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Acts #51 (chapter 15:13-18)
The Book of Acts
Is Salvation by Law or Grace? Part 2
Acts 15:13-18
Last week, we sat in on the opening session of the Jerusalem Council as church leaders met to discuss and seek the truth regarding how to be saved.  There were some among the group who believed that it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to be saved and namely, that was confirmed through circumcision.
Others, including such notables as Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James maintain that salvation is by grace alone. 
The meeting divides into four sections, beginning with the dissension the issue is causing and the discussion that follows. 
The discussion is actually a series of speeches or sermons given by those who support salvation and their position is voiced in
verse 11
Then, one by one, they address the group, beginning with Peter and he makes four points supporting salvation by grace alone. 
First, he said salvation by grace is evidence by past revelation.  He reminds them how God made the choice to send him to preach to Gentiles ten years earlier.  So for a decade, God had been saving Gentiles by faith. All they needed to do was hear the gospel and believe.
Second, those who were saved received the Holy Spirit just like they did at Pentecost.  God makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Third, God forgave them and purified their hearts.  Now if God has been saving Gentiles for 10 years, cleansing their sins and giving the Holy Spirit, why all of a sudden should we require circumcision?
And fourth, nobody can keep the law anyway!  Legalism could never save anyone and it isn't right to demand others do something you can't do yourself.
All of that is found in verses 7-10, which leads to this doctrinal statement found in verse 11 about believing salvation is by grace. And juding by what we read in verse 12, apparently his argument was extremely convincing.
verse 12a
Next Barnabas and Paul step up to the microphone, and one verse summarizes the gist of their presentation.
verse 12b  
Paul preached a message of grace and God affirmed his message with miracles.  That means God approved of what he was saying.  And if Paul preached a grace message and God approved a grace message, then we there is no reason or excuse for preaching a works message.   By the way, the Judaizers sure didn't have any miracles accompanying their message!
And notice
verse 13a
Earlier they kept silent, here they become silent.  Apparently after the presentations by Peter and Paul and Barnabas there was some discussion, and that's how it ought to be.  When there is division int he church, there needs to be some Spirit-led discussion.  We ought to make sure that people have the opportunity to speak and talk and come to the truth. 
And after they talked for a while, James speaks.
verse 13b-18
Now if you are counting, before James speaks, there have been five supporting evidences given for salvation by grace. 
Peter offered past revelation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, cleansing from sin and legalism doesn't work. 
Paul adds God's confirmation through miracles and wonders.  And here James adds the sixth proof of salvation by grace which is prophetic promise.
Now even though what James says appears to be rather simple on the surface, it is a rather difficult passage and I want to kind of slow down and work our way through it so you will understand what I mean by prophetic promise. 
Let's look again at verse 14
So James says, "Simon Peter just told us how a long time ago, God decided to save Gentiles.  It was His intention to take fromt he nations of the world a peple who would bear His name."
Then he says, "And what he says agrees with what the prophets said."  So if you are uptight about Gentiles getting saved, then you really need to spend more time studying the Scripture because the prophets said this was going to happen."
Now if I were there listening as a Jews, I think my first reaction would have been:  "Which ones?  Which prophet ever said that?"  And in anticipation of that question, James quotes Amos 9:11-12.
Now if you look it up, you will discover he quotes it loosely, which by the way, is a great encouragment to me!  I know a lot of Bible verses; I jsut don't know them exactly.  I have to give them my own translation sometimes and that's what James does.
He actually adds a word or two of commentary here and there as the Spirit of God helps him to apply what the writing of Amos means.
Look at verses 16-17
Let's take a minute and try to untangle that.  This prophecy basically says that Gentiles are going to be saved.  That's verse 17.
Amos is telling his hearers that whenever this salvation comes, it's going to affect men everywhere from all nations and tribes and tongues and peoples.  It is for "the rest of mankind", that is those outside of Judaism.
And that means Gentiles can get saved as Gentiles. They don't have to become Jews first. Do you see anything in verse 17 that says the rest of mankind must become Jews or embrace Judaism?  Anything about circumcision?  About sacrifices? 
No, God says, those who seek the Lord, including Gentiles, will be called by My name.
Now, no doubt, the passage has a Jewish flavor to it and there is a message for Israel regarding the day when she will be established and the kingdom will come and all that, but while all that is going on, Gentiles will be calling on the Lord as Gentiles. 
By the way, think about what it means to say someone must become a Jew in order to be saved.  that means only Jews can be saved, right? 
So what we have here is a millennial prophecy. This is about a future kingdom when Messiah comes and ascends the throne. And there are two aspects of that kingdom that are mentioned.  One of them is Israel's restoration and the other is Gentiles will be saved as Gentiles.
