Summary: This sermon examines Paul's teaching on the law and grace


* Text = a clash between those who want to strictly follow what they feel is the Law and those who want to abandon that Law and cling to God’s grace regarding salvation

- the Covenant of Circumcision (Gen. 17) and Passover requirements (Ex. 12:48-49)

* Some believed that the new Gentile converts had to be circumcised as part of their obedience so that they could be saved (the reason - so that they could be saved - is key)

* Paul’s contention: keeping the Law was of no use in order to gain salvation, but rather salvation was a matter of grace


* Law = instruction received from a superior authority on how to live; it was the way of life for faithful Israelites

* For ancient Israel, the Law included the story of God’s dealing with man and Israel in covenant terms

* The Law of God given to Israel at Sinai was the foundation of all Israel’s law. The people were to obey God’s laws because of what he had done for them in delivering them from Egypt. Obedience to the Law would lead to blessing.

* The Law was a very good thing in the Old Testament (see Ps. 119:45, 72, 92, 97, 165)

* A change occurred in how people viewed and treated the Law: Some began to think that keeping the Law was a requirement for salvation. By New Testament times the Law meant not only OT scriptures (written law) but also oral, man-made law (unwritten law)


* Jesus knew it and referred to it; was both a critic and a supporter of it (critical of the oral laws that had grown up around the written law)

* Jesus inaugurated a new era in which the Law as understood by the Jews of his day would no longer be the guiding principle for the kingdom of God (Luke 16:16)

* Jesus moved emphasis of the Law from an outward observance to an inward motivation (i.e., “You have heard it said...”)

* The Law was there all along: Jesus simply emphasized it in a way that would forever change how we should look at it

PAUL AND THE LAW (Acts 15 is his first public interaction with the Law)

1. Paul recognized that the Law had been given for a good purpose (Rom. 7:7)

2. Paul believed the law was not able to save (Gal. 3:11)

3. Paul believed that the death and resurrection of Christ freed man from the requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:3-4).

- Therefore, Christ is the end of the Law (Rom. 10:4)

- Salvation, then is through the grace of God, not the Law (Eph. 2:8-9)

* Acts 15 records the showdown between salvation’s origin: the law or the cross?

* What happens in the text reveals to us why our relationship with Christ must be based on God’s grace, not the Law...

1. The law leads to legalism. Grace leads to liberty. (v. 1-2)

* Men from Judea were dogmatic in their doctrine in spite of the fact that they had no authority from the church in Jerusalem

* They used the Law legalistically instead of using it to point others to the liberty and freedom that grace provides

* Legalism = the only way for salvation to be attained is by strictly/faithfully adhering to x, y, and z (“you cannot” - v. 1); no spiritual freedom or grace in legalism

* Because salvation is an act of God’s grace, we can experience spiritual freedom (2 Cor. 3:17)

2. The law involves regulations and rules. Grace involves a relationship (v. 3-4).

* Contrast between the men of Judea and Paul/Barnabas: one group focused on how well others followed the OT rules; other group was thrilled about “everything God had done through them”

* What God had done: changed people’s lives by extending salvation and establishing a relationship with sinners

* Those who live under the law instead of grace become consumed with the rules and regulations instead of our relationship with Jesus Christ

* Possibility exists to become so obsessed with accomplishing a lists of tasks that we feel must be done (i.e., obedience, following Scripture, etc.), that we fail to develop the personal relationship with Christ that he desires

* Must remember WHY we follow God’s commands: not to be saved or to stay saved, but because we are saved

3. The law produces guilt. Grace produces forgiveness (v. 5-11).

* Perfectly keeping the Law is impossible (v. 10): this imperfection brings a sense of undeniable guilt to the heart; since the Law is about what we do, we cannot shake that guilt

* Grace, on the other hand, allows forgiveness to occur: we experience in grace something we will never experience in the Law = forgiveness

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