“Is Faith Enough?

” (Acts 15:1-6)

I. Introduction. A. Orientation. 1. Is obedience important to being a Christian? Are works important to your justification? a. If you don’t think they are then: (i) Do you believe it makes any difference how you live? (ii) Can you ignore God’s truth – in part, or in whole? (iii) Can you continually do what God commands you not to do, or not do what He commands you to do and still make it to heaven? (iv) Our works do matter; how we live does count for something. (a) The Bible tells us that those who practice sin will never see heaven. (b) “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). (c) “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). b. But if you know works matter, do you understand how they do? How can we believe justification is by God’s grace alone, given through faith alone, if we must also obey. 2 Works are necessary, but they are not meritorious. a. They are the evidence you are saved. b. They are not the cause of your salvation: they don’t earn it. (i) This can relieve our concern somewhat, on the one hand, and on the other hand, not: (a) This means we don’t have to work to be justified. (b) But it also means we must work if we are justified. (ii) Works are just as important under the Covenant of Grace as under the Covenant of Works. (a) In both cases, they must be there. (b) In the Covenant of Works to merit or earn our salvation. (c) In the Covenant of Grace to show that we are saved. (d) If they’re not there, we’re not saved. (e) These works are the marks of grace: the things we are to look for in our lives so that we may know that we’re saved. (f) This is something we’re going to begin to look at this evening: so please try to be here.


B. Preview. 1. Now the Judaizers believed that works were necessary as well. a. They believed that to be saved, everyone must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. b. But they also believed that you must be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. (i) Not as the fruit of justification, but as the cause of it. (ii) Paul, dealing with this Judaistic heresy, wrote in Galatians 5, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (vv. 1-6). 2. Here we see this become the main issue before the church for the first time. a. Some Jews came down from Judea to Antioch and began teaching the Gentiles that they must be circumcised to be saved. b. Paul and Barnabas knew this wasn’t true and began to debate with them. c. And as they began to realize the seriousness of this disagreement, they decided they needed to go to Jerusalem to settle the matter, so that it wouldn’t spread any further. 3. This morning, I want us to consider two things: a. The problem we see here: heresy in the church. b. And the solution: to take the issue back to Jerusalem definitively to deal with it. II. Sermon. A. First, let’s consider the problem of heresy in the church. (I’ve already mentioned the content of the heresy, so let’s consider here the situation and seriousness of the matter). Some men came down from Judea to Antioch seeking to add circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses as a prerequisite to salvation (v. 1). 1. Notice, first, that Luke calls them “some men” and not brethren. a. Everywhere he refers to believers as disciples, Christians, brethren. b. But he calls these “some men,” indicating that he doesn’t consider them to be true believers. (i) How can Luke do this? When is someone who claims to be a Christian not to be considered a Christian? (ii) There are several answers to that question, but one of them is when he believes something that strikes at the heart of the Christian faith.

3 (iii) There are many disagreements that divide Christians today, but not all of them exclude from the kingdom of heaven: those that destroy the Gospel do. (iv) Ex.: It’s amazing that books still need to be written to explain why Mormons aren’t Christians: It’s because they believe heretical teachings that destroy the Gospel – a different standard, a different god, a different Christ, a different way of salvation – they have no Gospel. (v) These Judaizers denied salvation by grace through faith alone – their belief destroyed the Gospel. 2. Notice, second, where they came from: Judea, more precisely, Jerusalem. a. In the letter later composed and sent from this meeting in Jerusalem, they are called, “some of our number to whom we gave no instruction” (v. 24). b. This error emanated from Jerusalem, the center of Christianity in general, and the center of Jewish Christianity in particular. c. You can see there are several reasons why the issue was going to be taken back to Jerusalem. 3. Notice, third, where they went: to Antioch. a. Antioch was the center of Gentile Christianity, of the uncircumcised believers, as we saw before. b. Is it any wonder these Judaizers chose this place to bring their teaching? 4. Notice, finally, who they were teaching: “the brethren,” true believers. a. They were teaching them that faith in Christ was not enough. b. They must also be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, if they were to be justified, sanctified and glorified. c. This was a very dangerous, soul destroying, teaching: it had to be stopped. B. Second, let’s consider how the apostles dealt with this heresy. 1. Paul and Barnabas begin by debating against it locally: “Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them” (v. 2). a. They weren’t going to let this Gentile flock deviate from the only truth that could save them and allow them to end up in hell, not as long as they were their overseers and shepherds. b. They knew the Gospel was true – Paul received it by way of revelation – and so they fought for it. (i) They had preached the Gospel widely, seen souls converted, hearts changed, people turning to Christ – apart from circumcision, apart from the ceremonial law – this was one of the reasons they were being persecuted. (ii) Remember, the Judaizers, to some extent, were seeking to avoid persecution by continuing the Mosaic traditions, especially circumcision. (iii) Circumcision was allowed for tradition’ sake (such as in Timothy’s case [Acts 16:3], but not for justification, which was the issue here.

