By God's Grace Alone

by LA UBF   06/05/2010     0 reads




Acts 15:1-35

Key Verse: 15:11

“No!  We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Look at verse 1-2.  What teaching did some men who came from Judea begin to teach the church in Antioch?  Why did they say that the circumcision Moses prescribed was necessary in order to be saved?  Why did Barnabas and Saul oppose them so strongly?  Why did they seek the church in Jerusalem to resolve the matter?  

Look at verses 3-5.  Describe the journey from Antioch to Jerusalem.  When they got to Jerusalem, how did the church receive them?  What did Barnabas and Saul do when they arrived?  What party did those who opposed Barnabas and Saul belong to?  

Look at verses 6-11.  Who discussed the question?  How long did they take to consider the matter?  Who finally got up and spoke?  What was Peter’s clear stand?  What was the basis of his conviction that Gentile believers do not need to be circumcised?  What is necessary for salvation?  Why is this so important for the believers to know?

Look at verses 12-21.  What was Barnabas’ and Saul’s testimony?  What was the point of James decision?  What was the basis of his final decision?  What rules did he say that Gentile believers should follow?  Why is it good for them to abstain and avoid these things?

Look at verses 22-35.  Who was sent along with Barnabas and Saul to Antioch with news of the Council’s decision?  What was the content of the letter they wrote?  What was the response in Antioch?  How did this event strengthen the church?





Acts 15:1-35 Key Verse: 15:11

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Last week we saw how the Gospel began to spread throughout Asia Minor and even Gentiles began to repent and believe.  But as the Gospel was preached and the church grew it faced one persecution after another.  In today’s passage another threat arose.  This threat came from within the body of believers themselves.  This threat was from one group of the believers who believed that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved.  This presented one important question: “Is believing in Jesus Christ enough in order for us to be saved?”  Just as the early church had to answer this question, we too need to know the answer to this question.  May God bless us to deeply know that we are saved by God’s grace alone.

Part I – God’s grace alone (1-11)

Look at verse 1.  1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’”  By this time the church in Antioch had become the Headquarters for world mission pioneering.  Many Gentiles became believers through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, whose home church was the Antioch church.  But all this growth of new Gentile believers began to alarm some of the believers in Judea.  So ‘some men’ came from Judea and began to teach that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved.

These men said this because of what was written in Gen. 17, when God made a covenant with Abraham, which reads, Verses 10-14 read“10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”  Exodus 12:48-49 read, “48 An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. 49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”  Moses himself was almost killed by the Lord because he had not been circumcised. (Ex. 4:24-27)  It is important to obey the Word of God, so all the believers should be circumcised, that was their logic.

Circumcision was the Lord’s command to Abraham and his descendants.  God commanded them to be circumcised to help them NOT to forget God's promise but to live by faith in the [promise of] the Lord from first to finish; the Lord instructed them to do this that they would fully trust in the Lord’s power for them to be saved and to be blessed.  remember that the power of salvation rests with the Lord, not with a man like Abraham, a mere speck of dust.  These men’s teaching threw the church into confusion. (Gal. 1:7)  

Look at verse 2.  2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”  Paul and Barnabas would not budge on this matter, but neither would those who came from Judea.  So the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas with some other believers to Jerusalem to answer this question.

As Paul and Barnabas journeyed from Antioch to Jerusalem they shared how the Gentiles had been converted and this made all the brothers very glad.  Even though they were greatly concerned by the controversy and were on their journey to settle this matter, they still used every flying minute to strengthen and encourage the believers.

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed be the church and the Apostles and they reported to them everything God had done through them.  Look at verses 5-6 “5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  6The apostles and elders met to consider this question.”  The graceful world mission report made the Pharisaic believers even more convinced that it is time for them to execute the higher standards of holy life so that those new converts might become “True Christians.” Perhaps, some of the Pharisaic believers were well-respected by other believers because of their extensive knowledge of the Bible and their background.  

Here we see how the Jerusalem church went about solving this very sticky matter.  The Apostles met together with the elders to consider this question.  Even though the Apostles were those hand-picked by Jesus while he was on earth, they held a meeting and included the elders who were like the junior leaders; they joined together to discuss this matter in full to resolve the matter.  Finally, after much discussion Peter stood up and addressed them all.  What did he say?

Look at verses 7b-11, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel and believe.  8God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us.  9He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”  Peter told how God had sent him to preach the Gospel of Jesus to the Roman centurion Cornelius; it was completely God’s idea, not Peter’s.  Only because God insisted, Peter went to the gentile’s house to preach the gospel.  Surprisingly, Cornelius and his whole family believed the Gospel, and God Himself accepted them by giving them the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was ahead of Peter; Peter could not even finish the message.  The Holy Spirit was so eager that he did not give time for Cornelius to even confess Jesus as their Lord with their mouth or go through anything such as water baptism.  The Holy Spirit just jumped on him and his household.  It was like a Gentile Pentecost.  Peter summarized what he learned from this event in Acts 10:34-35 which reads, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”  God had accepted the Gentiles.  God had purified their hearts by faith--not by works.  When the Gentiles accepted the Gospel by faith, the blood of Jesus purified their hearts.  They were washed and made pure before the holy God and they could enjoy fellowship with Jesus.  They began to love and serve God with all their hearts and souls and strength.  This was possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit came when they accepted Jesus by faith. 

