The Salvation of the Gospel
– With a rapid influx of Gentiles coming into the Church, cultural tensions reach the breaking point in Acts 15 and the integrity of the gospel hangs in the balance
I. The Crisis (vv. 1-2)
1. Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved
- Paul wrote ‘Galatians’ to counter this false teaching which was causing dissention
- Peter himself was getting tripped up in hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-21)
2. The Crisis was causing division in Antioch
3. The Crisis threatened to turn the Gospel of grace into a works based sect of Judaism
II. The Consensus (vv. 3-19; 22-35)
1. Crisis in Antioch led to the First Church Council
- Church leaders from Antioch met in person with Church leaders from Jerusalem
- Historically, the Church has followed this same pattern of discussing and debating critical issues of theology when the gospel was threatened
- Council of Nicea (AD 325) – reaffirmed the full deity of Jesus Christ
- Council of Constantinople (AD 381) – reaffirmed the full deity of the Holy Spirit
- Council of Ephesus (AD 431) – denied that the two natures in Christ could be divided
- Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) – denied that the two natures in Christ could be combined or confused into a single nature
2. Presentations at the Council of Jerusalem
- Pharisees (v. 5) – Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved
- Peter (vv. 7-11) – God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile
- Paul & Barnabus (v. 12) – God worked supernaturally among the Gentiles
- James the Just (vv. 13-19) – Inclusion of the Gentiles was predicted in the Old Testament
3. Church Councils are authoritative only insofar as their conclusions are rooted in Scripture!
4. Conclusion of the Council (vv. 23-29)
- Judaizers were insisting on circumcision without the approval of the Church
- We are saved by grace alone, not by grace + works!
5. Application – any religion which adds works to God’s grace as a pre-requisite for salvation is a false religion!
III. The Compromise (vv. 20-21)
1. Once the principle of ‘grace alone’ is established a compromise is made for the sake of fellowship
- Gentiles are asked to refrain from some practices the Jews would find particularly offensive (cf. Lev 17-18; Rom 14; 1 Cor 8)
- “Paul was a reed on non-essentials; an iron pillar on essentials” – John Newton
2. Application – the highest ethic for Christians is not personal liberty, but love!
Martin Luther’s Paradox: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
– On Christian Liberty