Scripture: Acts 15:1-35
- Acts 15 marks a transition point, as the Holy Spirit moves and brings many Gentiles to faith, in large part through the ministry of Paul.
- In this context, certain Jewish Christians want to impose circumcision and obedience to the law upon Gentile converts as a condition for salvation.
- In Acts 15, we see a conflict of authority and a conflict of doctrine.
- These teachers of circumcision were Christian Pharisees acting on their own authority. They had not been sent (cf. Acts 15:24).
- We live in a lawless age in which Christians reject authority.
- Acting in Jesus' name without the blessing of the church is dangerous.
- The doctrine of the priesthood of believers doesn't mean we can dispense with the authority of Christ invested in the elders of the local church.
- This is for the sake of the integrity of the gospel, and for the protection of the flock (see Hebrews 13:17).
- In Acts 15, Christians who do not have teaching office and who are not sent are imposing their sincerely held erroneous beliefs upon new believers.
- We must be on guard not to slip into following Internet preachers, to the point of discarding the authority of the local church.
- Paul and Barnabas were sent out, blessed by the church.
- The gospel in essence is God has borne our sin on the cross, and we can know that there is a sure and favourable verdict for us in advance of the last day.
- The debate in Acts 15 was whether salvation was based on faith alone, without regard to works, or whether salvation depended on the keeping ceremonial laws of Moses.
- According to James 2, saving faith necessarily produces good works.
- After much debate, Peter argues forcefully that God cleansed the Gentiles' hearts by faith, bestowing the Holy Spirit.
- God had made no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Acts 15:8-11).
- Paul emphasizes that in terms of salvation there is absolute equality among people (Galatians 3:27-28).
- Our right to be called a Christian is based entirely on God's gift of salvation bestowed through repentance and faith.
- When God called us by His name, He made us the best of people.
- Our worldly differences are irrelevant. We're counted by God to be the best of people because of God's remaking of us in Christ.
- In the early church, God is calling out from the Gentiles a people for His name, giving them the same status as Israel.
- Peter goes on to cite the prophetic evidence from Amos 9:11,12 about Christ's resurrection and the resulting kingdom.
- James confirms with Peter, Paul and Barnabas that salvation is by grace alone; but James makes four requests, possibly out of concern for the peace of the Gentile-Jewish Christian community.
- We're to avoid those things that are in conflict with our profession of faith; we're not to do things that give even the appearance of idolatry or impurity (cf. Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8).
- The Jerusalem council commands abstaining from porneia, i.e., from even the appearance of any kind of sexual misconduct.
- These provisions are given to safeguard the gospel until the church can be unified in maturity.
- The essence of the gospel is defended, and the Gentiles rejoice at the unifying and conciliatory judgment.
- Are Paul and James contradicting each other in the following verses: Romans 1:17 and James 2:24? What is the biblical position on justification/salvation which is consistent with both Paul's and James' books?
- How does Peter's comparison in Acts 15 of how the Jews and Gentiles came to faith show that salvation belongs to our God? How does it illustrate His grace?
- How does the doctrine of grace secure true brotherhood? In what ways does it overturn the judgments of the world?
- Why do Christians need to be members of a body of believers (i.e. a local church)? What are the risks to a Christian who is independent and unaccountable?
- Why do we as contemporary Christians need to take sexual purity more seriously and abstain from even the appearance of immorality?
In Acts 15, we see a conflict of authority and a conflict of doctrine. We live in a lawless age in which Christians reject authority. Acting in Jesus' name without the blessing of the church is dangerous.