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Bible Search
Acts #52 (chapter 15:22-24)
The Book of Acts
Is Salvation by Law or Grace? Part 4
Acts 15:22-24
 
Acts chapter fifteen is the story of the Jerusalem Council as the early church leaders come together to resolve a dissension that has arisen regarding how a man is saved.  On one side are the Judaizers who believe it is necessary to become a Jew and be circumcised in order to be right with God. 
 
On the other side are the apostles and early church leaders who believe and preach salvation by grace through faith alone. So this council that has gathered  has a discussion about the issue.  More to the point, they have spent their time listening to Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James as they've presented very compelling evidence for their doctrinal position.
 
Peter gives the most lengthy and detailed presentation as he reminds them that God decided to save Gentiles a long time ago, and he used Peter himself to deliver that message.  He had witnessed Gentiles being cleansed from their sins and receiving the Holy Spirit and had he points out to them that it is unfair to demand Gentiles keep the law when Jews couldn't keep the Law.
 
Then Paul testifies that Barnabas and he had seen great signs and wonders done as the gospel of grace had been preached, and James reminds of Old Testament prophecy that indicated both Jews and Gentiles would be saved during the Millennial Kingdom and if Gentiles could be saved as Gentiles then, it could and was happening now. 
 
And with that, the discussion closes and James states the decision. 
 
verse 19
 
The Gentile doesn't need to become a Jew, he only needs to respond to Christ and we shouldn't be hindering those who want to respond.  And that settled the doctrinal issue, but there were still some fellowship issues that remained, and we looked at those last time.
 
James tells these Gentile converts to be sensitive to the Jewish brother and sisters and for the sake of the fellowship to abstain from things offered to idols, sexual immorality, things that have been strangled and blood.
 
So that brings us to verse 22 and we'll begin there tonight.
 
verse 22
 
Right off the bat we notice something very strange in that it is very foreign to most church meetings and that is it pleased everybody.  Everyone agreed.
 
They were not only please with the decision that was made, they were please with the choice of these who should go to Antioch.
 
I find it very interesting that this group could come to agreement regarding the most important doctrinal subject of all, how people get saved, and yet, I know churches that can't agree on what color carpet they should install.
 
Now, I'll just tell you my opinion and that is I think every decision the church makes regarding the Lord's business ought to end up with everyone agreeing.  Here's why:  If everyone doesn't agree, somebody missed God! 
 
The decision we make, that any church makes, ought to be Spirit-led decisions and if the Spirit leads, then there will be agreement.  The Spirit will never lead two people in opposite directions on the same decision.
 
And if somebody doesn't agree then somebody needs to reconsider why they're making the decision they are making.
 
These church leaders came together, allowed the Spirit to lead the meeting, listened with the mind of God, laid aside their own opinions and traditions, and when they made a decision, they all agreed.
 
Now, part of that decision was to send Paul and Barnabas, along with Judas and Silas to Antioch to give a report on the decision.  So why this group?  I think it was to make sure there was no bias or misunderstanding.  If Paul and Barnabas would have gone alone, there might be a temptation for someone to say, "Yea, they're not telling us the whole story.  They always believed in this grace stuff and so they're just saying that's the decision."
 
So they sent a couple along fromt he other side of the issue from Jerusalem and everyone knew it was on the up and up that way.
 
 
Now, Judas, we know nothing about.  He's mentioned here by name and that's all we know. Obviously he is not the Judas who betrayed the Lord. 
 
Of Silas, we know a great deal.  He is also called Silvanus by Paul and Peter.  He was a citizen of Rome, he was the one who carried the first Epistle of Peter, and he was the companion of Paul on his second missionary journey,
 
In this text, we are told that they were leading men among the brethren. So Jerusalem sent two of its best to give a solid report on what the decision was regarding salvation being by grace through faith plus nothing for the Jew and the Gentile.
 
verse 23
 
Now remember, James said a letter should be written to the Gentiles concerning these fellowship issued. 
 
