BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
For the week beginning Sunday April 1, 2012
SAVED BY THE GRACE OF GOD
(Christians are all saved by GOD’s grace)
It was William Barclay who wrote, “The paradox of Christianity is that, the way to victory is through surrender, and the way to power is through admitting one’s own helplessness”. In the, now famous, “Acts 15 Council”, that is chronicled by Luke here in this chapter of the Book of Acts, we see, once again, the core differences between the man who sees religion as “ritual”, and the man who sees in religion, loving GOD and loving his fellowman. We saw it first, perhaps, in Mark 7, verses 1-15, when JESUS taught the Pharisees about “inner purity”, on an occasion in the port village of Gennesaret, shortly following HIS legendary “walk on water”.
For the orthodox Jew, the law meant two things. First of all, it meant the “Ten Commandments”, and secondly, it meant the “Pentateuch”, the first five books of the Old Testament, which were written by Moses. From these two documents, they formed a very complex, “self-made”, spoken list of rules and regulations, known as “Oral Laws”, or, “The Traditions of the Elders”. However, it wasn’t until roughly 300 years, after the Crucifixion of CHRIST, that these “Oral Laws”, were first written down. They came to form, the compilation we know today, as the “Mishnah”, the first, and most basic part of the “Jewish Talmud”, and the written basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism. To the orthodox Jews, Scribes, and Pharisees, these rules and regulations were the essence of religion. In their minds, to observe and obey them was to please GOD.
Here in Acts 15, while Paul and Barnabas were still at Antioch of Syria, some men came from Judea and began teaching the newly formed Christian Church, that, unless they keep these ancient Jewish customs, and, in this case, the ancient custom known as “circumcision”, they could not receive “Salvation”. In other words, they seemed to be telling the Gentile newcomers that the only way to become a Christian, was that they first, become a Jew.
Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed, and argued forcefully and at length with these former Pharisees. Finally, Paul and Barnabas, along with a few of the other Believers, were sent to Jerusalem to discuss this dispute with the apostles and elders there at the central church. The discussion that ensued that day is what has now come to be known as the “Acts 15 Council”.
During this council, the Apostles and Elders ruled in favor of Paul and Barnabas and stipulated that the Gentile believers only had to abstain from eating foods that were sacrificed to idols, abstain from sexual immorality, and abstain from drinking blood and eating the meat of strangled animals. They felt that these requirements were “HOLY SPIRIT” led, and had been preached in the Synagogues for centuries.
James, the half-brother of JESUS, apparently the head of the Church at Jerusalem at that time, cited a quote from the Prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12) as the basis for their decision, in Acts 15:16-18. They then sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a letter announcing their decision. All of the requirements cited by James in his letter speak only to moral issues that any person in CHRIST should seek to observe. The things mentioned by the Jerusalem council did not require a person to make physical changes, such as circumcision, in order to come to CHRIST, but rather, they required a person to make certain spiritual disciplinary adjustments that are necessary to become more like CHRIST.
No person can be justified by keeping the “Law of Moses”. Circumcision was that part of the law that GOD gave to Abraham, as a sign of the Jews commitment to HIM. It was never intended to be a requirement for Salvation. GOD’s plan of Salvation had not yet been revealed to man in those days. Abraham was accredited righteousness by GOD, because of his faith, not because he was circumcised, or kept any other law. Salvation has always been, is now, and will forever be, a gift of grace from GOD, as a reward for our belief in our LORD and SAVIOR, GOD’s only begotten SON, JESUS CHRIST.
Christianity is the only true religion, because it is the only religion that is a product of GOD’s mind. Christianity is the religion that is based simply on listening to GOD and accepting HIS word. Any rule that prevents us from helping our fellowman can never be a rule of GOD. JESUS came to show us that worshiping GOD can only be done from the inside out. Peter, perhaps, put it best in Acts 15:10-11 when he says, in effect, “Why are we now questioning GOD’s way, by burdening other believers with a yoke that neither we, nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, and that is, by the special favor of our LORD JESUS”.
And so, all of the church leaders involved themselves in the process of solving and getting over the early Church’s first major internal hurdle. They first obtained a clear statement of the issues, heard arguments from both sides, consulted the scriptures, maintained good communications, and as a result, built upon the strong unity that it takes to be successful in GOD’s work.
Unfortunately, most times “personal differences” can be harder to resolve than are “doctrinal differences”, and we see this chapter come to a close with the breakup of Paul and Barnabas over differences that involved John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, and the eventual author of the Gospel of Mark. Paul had not yet gotten over the fact that John Mark had abandoned them on their first missionary journey while at Pamphylia, and had not shared in the completion of their work. And so they began their second missionary journey by splitting up and going separate ways. Paul chose Silas and they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia trying to strengthen the newly formed churches there, and Barnabas took John Mark with him, and they sailed back to Barnabas’ hometown of Cyprus to start there.
(1). When you witness about the gospel of CHRIST, guard against personal
arguments and conflict, as they are more difficult to deal with than doctrinal
(2). Try to make the gospel your only issue and let GOD’s word speak for
(3). Remember we are all saved the same way, and there is one way only, by which
we are saved, and it has always been, and will always be by the grace of GOD,
through our faith in HIM.
(4). We can never do enough to earn our way into Heaven, not by good deeds, nor
by obeying the law. Remember, people were going to Heaven a long time before
Moses delivered the law, and it was based on their faith, in GOD.
Pray and thank GOD for HIS life-saving Grace. Thank HIM that we do not have to do a bunch of deeds in order to receive HIS wonderful Salvation, because our LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST has done it all, through HIS vicarious sacrifice.
KEY VERSE: Acts 15:11