And that, I believe is the primary point James is making.  During the millennial kingdom Gentiles will be saved as Gentiles.
So if Gentiles can get saved in the great and glorious kingdom when Messiah comes to rule and reign, why won't you let them get saved now without becoming Jews?  The prophets declare they don't have to then and they don't have to now either. 
That's all James is trying to show and I think that's why he brings to bear this passage from Amos. 
If God's going to save Gentiles as Gentiles in the kingdom, it's no big deal that He's doing it that way right now.  If He's not going to impose Judaism on them in the kingdom when Judaism is ruling and reigning, if He doesn't even mind they're not Jews then, He sure doesn't mind now.
Why do we preach salvation by grace?  Past revelation shows it to be true, Jews and Gentiles both alike received the Holy Spirit, those who believed were cleansed of their sin, no one was ever saved by the law, and the prophets said this is how it would happen.
And with that, James concludes the discussion.  So what happened?  Well they came to a
3.  The Decision
The details regarding the decision are found in verses 18-21.  We won't get into all that, but we can cover a little of it tonight. 
verse 19
Apparently James carries quite a bit of weight around the church, and rightfully so.  He is, after all, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, but even more than that, he is the brother of the Savior.  So James speaks with authority. 
And he concluded that there should be no more harassment of Gentiles who wish to be saved.  We should not "trouble" those who are turning to God.
By the way, the word "trouble" means to throw something in the path of somebody else that annoys them. Here they had Gentiles who were trying to follow God and the Judaizers were putting obstacles in their path.  James says, "Don't hassle them anymore!"
That was the decision.  Salvation is by grace and nothing else.
However, there is a real danger built into that theology.  I understand what those mean who say, "But if you preach grace and eternal security, then people will live anyway they want to!"
Not if they really understand grace they won't.  But it is a dangerous place to leave new believers without good discipleship.  After all, you could just take all the liberty that we find in Christ and misuse it. 
And the result of that would be new Christian, saved by grace, living outside the will of God.  therefore they are eaten up with guilt, they stumble and trip and destroy their testimony and impugn the character and nature of God. 
Understand, the decision they made was a theological and doctrinal one.  But there is also the matter of putting the doctrine into practice.  And jsut to say to someone, "You are saved by grace.  You can't earn it and you don't have to work for it" may be true doctrinally, but what about how we live?
It's one thing for a Jew to be released from ceremonial law and sacrifice and all that, but it's quite another for you to invite them over for a pork chop dinner!
And even though someone is set free in Christ, it takes a while to find freedom in our own minds and consciences. 
So James, wide leader that he is, knowing that Gentiles who are free in Christ who may have lived an undisciplined and unholy life, could take this principle of grace plus nothing and go wild. 
So he introduces some principles that do not have to do with doctrine, but rather with fellowship.  And that is such a pertinent thing to do.  Let me remind you while works has nothing to do with salvation, works has everything to do with fellowship.
By what I do, I either allow for fellowship with you or I restrict it. There are some things that I might could do and enjoy and I’m free to do them in grace, but I don't do them because I would offend some of you.  And if I was to offend you I wouldn't be able to minister to you. 
And I'm not going to tell you what they are, because then you'd be offended that I even brought them up and suggested doing them.  But they are more matters of conviction and principle. 
Where that generally gets heated is over what we wear when we come to church.  I could come up here in my t-shirt and shorts and say the very same things I say in a suit and tie and somebody wouldn't hear a thing I said because of how I'm dressed.
I know one man who is offended because we have grown men who wear shorts to church.  We'll be allowing bikinis before long.  I promised him if any of our men ever wore a bikini to church I would deal with it!
There is nothing in the Bible that requires the preacher to wear a suit and time, but I do it because of my high respect for the pulpit and the word of God and I don't ever want to forfeit my opportunity to minister to someone because I offended them inthe way I dressed.
We must take seriously the responsibility we have within the freedom we are given through Christ. 
And I will tell you, whenever you hear a Christian say, "I don't care what anybody thinks!  I'm going to do what I want to do", just know you are listening to an immature believer who is not interested in ministry or the opportunity to be used by God.
So notice what James does.  He says, "Even though salvation is by grace, I fellowship has some basic principles that need to be considered.  Then he encourages them to abstain from four things.
We'll just introduce them tonight and look at them in more detail later.
verses 20-21
So James, practical pastor that he is, the "show me your faith by your works" guy, says, "We know salvation is by grace but fellowship in the family has to have some basic considerations that need to be considered.
Then he mentions these four things of idols, sexual sin, things strangled and blood. And notice, he mentions these four in particular because of the writing of Moses, with which any Jew in any town or area would have been familiar.