So that's what they do.  They are taking great pains to get this issue straightened out and make sure there is no further breach in the fellowship.  Not only do they write the letter, they send it by way of the most respected men in the church.
 
And notice how the letter is addressed:  "The apostles, the elders and the brethren to the brethren who are of the Gentiles".  I believed the issue is settled in their minds, don't you?
 
This is a letter from brothers to brothers in the Lord. Again, that's not such a big deal for us.  But that's because we aren't 1st century Jews who believe we are the only ones God loves.
So for these Jewish brothers to write to Gentile brothers was an amazing thing!  We can't begin to comprehend the impact that just the greeting of this letter brought.
 
By the way, notice they sent "greetings". 
 
That lets us know James probably wrote this letter because the only other place that word is used in the New Testament is in James 1:1.
 
Then we come to the body of the letter
 
verse 24
 
Now it's interesting that those out there causing the problems had no authority to do what they were doing. In fact, the church may not have even known about what was going on until the reports started coming in.
 
But notice what was happening.  They were troubling and subverting souls. Now the rest of verse 24 is not in the best manuscripts, but it is a fair analysis of how the trouble and subversion was taking place.
 
So the letter says, "Some have troubled you". As I mentioned in an earlier study, some believe they were just following in the steps of Paul and Barnabas contradicting what they were teaching. And people were "troubled" by what was being said. 
 
That word "troubled" is an interesting study.  It's a different word from what we read in verse 19.  There, the word trouble means to annoy or hassle. It's like a gnat, just an annoyance, an irritation.
And there the intent is, "Let's not irritate them by imposing all these foolish requirements."
 
But here the word is a much stronger word in that it means to deeply upset or disturb, to the point of creating fear.  In fact it's the word Jesus used in John 14 when He said, "Let not your heart be troubled." Those disciples were not just annoyed, they were really torn up. He had just announced His death, and they were shaking and horrified in terror.
 
Matthew 14 uses it to describe the disciples when they were out on the sea and thought they saw a ghost when Jesus walked on the water.  They weren't annoyed!  They were scared to death! 
 
Paul uses this same word twice in the letter to the Galatians to talk about legalism and legalists and the threat it is to our faith.
 
Legalism is deep trouble because when you start messing with the doctrine of salvation and what it teaches about grace you have not only twisted scripture, but you've destroyed salvation and sent people to hell.
 
Not only did it trouble them, but it subverted their souls. I think this is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used, but it's used outside the New Testament in a number of ways.  For instance, it is used to speak of going bankrupt. It is also used to speak of plundering and dismantling a town.  It is a word that is applied to robbers and marauders.
 
 
So these who are opposed to a grace alone approach to salvation are spiritual terrorists who attempt to bankrupt and dismantle the souls of men.  It is very strong language.  
 
So why is legalism so strongly condemned?  After all, some will tell you the Old Testament teaches legalism.  No it doesn't.  God never demanded legalism.  The Bible doesn't teach legalism.  God can't stand legalism, Old Testament or New Testament.
 
Someone says, "But look at all the law in the Old Testament! "  Oh, God loves law but He hates legalism.  And that is true of God in both Testaments.  God loves law but hates legalism.
 
Let me show you what I mean. God always wants, demands, expects obedience.  But obedience is different from legalism. 
 
So what is obedience?  Obedience is simply doing something for the glory of God. How is that different from legalism? 
 
Legalism is doing something for the glory of self. Legalism is doing something to make yourself look spiritual and holy.  Remember what Jesus said of the Pharisees?  They love to pray out on the street corners and do all their stuff in public.  They liked the attention.
 
But obedience doesn't need an audience.  It is just done for the sake of pleasing and honoring and glorifying God.
 
Think about it this way:
God has always had laws, and there are laws in the Christian life.  We have the perfect law of liberty, the royal law, the law of love.  Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, love one another, bear one another's burdens, lie not one to another, put away all this, read Ephesians chapter 4 or 5, read Galatians chapter 5, the lust of the flesh, the works of the flesh, all those things are to be set aside.
 