Peter concludes with these words, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”  For Peter this was not just a theological statement, it was his own personal testimony.  Jesus is the Son of God.  When Peter had a miraculous catch of the fish when he first met Jesus, Peter instinctively knew that he was too unclean to be with the Holy Jesus.  So Peter said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord.  I am a sinful man.”  But Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid, Simon, from now on you will catch men.”  That was the beginning of his relationship with Jesus.  Peter had been chosen by Jesus only by His grace.  And even toward the end of his discipleship training on earth, Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times.  After betraying Jesus who showed him such grace, strangely Jesus did not fire him; instead Jesus showed him even more grace. Peter learned that Jesus forgave his sins and gave him eternal life only by his one-sided grace alone.

In the same way that Peter a Jew was saved by God’s grace alone, so too the Gentiles were saved by God’s grace alone.  Paul knew this very well and wrote to the gentile believers in Ephesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”  

Salvation belongs to God.  Through His great mercy and grace God freely forgave those who trust in Him.  No one could go to heaven, so Jesus came from heaven.  By dying on the cross, He did what no man could do; He paid for our sins.  Not only did He paid for our sins, He was raised from the dead and went back to heaven so that he could send the Father’s promised gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  While we were still sinners, He prayed for His disciples and all those who would believe in Him through the message of his disciples.  He prayed and the Father heard His prayer.  Thus the Holy Spirit came.  No one can boast.  It was Jesus’ work from first to last.  We are saved by His grace from first to last.  There is no exception. 

If we had contributed even one iota to our salvation, we would boast that we had done 95%.  Those who know the grace of God are thankful to God and compassionate toward others.  On the other hand, those who live by self-righteousness and pride are quick to complain and be legalistic toward others.  May God help each of us to repent of all our self-righteousness and pride and realize we are saved by God’s grace alone.

Part II – The Council’s decision was based on the Word of God. (12-21)

After Peter spoke, Paul and Barnabas reinforced everything Peter said, by sharing about all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. (12)  After they finished James the brother of Jesus gave gave the judgment of the Council.  He said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself.  15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16“‘After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent.  Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18that have been known for ages.”  James made a decision based on the Scriptures, and not just on personal experience, not even Peter’s.

James quoted from the prophet Amos who looked forward to the time when Jesus, the Descendant of David, would rebuild David's fallen tent.  It would be the time when all the Gentiles who bear the name of the Lord would come under David’s tent and be God's people.  God had chosen the Jews and blessed them so that they could be a kingdom of priests to call all people to God.

Look at verse 19. “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  In essence, James was saying that since God had accepted the Gentiles simply by faith and by grace, the church should not make it harder for them. They should not burden the Gentiles with Jewish legalism.  Instead, they should accept the Gentiles into Christian fellowship. In this way, the issue of circumcision–that evoked such passion in the hearts of many–was settled in a meaningful way. At the same time, all believers, both Jew and Gentile, could be united in the church.

James went on to give several instructions to the Gentiles.  Look at verse 20. “Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”  Most likely, this promoted fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, especially eating fellowship.

Part III – Peace and Unity restored (22-35)

The apostles and elders drafted a letter to the Gentile churches informing them of their decision. In addition to the letter, they sent some top leaders, Judas and Silas, to confirm in person the decision of the Council. They treated the Gentile believers with genuine respect and love. They really reached out to the Gentile believers to embrace them, explaining that the circumcision party had gone out without authorization. The main point of the letter was not stated explicitly, but it was implied: “We recognize the work of God in Antioch and welcome you into Christian fellowship.” When this letter was delivered to them, the Antioch church members were glad for its encouraging message. They were glad to study the Bible with Judas and Silas. Then they sent them off with the blessing of peace to return to Jerusalem. After that, it was “back to the Bible” for Paul and Barnabas. They continued to teach the word of God diligently in Antioch.

Personally through this passage I could think about my life; I really was called by God’s grace alone.  I did not deserve His grace on me at all.  And even my life in Christ, I have made many mistakes one after another.  But God continued to give His grace to me.  His grace to me was greater than all my sin.  And be His grace, I have grown up a small teeny bit.  By His grace I could get up early and have Morning Prayer and devotion in His Word.  I could serve as a messenger for CBF, JBF and our main worship service.  In the past I could never do such things.  But in my proud mind I had forgotten God’s grace on me.  I became really demanding to my sons and my Bible student; even more demanding than I was before.  I really thought I was the one who changed me.  But this was not true at all.  I could never get up early on my own.  I tried so many times in the past, but never could do it.  It really was God’s grace and power to change my inner person that enabled me to do so.  As far as being a messenger, I really do not prepare the message as deeply and properly as I should.  It has only been God’s grace that anything came out at all.  And yet I demanded my precious brothers who are also serving the messages to do things that I myself was unable to do.  So why did I demand others to do things that I was never able to do on my own?  Really it was my pride and self-righteousness.  May God help me to always remember His grace upon me and to grow to be a man of grace as well and a true shepherd and fisher of men.

In this passage we learn that we are saved by God’s grace alone.  It is not by anything we have done, but by what God has done for us.  God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).  When we believe this Gospel, God forgives our sins, purifies our hearts, and gives us the Holy Spirit.  It is totally God’s grace. This grace makes us thankful to God. This grace enables us to embrace others with love and respect.  May God help us to accept the grace of God in our hearts deeply.

One Word: God’s grace alone.