Summary: The church was at a critical crossroads in it’s history. Would they remain a Jewish sect, or would they embrace the full radical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?
Passage: Acts 15:1-21
Intro: The other day I saw a man polishing the wheels of his car. He was working hard, and the wheel cover he was working on looked very good.
1. but I glanced up at the open drivers side door, where I saw duct tape outlining a hole in the dashboard, other issues.
2. but he sure had the left rear wheel cover looking great!
3. we love to focus on the external, the part people see.
4. but God’s primary work is on the inside, our heart, which our outward behavior reveals.
5. as the church was beginning, an issue flared up which had the capacity to stop the church in it’s evangelistic tracks.
6. seems like a minor theological debate, but the very gospel was at stake, that good news which in the hands of certain people was in danger of becoming bad news.
7. maybe these guys were lawyers, because they were interested in adding some “fine print” to the salvation contract
8. Let’s define the issue, then see what God has to say about it.
I. The Question: How Is a Person Saved?
1. everything was great in Antioch, until a group arrived from Jerusalem.
2. these men have come to be called Judaizers.
3. they gave Paul fits throughout his ministry
4. v 1, “circumcision is required in order for people to be saved”
5. dunasthe= “are not able to”
6. notice here that we are not talking about the lifestyle lived after salvation
7. the issue was, does a person have to become a law-keeping circumcised Jew in order to be saved.
8. later, during Paul’s report, the full requirement is given. V5
9. ”it is necessary” and “required”, a military term calling for obedience to a superior officer.
10. these Pharisaical believers were seeking to change the very heart of the gospel.
11. they believed that as Jews, they had “added” faith in Jesus to their already good works and circumcision, therefore “completing” their salvation.
Il) growing up in Wheaton, IL, easy to believe that “accepting Christ” was just the final step, added to my good-two shoes righteousness
12. these Gentile believers, since they had faith in Jesus but did not have obedience and circumcision, needed those things to “complete” their salvation.
13. they were seeking to redefine what the Bible calls “justification.”
PP “Justification is an instantaneous act of in which he 1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and 2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.” Systematic Theology”, Dr. Wayne Grudem, Zondervan
14. this is the issue, whether a person needs to add “works” in order to be saved.
Il) this was the issue that sparked the Reformation; how was a person saved? Sola Fide
15. it remains an issue, and unless we understand the distinction between the act of justification and the process of sanctification, we will be confused and weaken the gospel.
II. God’s Answer: Salvation is By Faith Alone
1. the apostles and elders got together and noisily discussed this question.
2. Peter took the floor and appealed to the clear working of God.
3. v7, notice the purpose of God
4. God chose Peter to be mouthpiece, two purposes (infinitive) “to hear” and “to believe”
5. this was his mission to Cornelius as recorded in Acts 10. God was the initiator of this monumental event.
6. and it was God too, in v8, who works in the heart, “accepted them”. Wow!
PP Acts 10:43-44. You may remember that the Spirit was given before the invitation, without any mention of the law!!
7. how did God demonstrate that acceptance? He gave them the Holy Spirit, just as He did with the Jews.
8. remember something. These Gentiles were uncircumcised law-breakers when God justified them, declaring them to be righteous, and proved that they were declared righteous by sending His Holy Spirit into their newly-cleansed hearts.
9. Peter made three statements showing the complete sameness of Jew and Gentile.
10. v8, “just as”, v9, “no distinction”, v11, “just as”
11. and Peter confessed what was true of the Law, that it was God’s righteous standard made impossible by the sinful heart of man. V10
PP Matthew 15:8
12. what is left? The same for Jew and Gentile.
13. the gracious gift of the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection forgave our sins and transferred his perfect righteousness to us.
PP Romans 4:4-5
14. Peter makes it perfectly clear in v11, Not by works, but through the grace of our Lord Jesus we are saved.
15. God has called us back into a relationship of trust with Him, and made faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the only requirement to reestablish that trust relationship.