Summary: This sermon deals with the importance of recognizing and accepting the fact that salvation is by grace through faith and nothing else.
SALVATION'S BOTTOM LINE
Humanity suffers a universal plague. It is guilt. Every person experiences this emotion and tries to find some way to alleviate it. Primitive people tried to assuage it by appealing to many gods through the sacrifice of animals and sometimes even humans. They imagined the gods were angry with them. They had to appease them in some way. Today, as a more cultured people, we may try psychoanalysis, counseling or some other form of therapy. Others appeal to positive thinking and self-confident living. Still others appeal to drugs, sex and alcohol to dull their senses and minds to their guilt. Whether a person is a Christian or not, they feel guilt when they do something wrong. That all people from all cultures have shown various means to deal with this guilt proves the prevalence of it.
Now the question remains: How do we relieve this guilt we are often assaulted by. We cannot ignore it for it will not go away. There must be some logical reason why we feel this guilt. Christians believe it is the Holy Spirit of God working in the lives of individuals that brings this feeling of guilt because we have sinned against a holy God.
In this passage, Paul tells us how we can be saved from this guilt over our sin. It comes through the salvation process which comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the payment he made on Calvary's cross. This teaching arises out of Paul's rebuke of Peter. It seems Peter freely associated with Gentiles until some of his Jewish contemporaries arrived. Then he withdrew from them, and in the process showed his hypocrisy. Paul rebukes him for this, and in the process teaches that salvation from guilt comes by faith alone. Faith is the bottom line in the salvation process. It does not come from works as the Judaizers attempted to teach. We do not merit it. God must freely give it.
The sacrifices made by the Jewish people in the Old Testament period only foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Now that Christ had come and made the ultimate and perfect sacrifice, these sacrifices were no longer necessary. It is our faith in this sacrifice that will ease our guilt over unforgiven sin. Salvation can only come in one of two ways: through works or faith. It cannot be both. If it is by works, it is not by faith and vice versa.
I. FAITH JUSTIFIES US
It was a sad but very real situation that Jesus was born into where many Israelites had perverted the teachings of the Old Testament. This was true in Palestine and other parts of the Roman Empire. They were looking to their own goodness and good works to bring acceptance from God. The rabbis enhanced this set of circumstances. Their tradition and misinterpretation only made matters worse. They taught a works righteousness where God accepted a person because they obeyed the regulations and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law that was now no longer necessary because of Christ's work. The lives of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees best represented such teachings. As evident in the rebukes of Jesus, they thought their good works brought them favor from God.
Out of this setting arose the Judaizers who taught the same thing. They corrupted the gospel of Jesus Christ and of Paul. No longer was circumcision of any importance. In his explanation to the Philippian believers, Paul stated; “We are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3) The literal circumcision was a sign of those who entered into a covenant with God in the Old Testament. Under the new covenant established by Christ, it was no longer necessary. When Christ comes into our life, he performs a heart circumcision. He cuts away at the old nature and allows that new nature to grow and flourish. This takes place through our faith in him.
In our present passage, the scene changes from Jerusalem where the council took place to Syrian Antioch where the first church in a Gentile area was established. Paul and Barnabas served as co-pastors here. His teaching of justification by faith arises out of a situation where he had to confront the hypocrisy of Peter. Paul had to rebuke Peter for his actions. It seems he freely associated with Gentiles while his Jewish contemporaries were not around but compelled the Gentiles to live as Jews when the Jews were present. Paul reminded him that a person is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jews were known for their strict laws and separation from the Gentiles. Under the Old Covenant, they were to observe certain dietary laws and other restrictions. These were designed to keep the Jews from intermingling and intermarrying with the pagan people around them. They were to stand out as a witness for the one and true God. In this way, they would draw the pagans to the one and only God. It would also keep them from corrupting themselves with the idolatry and immorality of these pagan people.