Summary: Salvation is by grace through faith alone.
Primary Purpose: To emphasize the importance of the early church doctrine that salvation is by grace through faith alone.
Acts 15 takes us to a time of great growing pains in the church. I call them growing pains because the church was for the first time reaching out to many Gentiles. It was also growing away from old tradition towards grace. The first verse tells us that some men came from Judea to try to enforce the
Antioch believers to be circumsized and to follow the law of Moses. This was happening to many areas that the Jews had influence in the church. The
early church was facing two critical problems.
1. The relationship between the old law and the gospel of grace. The previous way of life dictated everything from what to eat and drink, when to work, how to worship, what to sacrifice. Now, coming out of that background, they had to determine how they would relate to that. What is the relationship between Moses and Jesus was the question of the day. Many Jews who were converted apparently went on with temple worship and many of the old rituals. They wanted to add to Moses--- Christ. v.5. Peter and
Paul clearly say in v.11 that you must not add anything to being saved through the grace of God. This is a radical idea and still today hard for many
2. The acceptance of the Gentiles into church fellowship. Before, the Jews had held a special place as a chosen people, a royal priesthood. Some
thought that simply because they were Jewish, they were special. If you go to Israel today and meet a Orthodox Jews, many of them would consider
themselves unclean just to touch you or to visit you in your home. Now, with the cross, there is no more distinction. Paul called it a mystery, see Eph
3:5-6. This really was something that took some time to accept. Peter’s visit with Cornelius in Acts 10-11 was about 10 years before this. Peter had at
one time had difficulty relating to Gentiles also. God had to show him that it was okay to try to convert Gentiles.
The Basis for the Decision:
James makes 3 concessions to the Jewish way of life. He tells them not to eat what has been contaminated by idols. Second, that they might not
take part in sexual immorality. This holds with it the practices that went on in pagan temples of sexual immorality. Paul told the Corinthian church to flee
sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) Third, not to eat meat of strangled animals or with the blood in them. God’s law forbid the eating of strangled
animals or anything with blood still in it. (Lev 7:26-27) You could have been cut off from Israel from doing so. So, now the question is why the
concessions? I think it has to do with stumbling blocks and what would maintain a good witness and help people to come to Jesus. God desires for us to be holy, not just healthy and happy. It has to do with
living out a godly witness in front of people. Our gospel is not a gospel that makes us unsensitive to where other people are. Paul summed up this
thinking in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible
means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gosple, that I may share in it blessings.”