Summary: Where the law cannot save, Grace can
Legalism and grace.
Acts 15. 08/18/02
On the first missionary journey of Paul there were attacks on his body. Satan thought with enough stoning with enough beating with rods, he would quit the ministry. None of these stopped this great man of God, so the Devil was going to have to go back to the drawing board. So, he tapped some of the Jews at Jerusalem on the shoulder and got them to teach a false doctrine. So, on Paul’s second missionary journey there wasn’t so much of an attack on his body but on his message. The false doctrine centered around circumcision. It was an intrusion on the message of Paul that he would have to battle for the rest of his life. Paul even wrote a book to speak against legalism, the book of Galatians.
Now it would have been nice if Paul could have had a peaceful missionary journey after the rugged first. But the enemy never leaves God’s servant alone for any length of time. We can see this as we look at the first point in the message, THE CONTENDERS FOR LEGALISM. Look at verse 1.
The dispute regarding legalism flared up when some Judaizers from Jerusalem traveled to Antioch of Syria and taught that in order for believers to be saved, they had to be circumcised. They taught that circumcision is necessary for salvation. In other words, that grace alone is not enough but you are saved by works.
Upon first glance, it doesn’t seem that bad. But really they were implying that in order to be saved you had to keep the Commandments, the law. It wasn’t just circumcision. If circumcision was the only thing then it leaves a great question. How does the legalist believe women were going to be saved? They were teaching that the law had to be kept if one wanted to be saved.
One of the hardest things for people to understand is the freeness of God’s salvation. We have the legalist today. Today men add baptism, confirmation, church membership, good deeds and other things to the requirements for salvation. That is salvation by works.
Legalism doesn’t just deny the grace of salvation, but also legalism devalued the work of Jesus. Anyone who accepts a work so salvation is saying that the work of Jesus on the cross was insufficient to save soul’s. They are saying Jesus alone cannot save anyone. That is a doctrine that dishonors Jesus. Anything that is added to salvation besides Jesus is dishonoring the blood of Jesus.
We now move from the contenders of legalism to THE CONFERENCE ABOUT LEGALISM.
The dispute about legalism had become very disruptive in the church at Antioch. Instead of reaching people with the ministry, Paul and Barnabas were occupied with this dispute. It was so unsettling to the church that it was decided a conference in Jerusalem was the only way to stop the commotion. The church could not continue on under such conditions and be productive.
Trouble makers in the church take away the church’s mission. Lessons can be learned here that drastic measures must be taken even if it is the dismissing of membership. I have discovered that ones who come to me and say people are talking and discouraged, it may be them and one more. Trouble makers are not good spokespeople on the feelings of the church. Usually if they are put on the spot to prove their charges, they back off.
So, the contenders for legalism stood at the conference in Jerusalem and said in verse 5 their feeling was that there was a need to circumcise the Gentile believers and that they should keep the law.
Now I want you to know that Satan meant all this for bad to stop or slowdown the ministry of good news. I want you to see how that God just turned this around and fixed it for His good and also our good. Because in verse 11, we have the clearest teaching about how we are saved.
Can you see how Peter has grown in his faith? Before hand Peter would attack the legalism with madness and much talk. Now, he is so much like Jesus. He said that the Lord had showed him that God was no respecter of persons, 9.
Which leads us to our final point. We see THE COMMUNICATION AGAINST LEGALISM. The church in Jerusalem decided to send a letter back with Paul, Barnabas, and some of the other brethren. Look at verses 24 -- 28.
The letter sent back to be read to the Gentile believers was encouraging to them. It was also encouraging to Paul. Paul at one time had been a persecutor of the gospel. He was not really in good reputation with some believers and those Pharisees who felt betrayed by him. He was being groomed for a high position of this religious sect before meeting Jesus.