And his thinking is, and remember this is in regard to Gentiles who have been saved, if you are found in violation of these four things in particular, your testimony as child of God saved by grace is going to be very difficult to accept by Jews who see you doing them.
In other words, your behavior will be offensive and even though you are saved by grace, you must be mature enough to handle your liberty and not offend young Jewish Christians who don't yet understand liberty.
There is no need to violate these things just for the sake of freedom. Yes, salvation is by grace alone but fellowship demands some things.
Let's look at these very quickly.
First, what does it mean to
- abstain from things polluted by idols?
That's a food regulation. Let's just suppose some of the Gentile believers in the church invite one of the Jewish families in the church over to dinner.  The kids go to school together and you've seen each other at church and ballgames and a friendship develops and one night, the Gentiles have the Jews over for supper.
Everyone sits down at the table and Mrs. Gentile brings out the most beautiful pot roast and everyone digs in and has a great meal.
And as they're finishing up, Mrs. Jewish Christian says, "Man, that roast was good!  Mrs. Gentile Christian where do you shop?"
She sayd, "There is this great little market at the back of the Temple of Diana.  What I found out is after all the sacrifices are done, they give great discounts on the meat that is left over!"
And after  she cleans up the vomit in the dining room, she asks, "What happened?"  And Mr. Jew says, "We don't eat meat that has been offered to pagan idols."
Why not?  Because after the pagan priests would make the sacrifices, they would eat what they needed, then sell the rest out the back door at the little local priest butcher shop. And when you shopped there you were buying meat that had originally offered to idols.
Now that's no big deal unless you happen to be hung up on that.
In fact, it became such a problem in Corinth that Paul had to deal with it in the 1 Corinthians 8.  I'll just read it tonight and we'll look at it in detail next time.
1 Corinthians 8:1, 4, 7
He's talking about the same thing as we see here in Acts. 
And in reality, it's no big deal.  But not everyone understands that.  So what happens if a Christian Gentile eats meat that's been offered to a false god, that another Gentile worships? He's not going to understand the separateness of Christianity.  So it offend Gentiles as well as Jews, and Jews of course hated idolatry so much they couldn't tolerate anything offered to an idol.
On the other hand, a Gentile, when he saw a Christian eat something offered to an idol might assume that Christian was still worshipping that idol. So anyway you looked at it, it could be misunderstood.  You're free to eat it, but it might not be the best thing to do!  Therefore,
verse 9 
And at that point it becomes a big deal, according to
verses 12-13
That is maturity. When you as a Christian live your life so that you will not offend another believer, you have arrived at a level of spiritual maturity.
The second thing he gave them as a principle was to stay away from
- sexual sin
Gentile worship was deeply involved with sexual sin, including prostitute priestesses and orgies.  And the warning is for these Gentile converts to stay away from those practices.
If you're familiar with Jewish law, then you know God gave strict laws regarding sexual morality. And one of the things that was so difficult for Jews to understand was Gentile fornication.  they were involved in everything from bestiality to homosexuality and everything in-between.  It was, rightfully so, deeply disturbing and for Jews.
And it is probable that these Gentile converts were either involved in or were a part of groups that were involved in sexual sin, thus James gives this warning.  And by the way, remember, we are talking about fellowship issues in the church. 
And while sexual sin is a moral issue, it is also a fellowship issue.  In fat, any moral issue is a fellowship issue because anytime a part of the body of Christ is involved in immorality, they take the rest of the church along for the ride.
When you join yourself to a person sexually, outside of marriage, you take every member of the church along with you.  Think about that next time you're out cheating on your husband.  You got the preacher and you're grandma along with you!  And more importantly, you've got Jesus with you also!
So Paul deals with it as a moral issue, but James deals with it as a fellowship issue. It's wrong morally, obviously, but it is also offensive to other members of the church to have anything to do with that.
Third, he says,
- stay away "from things strangled”
Why? Because things strangled may not be given the opportunity for the blood to drain and that was very important for Jews. 
They understood the life of the flesh was in the blood, so it was a sacred thing and they wouldn't touch it or eat it.  Anything that was killed had to be bled, so don't eat anything strangled. 
And then,
- don't drink blood
In pagan rituals and ceremonies, Gentiles drank blood.  So again, for the sake of fellowship, James encourages these Gentile believers to avoid that practice.
So are those things binding today?  No, but the principle is.  There are so many things today that could fit into this profile. 
And it would be easy to become legalistic about it.  But the overriding principle is, don't take grace and run with it. You can't say, "Oh, I'm saved by grace, I don't have to star away from anything"  or "I can do anything I want to". 
No you can't, not and be a responsible Christian.  We are saved by grace unto good works.  Works has nothing to do with salvation, but they have everything to do with fellowship! 
We’ll talk more about that next time.
Let's pray.
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