There is a confrontation over what it is necessary to do to be a child of God. Must you follow the law of Moses? Do you have to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols? How does a movement maintain a fellowship outside of just one congregation?
A. This study of the book of Acts has been challenging to me. It has forced me to think about some things in ways I have not thought about before. It has reconfirmed some things I have believed in. I am reminded of Isaiah 55:6-11. God’s word will not return to him empty, but accomplish it purpose and succeed in its mission. Does that resonate with you? When you read God’s word, you are not just reading words on a page, but you are reading the words of God. You are hearing his voice reach out to you. As a Christian the Holy Spirit resides in you to convict you of sin, guide you in righteousness and help you pray with words that cannot be uttered.
B. I don’t come to this assembly with an agenda. I come to you each week as a fellow student of God’s precious promises sharing with you my spiritual journey. But even when God speaks to me in some particular way, he may be touching you a little differently. But that touch, that hand of God upon you, is there.
C. The calling is to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ. The question becomes, am I listening? To the seven churches listed in Revelation, each time Jesus concludes with a similar phrase, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Do you have ears to hear the Spirit of God? For if you do, understand that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
I. The Textual Account
A. Paul and Barnabas have just returned from a missionary journey that opened the kingdom of God up to people who had not known the message of Jesus. They would start with the Jews but they would end up sharing the message with the infidels. These people who had not grown up knowing the Torah, who had not given themselves to the worship of Yahweh, whose spiritual background was not the Law of Moses but of idols and false gods, turned to Jesus and received the good news of the salvation of sins.
B. This mission work broke down walls of racial divide and opened up a pathway to God that was not opened before. These pagans received the teachings from Paul and Barnabas, turned away from their false worship and began to worship in the name of Jesus. It was an exciting mission trip. One in which churches were established, elders were appointed, and trials and tribulations served as a reminder that the way into the kingdom has a price.
C. Listen to Acts 14:27-28. The joy of the Lord is my strength. God is good all the time. People respond to a message of hope and begin the Christian life journey with a fellowship of believers. Now look at the first word of chapter 15, “BUT.” I have to tell you that I get a little tired of those who find fault with a good work. (Read verse 1).
D. Here is the problem, it is not that a Gentile can’t become a Christian; it is that anyone must become a Jew to really be a child of God. You can claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior and understand a ceremonial washing called baptism, but the real children of God understand the need for circumcision as the real saving action. This, my friend is the problem. And as heard in the reading today, Paul and Barnabas didn’t sit quietly in Antioch. They had “no small dissension and debate with them.” In our language, “Paul and Barnabas were in their face telling them why they were wrong.” It goes without saying, Antioch had a problem and it was decided that the apostles in Jerusalem need to officially solve this problem.
E. Many people believe this part of what took place in Gal. 2. If that is the case, the depth of the problem was great for even Peter and Barnabas struggled with accepting Gentiles as saved apart from being Jewish proselyte. But it was in Jerusalem that matter was resolved. It was not accepted for a long time, but the official word was given and Peter gave a great defense of the people he once shunned. Our last view of Peter in Acts is here, defending the ability to be saved and never accept or follow the Law of Moses. Peter reminded them of his time with Cornelius who was a Gentile and God made it clear that he should not be denied baptism and salvation even though he was not circumcised. Peter argued that we are saved by the grace of God through faith. As the people listened, God’s word did not return to Him void. James, probably the brother of Jesus, quotes from the prophets, and all affirm the Gentile Christians.
II. Today’s Application
A. Where does this take you today? God’s word has been shared, but I want you to let it now sink into you, guide you, and convict you. We read how some pushed to have everyone follow the teachings of the Law and placed that as the salvation marker, but were shut down in that argument by the scripture itself. God is not a God of the Jews alone, in fact, being a Jew does not save you. So what is necessary for salvation?
B. During the ministry of Jesus, John told Jesus that they saw a man driving out demons in the name of Jesus and they told him to stop because he was not one of them, probably meaning the Twelve, but Jesus said, “don’t tell him stop. He who is not against us is for us.” They had a hard time thinking that someone else could do what they were doing. It’s so easy to think you are the only one who really is doing it right. Isn’t that rather arrogant?
C. Salvation is not about being a Jew. It is not about being circumcised. Now listen to me, it is not about an act. Getting dunked in water does not save you, now listen, being baptized based upon your repentance and change of life, your faith in Jesus, and your pledge of a good conscious toward God, does respond to God’s grace and calling and does bring salvation. There are many people who baptized, but that does not mean that they are dying to self and living for Jesus. It simply means that how you join one church or another and it, frankly speaking, it does you no spiritual good. You want a baptism that saves; then accept grace and live in faith. Otherwise your baptism is nothing more than circumcision was to the Jew – an action, a duty, a religious ritual.
D. If anyone seeks to lead you astray and teach you something other than a belief that Jesus is the Son of God, a godly repentance that causes you to live according to his new covenant, a confession that proclaims that Jesus is Lord of your life and a willingness to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sins then you are being led down a road you don’t need to go. The calling to become a Jew and follow the Mosaic Law was powerful false teaching. To the church in Galatia Paul said (Gal. 1:6-9). One of the most powerful letters written about this subject of the need to follow Jesus and not the Old Testament is the letter to the church of Galatia.
A. We are not here to place upon you any burden other than what we see God place upon us all. Be saved through Jesus, walk in the Spirit, live a life worthy of your calling so that in the end he will welcome you home. Don’t fall so quickly into a denominational world that binds where Jesus has not bound or gives freedom where Jesus has not given freedom. Stand firm in the truth that sets you free from the law of sin and death.
B. The apostles and elders did the best they could in this situation and wrote a letter to these Gentile Christians telling them that they welcomed them and the people who had come from Jerusalem were not speaking on behalf of them. They encouraged them to live a life that they understood was pure and would not lead them back into idolatry. They gave them boundaries to help them live the life of a Christian. I have needed boundaries also. Not as a limit to my freedom, but as a way for me to grow in my faith.
C. Being a Christian calls you to be free from the letter of the Law, the legalism of men who call themselves Christians, and the lust of the flesh. Accept the grace of God and be saved today. If we can help you walk in the pathway of righteousness and you want our prayers or strength, then come as we stand and sing.