Now that the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas has been completed. The churches, which God established through them in the Galatian country, are nearly 100 percent Gentiles. This presents the church with its first great crisis.
Here is the crux of the matter: In Judea, many of the Hebrew converts are Pharisees who have no intention of giving up the Mosaic system. They assert that the Gentiles must also come into the church through the Mosaic system. In fact, they believe that Gentiles are not saved until they are circumcised.
The news of this contention reaches the church in Jerusalem. The apostles must now face up to the question. What course is the church to take? So in Jerusalem the first church council convenes to resolve the matter.
We need to realize here that what is being challenged here is the gospel of the grace of our Jesus Christ.
Through their system of sacrifices, the people of Israel were given prophetic types and shadows that pointed them to the once and for all, forever sacrifice that was coming, the true spotless Lamb who would take away their sins forever (John 1:29). Instead, they attempted to attain their own righteousness before God through fulfilling the law’s commands, which only served to place them and all who sat under their teaching under the yoke of guilt-driven slavery and bondage.
Religion and legalism are the twin pillars of guilt and fear: They constantly cause you to ask the question, have I done enough? Have I given enough? Have I sacrificed enough? Is God pleased with me now? True freedom from guilt comes only when we recognize the boundless and undeserved love that God has poured out on us through His Son. Jesus has done enough for God to be pleased with us.
If the apostles did not take this stand for the gospel of grace, Christianity would have become another denomination under the banner of Orthodox Judaism.
15.1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except (unless) ye be circumcised after the manner (custom) of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Now this was the doctrine or teachings of the legalists in the early days. Today people would say unless you tithe or keep the Sabbath or are water baptized you cannot be saved.
Think of what these legalists are saying. They are tampering with the most sacred and mysterious act of God in both time and eternity. The once and for all sacrifice of the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God, The Lord Jesus Christ for the sin of the world.
15.2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
15.3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
Note that the testimony of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was the cause of great joy; in contrast with the message of graceless religion and legalism that only causes condemnation, discouragement and despair.
15.4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
15.5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful (necessary) to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
Do you see what is happening here, beloved? The Pharisees wanted to add something to the gospel. Saints, whenever you add something to the gospel, you no longer have the free grace gospel of Jesus Christ; you have a religious system.
Jesus said, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.
Later, Paul would write to the Galatians about adding circumcision to the finished work of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 2.1-5 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
And what is the truth of the gospel? That we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the perfect sacrifice of The Lord Jesus Christ alone.
15.6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
15.7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
Peter is referring to his meeting with Cornelius and others:
Acts 10.38-48 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
In Acts 10, Peter himself had to learn that salvation is not decided by whether one eats meat or doesn’t eat meat, whether one eats pork or doesn’t eat pork. Salvation is not dependent on our observation of the Sabbath, or Sunday, or any other day. Salvation is by grace through faith. We are free to choose what we wish to do about these other things. We have freedom in that connection.
15.8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
God knows our hearts- This is both comforting and disturbing. God knows our thoughts afar off, or in the origins.
15.9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
The Gentiles were saved by faith in their hearts, not by circumcision in their flesh. The only way that our hearts are purified in the sight of God is by faith in Jesus Christ. Not by observing rituals. Not by our good works.
They were purified because of their faith in Jesus Christ, not before their faith in Jesus Christ.
The gospel is not clean up your act first, then follow Me. That is religion. That is hard-core legalism. The gospel is come unto Jesus just the way you are, and He will clean you up.
15.10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
To tempt or test God is very serious indeed. Jesus told Satan, you shall not tempt The Lord our God. To add circumcision and the keeping of Law of Moses to faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and salvation is testing God, because, in effect it means that the sacrificial death of Christ was not quite enough to effect salvation.
Simon Peter makes a tremendous admission here. He says that neither they nor their fathers kept the Law. I have said this many times before, and I will say it many, many times more: God has never saved anybody through the keeping of the Law. Do you know why? There has never been a person who has kept it. God saves on one basis and one basis only: faith in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter watched Jesus engage in a constant conflict with the Pharisees for 3 years. He watched Jesus dismantle the unbiblical legalistic teachings and traditions of their spiritual fathers.
Peter heard Jesus say to those who were being held in the yoke of bondage and tied up in religious knots:
Matthew 11.28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Acts 15.11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Note that Peter says to these Jewish legalists that we (Jews) shall be saved, even as they (Gentiles). He does not say that the Gentiles or Jews need to be saved by keeping the law.
If circumcision is unnecessary for salvation, then why are restrictions given to the Gentiles:
Acts 15.28,29 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Here we see an example of the principle of respect for the “weaker” brother (cf. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). The counsel to respect dietary restrictions was intended to demonstrate love and respect for the Jewish Christians. Because of their background, Jewish Christians would have struggled to share a meal with Gentiles who seemed to flaunt traditional Jewish dietary customs.
The Jerusalem council aims to avoid such potentially divisive offense by instructing the Gentiles not only to abstain from obvious sin (“sexual immorality or fornication”) but also to accommodate the sensitivities of their Jewish brothers and sisters. The response of the Gentile believers—joy—shows that they hardly view these requirements as burdensome.
Acts 15.31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Because they knew that Jesus Christ laid down His life and freedom for their sake; these Gentile believers found in Christ and through Christ the example and joy in laying down their freedoms out of love for others. Some people misread the gospel of salvation by grace alone as being an open door for careless, loose, prodigal living.
Salvation by grace does not diminish submission to God’s Word and the call of God to be holy, for “I, The Lord your God, am holy.”
We need to understand that according to James 2 and 1 John that where there is genuine regeneration and faith in Jesus, there will be genuine evidence of love, works and the fruit of The Spirit for the glory of God.
Salvation by grace does not set aside the moral law of God. Salvation by grace sets aside the requirement or keeping or observing the ceremonial law as a means of salvation.
When a person is born again and comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, they don’t start partying, they stop partying. They don’t continue engaging in sexual sin, they stop it. They do not become more interested and entangled with the things of this world; they become less interested and entangled with the things of this world.
As we prepare our hearts to partake of The Lord’s Supper, we must first of understand in our hearts and minds that the gospel is revealed in two senses in the New Testament.
First of all, there are the facts of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 15.1-5 “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures; And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.
The facts of the gospel are the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ.
The second sense of the gospel is the interpretation of the facts. It is this interpretation which is the basic truth in the Epistle to the Galatians. That is the crux of the whole matter at this first council at Jerusalem. Thus the gospel also hinges on this fact that Paul states in Galatians 3:22: “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”
What must one do to be saved?
Galatians 2:15–16:“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Have you properly understood the gospel? Are you tempting God by seeking to get right with Him by your good works? Will you trust Christ and Christ alone for your salvation? The gospel is not try harder, do more, but repent of your sin and trust Jesus Christ alone.