4 2. When they weren’t able to turn these men from their position, seeing that this issue would eventually affect the whole church and lead to a division – and lead many to hell – the church at Antioch decided to send Paul, Barnabas and other brethren to Jerusalem to settle the issue (v. 2). a. They were taking the matter there because this is where it came from and because Jerusalem was then the center of Christianity – being the residence of the apostles and elders. b. It may be that Paul and Barnabas won the debate in Antioch, but now wanted to settle it decisively in the church these Judaizers came from. (i) We do have an obligation to correct our brethren when they are in error, especially when the things they believe will destroy them. (ii) This wouldn’t be the first or the last time Paul would confront even another apostle for the sake of the truth. (iii) Now he, Barnabas, and others were on their way to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders regarding this issue. 3. On the way there, they continued to enforce the truth of the Gospel by bearing witness to the grace of God given to the Gentiles through the Gospel alone. “Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren” (v. 3). a. They passed through Phoenicia (where some of the brethren had earlier preached the Gospel in connection with the stoning of Stephen) and Samaria (where Philip had gone also in this connection). b. They shared the good news with them of what the Lord had done among the Gentiles – saving them through the message of the Gospel and not through the Gospel and circumcision. c. All who heard it rejoiced – Christians are glad when the Lord brings more souls into His kingdom. 4. And they did the same thing at Jerusalem (v. 4). a. When they arrived, they were well received by the church (the brethren), the apostles (James, Peter, John, et al.) and the elders (those qualified and received by the brethren in Jerusalem). b. There, they reported all that God had done with them: (i) How they had preached the Gospel in different parts of the Roman Empire. (ii) How the Lord had used them to bring the Gospel to Jews and particularly to Gentiles – how they were saved by simple faith and not through circumcision and the ceremonial law. 5. However, this is where the debate began again: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses’” (v. 5). a. While they were reporting these things, some of the Pharisees – who had believed, or had they? – interrupted.

5 b. They insisted that the Gentiles, to be saved, had to be circumcised: (i) They believed the Gentiles had to receive the Covenant sign given to Abraham. (a) The promised blessings the Gentiles received came from that covenant. (b) Since they had received them through Christ, they needed to receive the sign of that covenant. (1) It’s interesting to note that these Jews saw the Gentiles as now becoming a part of that covenant and so wanted that sign applied to them, as they applied it to themselves (their households: we presume this since this is the way it was applied by the Jews). (2) But for them, baptism wouldn’t do: it had to be circumcision, even though baptism had replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant (perhaps the believers had not yet clearly seen the connection so as to argue this case). (ii) They also believed they had to observe the Law of Moses: both moral and ceremonial: the Temple at that time was still standing. c. Seeing the importance of the matter – the Gospel being at stake – and seeing the responsibility the Jerusalem church had – they were the center of Christianity [the Spirit was careful early on to tie the whole church to the Jerusalem church for this reason] – and that these men had come from them – lending credence to the fact that this teaching came from Jerusalem – they had to act. d. Next Lord’s Day, we’ll begin consider how they resolved this doctrinal question. e. But for now, let’s take away these two things: (i) Salvation is by grace through faith alone: there is no other Gospel. (ii) And this is a truth worth fighting for. Amen.

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