There are all kinds of things that the believers are to do.  So God is not against law. Laws govern our lives and conduct and relationships.  But just because there are laws doesn't mean there has to be legalism.
 
The best way to understand the difference is to look at it through the lens of obedience. There's a difference between obedience in the Old and obedience in the New. 
 
In the Old Testament obedience brought the blessing of God. God would say, if you do this, I'll do this. Many times, Exodus 19 verses 5 and 6, don't look it up, I'll just read it to you but it serves an illustration. "Now therefore, if you will obey My voice, and keep My covenant then shall you be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine' You shall be a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."
 
If you do this, then I'll do this. "If My people which are called by My name, shall humble themselves seek My face, turn from evil ways, then will I heal their land.
 
See? If you do this, I'll do this. It’s illustrated by the Sabbath.
You work six days and I'll give you the seventh off. Six days and you've earned your rest.  But the New Testament perspective is exactly oppostie.  In the New Testament we never find God saying, "If you do this, I'll bless you."
 
Instead, the law of the New Testament says, "I've blessed you with all spiritual blessings, therefore walk worthy."  See the difference? The  Old Testament says, "You do this and I'll bless you.  The New Testament says, "I've blessed you, so do this"
 
It is so clear and easy to understand and yet we have lots of New Testament Christians trying to live the Old Testament way.   They think if they just do more stuff or act better or give more God will like them better. 
 
Listen: God couldn't like you any better than He already does. You say, "But if I do this I'll be blessed." No!  You have been blessed with all spiritual blessing.  Now just go live like the most blessed person in the world!
 
It is unfortunate that so many people spend all their days trying to make points with God and they are already the possessors of every good thing God could ever send their way.  Now here's the difference between obedience and legalism. 
 
Legalism is this attitude that imposes the Old Testament law and its blessing on New Testament believers who are saved by grace.  And to make matters worse, it is doing it to make ourselves look better and more holy than anybody else so we get the glory and expect that God will bless you because you are so much better than everyone else.
That has never been God's intention for His people.  He never intended that we run around doing the right things for self-glory.  In fact, read Isaiah and you will find God was sick of it!  He told them to stop doing all the stuff they were doing like sacrifices and burnt offerings because they troubled Him, so much so that He said He would no longer listen to their prayers or pay attention to their sacrifices. 
 
Instead, He said, "Go home and make yourself clean on the inside, put away the evil doings. "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."  God says, cut out all of that superficial stuff and get down to repentance and I'll clean you on the inside.
 
Even in the Old Testament God couldn't stand self-righteousness legalism. Legalism is not obedience.  Instead it is a reversal of the order that God intended.  It is doing New Testament obedience with an Old Testament attitude and doing it so someone will notice and think you're really something down at the church. 
 
Do you know where the seed of the reformation begin to germinate in Martin Luther's heart?  It started in Rome at the Scala Sancta, a set of 28 white marble steps that were supposedly the stairs Jesus climbed on His way to stand before Pilate.
 
Now the Catholics said for every one of those steps you crawl up, you could get one year off purgatory.   I always thought that was a little unfair for those who didn't live in Rome!  
Just because of sheer distance or travel expense you could wind up in hell for a whole lot longer than those who lived near by who could run up and down the steps any time they wanted to.
 
Anyway, Martin Luther, on his first visit to Rome visited the Sancta Scala and ascended those steps. He said, when he got near the top of the stairs, into his mind flashed the words, "The just shall live by faith." And he said, I got up and walked out and the seed of the reformation took root in his heart. And from that day forward, he began to allow that seed to germinate until one day, it broke through the ground and he slammed on the Wittenberg door his thesis regarding salvation by faith.
 
Listen:  you don't get saved by crawling up and down steps or through circumcision or anything else the legalists would have you believe.  Nothing else will do except the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross which is offered to lost and undeserving mankind as a gift.  You just take it and that's all and obedience will come as a result of it.
 
Salvation is by grace through faith, that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, why? Because we would all boast.
 
And so the council settled the issue. I hope you've settled it.
 
Let's pray.
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