before they could be saved.

Now in verse seven Peter says, look into history, this issue was settled at least ten years ago. You know that God by choice, chose me to go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel and they believed; and that’s all God asked, God did not impose circumcision then.

So Peter says point number one, verifying salvation by grace. He reminds them that the fundamental principle of salvation by faith has already been settled in regard to Cornelius at least ten years before.

Second proof, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Verse 8, “And God, who knows the hearts, bore them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did unto us: Peter continues.” God actually gave testimony of the genuineness of their salvation by giving them the Holy Spirit. Therefore giving them the same graces of faith, hope, and love, admitting them to the same privileges and immunities of the house of God, and giving them a right and title to the same inheritance of the saints

Even today God gives His testimony that you’re truly saved by giving you His Spirit. That’s why Paul says in Romans, “As many as are the sons of God, are led by the Spirit of God.” God gives His Spirit to us, to remain within us for many reasons; and possibly the most important is that we can say Abba Father. (Love relationship)

And so God gave testimony to Gentile salvation by faith alone when He granted His Spirit. They hadn’t kept the law; they hadn’t done any of those things specifically. They were not circumcised. Therefore the gift of The Spirit belongs only to the truly saved,

Paul said to the Corinthians, Don’t you know that it is your body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit, because you are the saved ones, you are the ones bought with a price. And in Romans 8:9 it says this, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” Unsaved people don’t have the Spirit; but anybody who has the Spirit is His.

He then follows up with verse 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

If they were purified by faith, then there was no need to be purified by submitting to ceremonies found in the Law of Moses.

Does God cleanse the heart of an unsaved individual? Of course not. The fact that they were purified in their hearts by faith; means faith is enough. What else could there be done except purification?

When God takes away sin, that’s it! And when God makes anyone holy that settles it! In Ephesians 1:7 he says, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.. That includes with forgiveness all guilt is removed and your justification (just as if it never happened) is now in Jesus because you are covered by His Blood that was shed on the cross

In verse 10, is the fourth evidence, the law can’t save. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

First he says’ “Don’t put God to the test,” God has a beautiful grace system, and you’re trying to stick other things on it. Don’t challenge God and don’t question God, His decision in salvation is final, don’t test God, and don’t put a yoke on the neck of those Gentiles that we couldn’t even carry!

12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.

Jesus speaking said in Matthew 23:4, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; They just love to weight people down with all the rules and regulations putting them in bondage to religion.

Listen to what Jesus says Matthew 11:28 “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”                                                                        

Jesus used an analogy well known to the people who listened to Him when He said not only, “Come unto Me,” but, “Yoke with Me.

Let Me be the lead ox. Go with My flow. Don’t try to figure out or change My direction. Let Me lead you.”

Jesus would say to you today, “Come to Me. Don’t labor under the burdens of religion; You’ll become weary if you do. Don’t become heavy laden under the bondage of sin. It will rob you of your rest. Don’t become enslaved by the laws of the Pharisees. You’ll be weighed down. Just come to Me. Yoke with Me. Learn of Me. And you’ll find rest in your souls.”